Black and civil rights leaders met with President Joe Biden on Friday to discuss what they have declared as a state of emergency when it comes to political violence, voting rights and the ongoing efforts by far-right conservatives to suppress Black and brown voters from casting ballots.
The meeting — attended by Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; Dr. Thelma Daley, National Chair and President of the National Council of Negro Women; Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP; Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League; Janai Nelson, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF); Cedric Richmond, the former Louisianan Congressman who was until recently one of Biden’s senior advisers; the Rev. Al Sharpton, President and Founder of the National Action Network; and Maya Wiley, President and CEO and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — came on the heels of Biden’s address to the nation sounding the alarm over efforts at undermining democracy that the president specifically attributed to “MAGA Republicans.”
Along with Biden, the White House was represented at the meeting by Chiraag Bains, Deputy Assistant to the President for Racial Justice and Equity, Domestic Policy Council; Keisha Lance Bottoms, Senior Advisor to the President for Public Engagement who replaced Richmond; Sherice Perry, Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Engagement, Karine Jean–Pierre, assistant to the president and White House press secretary; and Susan Rice, assistant to the president and domestic policy advisor.
The president’s words to America during his Thursday night address echoed sentiments civil rights leaders expressed days earlier while observing the 59th anniversary of the March, where a call to action was made for all Americans’ right to vote to be protected in the name of democracy — defined in part by Merriam Webster as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
Biden specifically named his predecessor when warning of the consequences of democracy going unprotected.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” Biden told America Thursday night, pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection as a prime example. While only mentioning “white supremacy” once during his speech, Biden said it all added up to “a threat to this country.”
It was in that context that Friday’s meeting took place just two months ahead of the midterm general elections that carry an increased significance, particularly for the underserved American populations the civil rights leaders represent.
Campbell, of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said she emphasized to Biden the need to specifically eliminate racist threats of physical violence surrounding voting — the type we have seen incited by Trump and more recently with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who both wear the aforementioned “MAGA Republican” label with pride.
“Black women, who drive Black voter turnout and serve as the majority of poll workers in Black communities, are extremely concerned about the threat of white nationalist intimidation at the polls,” Campbell said in a statement emailed to NewsOne following the meeting. “We urge the Biden-Harris Administration to do all within their power to protect voters and poll workers to ensure their safety when they go to the polls for the 2022 Mid-Term Election across the country.”
Nelson, of LDF, stressed the role that the “myth of white supremacy” has played in proliferating such political-inspired violence and challenged American voters to elect like-minded officials.
“The dual threats of voter suppression and election sabotage mean that none of us can take our right to vote for granted,” Nelson said in a statement about the importance of voter participation. “It is equally imperative that every state and federal actor works to protect the right to vote and remove obstacles to voting, especially those that target and disenfranchise Black voters,” Nelson added.
“We told the president that the stakes are high, for Black people, as they are for all people of color, women of all races, and LGBTQ people,” Wiley, a former candidate for New York City mayor, said after the meeting. “We told the president we need the full force of the federal government to protect each and every voter from political violence, intimidation, and barriers. We can’t allow the white supremacist forces who want to deny us our basic human freedoms to win.”
All of the civil rights leaders pledged to work with Biden’s administration toward the common goal of bolstering voting rights.
The White House said in a press release that the meeting also dealt with other issues facing Black and brown communities, including efforts to advance justice and equity for the Black community like cutting health care costs and student debt, addressing public safety and policing as well as protecting women’s rights.