The Rev. Al Sharpton’s annual power play, the National Action Network Convention in New York City, is back, and, as promised, the slate of high-powered speakers have brought the pain to “Trump’s front door.”
As usual, the convention features the cream of the crop of political leaders, activists, media pundits and intellectuals—with celebrities thrown in for good measure.
At last year’s 25th-anniversary convention, both Democratic candidates for president, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, appeared. President Barack Obama has spoken here twice. This year, Sanders is making a return (on Friday), and he is joined by heavy hitters such as Ras Baraka, mayor of Newark, N.J.; Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee; the “Mothers of the Movement,” including the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Marin, Walter Scott and Sean Bell; and a gala dinner honoring Harry Belafonte.
On Wednesday, former Attorney General Eric Holder, who led a Justice Department that investigated many police departments throughout the nation and implemented reforms, was the first plenary speaker.
“No justice, no peace,” roared Sharpton as he rose to kick off the event, held at the Sheraton Hotel in midtown Manhattan April 26-29.
“We’re a few blocks south of Trump Tower and a few blocks away from Fox News, so we are in the middle of it,” Sharpton quipped. But he promised that for the next three-and-a-half days, the series of panels and discussions will formulate a plan of action to deal with the current administration.
“The reason I’m not afraid of Donald Trump is that we already beat him twice with Obama,” said Sharpton. “And I think we can get things done, even within this era.”
Sharpton then introduced Holder, who began his message plainly.
“The most basic American rights, the right to vote, is under siege,” said Holder.
Holder spoke of a movement afoot to try to suppress the vote, aided and abetted by the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013 that gutted the Voting Rights Act. He spoke directly to Trump, saying that efforts to prevent “voter fraud” is really voter suppression.
“It is more likely that a person will be struck by lightning than impersonate another person at the polls,” said Holder. He then cited a study by an expert that found only 31 cases out of 1 billion ballots cast in the United States from 2000 to 2014 in which someone tried to commit voter fraud.
“The restrictive voting laws that have been passed really combat a nonexistent problem—with serious negative collateral impacts,” he noted.
“Now, instead of ensuring the integrity of the voting process, [restrictive voter laws] actually do the opposite by keeping certain groups of people away from the polls,” said Holder. “And to quote our current president, that is how elections are rigged.”
Holder enumerated the many instances of Republican-controlled state and county legislatures going on record to say how making voter ID a part of the voting process can help them win elections.
“Now, let’s be frank,” he said to cheers. “Voter fraud wasn’t an issue until people of color started casting ballots in record numbers connected to the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama.”
Holder also ran down several ideas that could help turn this insidious tide, including using technology through which citizens can automatically be registered to vote at places like the DMV, and, because so many Americans move each year, making voter registrations portable.
He also said to keep an eye on the current Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “Stay focused on a Department of Justice that I fear will stay focused on phantom crimes and take us back to an era of mass incarceration and will not stand for the right to vote.
“Now is not the time to retreat in the face of a partisan assault on the most basic of American rights,” he continued. “The battle to ensure the voting rights of all Americans is, I believe, a defining one. It is not only a legal issue; it’s a moral imperative.”
Watch Holder and Perez here:
For more information about the convention, which is free (except for certain events), go to the National Action Network.