The Rev. Al Sharpton will be front and center in Charlotte this week at the Democratic National Convention, doing what he does best: working back channels, shaking hands and being in the middle of all the action. But he is concerned that too many Democrats are failing to work hard enough and are taking the November election for granted.
“If we party in Charlotte in September, the Republicans could be
partying in November,” said Sharpton, who plans to hold a special summit of pastors Thursday to talk about get-out-the-vote efforts during an election season that is much different from four years ago.
“As much as the president has done to bring the country back from the brink, the landscape is a lot different now than it was in 2008, and I don’t know if people have a realistic view of that,” he added in an interview with TheRootDC.
Sharpton said he has been traveling across the country for months to highlight the fact that a number of states have passed “voter suppression laws” that are designed to keep the people who voted for President Obama four years ago from voting for him again. About a dozen states have introduced Republican-backed proposals that require state-issued identification in order to vote, among other legal changes.
Referring to recent federal court decisions that struck down Republican-led efforts to tighten voter registration laws, he added: “Even though we won cases in Texas and Ohio, you still have Pennsylvania and Florida that will change the number of people who can vote in states, so we shouldn’t act like we have the same political landscape we had in 2008.” Courts in Florida and Pennsylvania upheld laws that would require photo identification in order to vote, which Democrats say would suppress the black and Latino vote.
Sharpton went on to say: “This convention has to put in focus that we need more targeted and concentrated turnout to overcome the fact that we are playing on an uneven field.”
Meanwhile, civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he will address the National Baptist Convention on Tuesday in Atlanta to garner support for Obama.
“No matter what you do, if you don’t turn out the vote, you are not going to win nothing,” said Lowery, who was one of a number of prominent pastors who met with White House and senior party officials Monday. Lowery said that even though enthusiasm and mobilization efforts are not at the level they were four years ago thus far, the black community will rise to reelect the president.
“One of the things that I am going to say at the National Baptist Convention is, ‘if you don’t turn out the vote, you are hopeless,’ ” Lowery said. “We are last-minute people. We do everything last minute, and I think at the last minute we are going to get excited.”
The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation held a Labor Day forum in Charlotte where a panel of women talked about the role of women within the Democratic Party 40 years after former New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm ran for president.
Melanie Campbell, executive director of the organization, said that while women have made progress, she is more concerned about the turnout.
Citing research done by the late political scientist Ron Walters, Campbell said second-term presidential elections tend to have lower turnouts than contests when the White House has an open seat whether the president is Democrat or Republican.
“You usually go down a bit, but this year it is going to be a very competitive election, a very close election, and in our conversation that we had today is 40 years later where we are?”
Sharpton said Democrats will probably leave the convention this week unified and fired up. But the key to victory will be the campaign efforts on the state level.
“If we go to Charlotte just to party along the lines we saw in 2008, we will not be there because the rules have changed,” Sharpton said. “Charlotte has got to be about the changes in the voting process and how we mobilize around those changes.”
More from The RootDC