After America re-elected President Barack Obama last night, EBONY.com caught up with NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous to get his reaction to this historic election.
EBONY: This was an awesome night, another historic election for President Barack Obama. How are you feeling right now?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: I am feeling very hopeful for my children. This means that they grow up in a country where people know that a person of color can run for president and win and do it again. It means that we can finally have hope that the Republican leadership in Congress will stop making defeating the president job one and get back to making job creation [priority] one. We can finally hope that we can get beyond this gridlock in Washington and really have a conversation about the future of this country and get back to where we were years ago where people in Washington actually came together across party lines just to solve tough problems.
So I think this is a great moment but the most important thing is that the people who turned out tonight have to stay engaged our community has to stay in movement mode. We have to be very clear that we have hard work to do when it comes to dealing with schools in our communities, the jobs, the violence, all of these things—we have to work very hard in our communities and we have to work very hard pushing Congress, even pushing the president, to make sure we get what we need for our children to succeed.
EBONY: Speaking of people staying engaged and continuing to work in their communities, a lot of the reason many people were engaged was because of the NAACP’s efforts in this. You registered over one million new voters for this election. How was the NAACP able to achieve this?
BJ: We did it brick-by-brick we did a training a few months ago, we sent our folks around the field, we took a standard 45-minute civic engagement training and totally redesigned it and turned it into 8 hours. We made our folks go through it and we started seeing the transformation after the first training.
We purchased a 50 state database. We’re the only organization beside the two major parties to purchase all 50 states for every voter in this country and we made sure that our folks used that database to target people who needed to be signed up to vote. We went out there with a plan that we had written a year ago for how we are going to move voter registration rolls in the Black community up in every single state. We even had a target for Alaska. And…we have registered 3.5 times as many people this year as we did in 2008. And today, we moved 2.5 times more people this year than we did in 2008 — despite voter suppression, despite voter intimidation, we met the challenge of community that was ready to be mobilized.
EBONY: That is awesome. We truly applaud the NAACP for that effort. The Associated Press released a poll last month finding that 51% of Americans harbor anti-Black attitudes. Moving forward, how do we deal with that, how do we address that and end this tension that has been erupting over the four years that President Obama has been in office?
BJ: I think you saw one way that we’re dealing with this earlier this year where we brought 70,000 people to [New York City] Mayor Bloomberg’s house to protest racial profiling in New York City. That day, we had 15,000 people on buses and we were pretty sure we could inspire another 10,000 to join them. We ended up adding 55,000 people to join them [in protest]. Putting discrimination on the table squarely, calling it what it is, being very clear about the need to end it is what we’ve got to get back to. Right now it is very clear that ending discrimination is as important as job creation for the Black community, for the Brown community. It is the only way that you can explain much of the disparity in the unemployment rates right now.
EBONY: President Obama now has four more years to finish his agenda. What is your vision for his second term? What do you hope he willdo for the Black community?
BJ: He needs to deal with four things straight out. 1) We need a real plan and real action to increase job creation; 2) We’ve got to deal with mass incarceration; 3) we’ve got to make sure that we keep moving the ball forward aggressively making sure that all of our children have access to a great education; and 4) we have to make sure that the gains that we’ve made on health care are defended and protected.