by Marc H. Morial
(TriceEdneyWire.com)—“And so this march must go beyond this historic moment. We must support the strong. We must give courage to the timid. We must remind the indifferent, and we must warn the opposed. Civil rights, which are God-given and constitutionally guaranteed, are not negotiable in 1963.”—National Urban League President Whitney M. Young, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice
Fifty-seven years to the day after Whitney M. Young stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to declare that civil rights are not negotiable, I stood on the very same spot to say: racial justice is not negotiable in 2020.
Transforming our racially-biased criminal justice system and mass incarceration crisis is not negotiable.
Protecting and defending our sacred right to vote against racially-motivated suppression and foreign sabotage is not negotiable.
Dislodging the structural racism that infects our institutions and paving a patriotic pathway to shared prosperity, economic parity and educational opportunity is not negotiable.
The Commitment March, “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” was convened on August 28, 2020, in support of police accountability in solidarity with the families of African Americans killed or injured at the hands of the police.
In conjunction with the March, the convening organizations—National Urban League, National Action Network, NAACP, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., along with Martin Luther King III—have issued a Statement of Principals to establish a shared civil rights and social justice agenda. These principles are:
• Fundamentally Transforming the Criminal Justice System
• Protect and Defend Voting Rights During the Pandemic and Beyond
• Achieve Economic Parity for African Americans
• Promote Equity in Educational Opportunity
• Promote a Fair and Accurate Census
• Promote a Healthier Nation by Eliminating Disparities and Prioritizing Testing, Treatments and Cures for Covid-19 in Communities of Color
The Commitment March, like the March in 1963, happened as people all across the country are taking to the streets to demand justice. The cycle of lawlessness against Black people extends back through the centuries. Police have shot and killed an average of approximately 1,000 people in the United States in each of the past three years, and 2020 is on track to meet or exceed that number. Moreover, Black people are three times more likely than White people to be killed by police. We support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. We urge the U.S. Senate to pass, and the president to the bill into law.
When we gathered to march in 1963, the White establishment stopped Black people from voting with violence, literacy tests, and poll taxes. Today, they are sabotaging the Postal Service. Reductions of early voting, restrictive identification requirements, onerous registration procedures, exact name match requirements, purges of voting rolls, foreign and domestic disinformation campaigns, and mandated in-person voting during a pandemic are all efforts designed to undermine the rights of African Americans to the franchise. We urge the Senate to pass and the president to sign the Voting Rights Advancement Act. This is the most fitting tribute to the late Congressman John Lewis, who dedicated his life to the advancement of voting and civil rights.
The pandemic has thrust long-standing economic injustices into the forefront of our consciousness. Our leaders must adopt a fair response to the Covid-19 pandemic that has destroyed the nation’s economic output, thrown tens of millions of people out of work, left families with greater food insecurity, cut off millions of school-age children from learning, and has left municipal and state budgets for public services in shambles. In the immediate term, we believe that the HEROES Act, passed by the U.S House of Representatives on May 15, 2020, represents the best response to the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. We urge the Senate to pass the HEROES Act and the president to sign it into law immediately.
The disparity in educational investment in minority communities and the resulting achievement gap among Black youth is the biggest threat to equality and upward mobility. Therefore, we support progressive funding mechanisms that promote quality and direct more resources to those areas where the need is greatest—more often in high poverty and minority communities. We support a universal early childhood curriculum that prepares our youngsters to learn and achieve at a competitive level. We believe college should be an attainable—and affordable—goal, and that federal resources should be structured to ensure that financial aid does not become a barrier to the development of the next generation of leaders in business and government.
For several years, concerned communities across the country have worked tirelessly to spread the word about the importance of the 2020 Census and the need for everyone—especially Black Americans—to participate. Even so, Black America is facing an historic crossroad due to low participation in the 2020 Census. To make matters worse, the current Administration is trying to end all counting efforts by September 30th, a month sooner than previously announced. The National Urban League has sued to stop it. We urge the Senate to include much-needed language and allocation of funds in the next COVID relief package to extend the statutory reporting deadlines for the 2020 Census by four months.
According to one recent estimate, Covid-19 is the third-leading cause of death among Black Americans. For too many people of color, healthcare is tied directly to employment. High unemployment means low access to healthcare. Furthermore, low wage workers often do not have employer-provided healthcare and too few states have opted into Medicaid expansion. During the Covid-19 pandemic, too few African Americans have access to rapid testing, antibody testing, therapeutics, and vaccines. We support prioritizing the availability of testing in communities of color. Personal protective equipment, paid for by employers, should be made available to front-line workers. We also encourage funding for research into the long-term health effects of Covid-19 infection. By providing access to quality and affordable health care for all, promoting community-based prevention efforts, and expanding Medicaid to our most vulnerable citizens, the Affordable Care Act will play a pivotal role in reducing the human cost of these disparities.