The National Action Network’s 13th annual convention opened to a packed house. In his opening remarks, NAN President and Founder Al Sharpton said:
This is a working conference. That’s why we call it National Action Network, not National Pontification Network or National Procrastination Network.
Sharpton derided “activists who have never been in a fight”:
There’s a difference between an academician and an activist.
While I was looking forward to the first panel, “Politics 2011-2012: What are the Issues?,” I tuned out the speakers almost from the start. With the exception of a white woman, Jacqueline Salit, president of IndependentVoting.org, all of the panelists were men. The optics were more 1961 than 2011.
Black women make up 53 percent of the black vote, but there was no black female panelist to talk about our issues. I have an issue with that.
So I have half-listened. My ears perked up when Rev. Frederick Haynes III laid out his agenda: economic justice, education justice, and a just foreign policy. He invoked Dr. King’s prophetic warning that “bombs dropped in Vietnam explode at home.”
Dr. Haynes said bombs dropped in Iraq. Afghanistan and Libya are exploding in this country. He questioned the trillions of dollars for war but no money for the poor. He said it’s past time to organize a “coalition of justice” to counter the Tea Party movement.
Sharpton plans to mobilize and energize black voters now:
We can’t wait till next year. There are some elections this year. And where there are no elections -- practice. Walk to the voting place.
I’m telling you these people are mean. They want to cut out Head Start, Pell grants, Social Security. We can’t say we are all for something if we don’t turn out. Without turnout it doesn’t count...We got to have turnout. Politics is about self-interest but it’s also about a process.
Sharpton’s call for grassroots action was echoed by David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief political strategist who left the White House to work on the reelection campaign. Axelrod said:
One of our great tasks for 2012 is registration and mobilization. Job number one is to get people registered and participating in the process.
I didn’t attend the gala, where President Obama delivered remarks:
It is wonderful to be here as you celebrate your 20th anniversary. Some things have changed a lot since 1991. I told Reverend Al backstage he’s getting skinnier than me. He’s getting skinnier than Spike. But he hasn’t lost his sense of style. The other thing that hasn’t changed is the National Action Network’s commitment to fight injustice and inequality here in New York City and across America. And that’s not only a testament to Reverend Sharpton. It’s a testament to all of you who are here tonight. I want to commend you for the work that you’ve done over the last two decades to lift up not only the African American community but the broader American family. That’s what you’re about.
The convention runs until Saturday. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #NANConv2011.