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NAACP Focuses On Energizing Voters For Local, Congressional Elections

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The NAACP is holding its annual convention right now in San Antonio, and its leadership is looking towards Election Day, hoping to boost interest in voting and make sure that members get to the polls. Joey Palacios from Texas Public Radio has more.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you feel good, if you feel good, say, oh, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Oh, yeah.

JOEY PALACIOS, BYLINE: There's been high energy inside San Antonio's convention center as the NAACP plans, organizes and educates its members for the November midterm elections. There are delegates from around the country to learn more about civic engagement, voting rights and fighting voter suppression. Billie Laurie of Tucson, Ariz., says she came to gain knowledge.

BILLIE LAURIE: Knowledge about what we need to take back to our local branches to continue the fight for justice for everyone.

PALACIOS: The theme for this 109th convention is "Defeat Hate - Vote." NAACP President Derrick Johnson says 2018 needs to be treated like a presidential election year.

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DERRICK JOHNSON: Voting is the currency in any democracy, and so we must turn out the vote in ways in which this is a presidential-level activity because if we don't, our future is at stake. But we know when we fight, we win.

PALACIOS: Johnson says the theme was chosen because elections have consequences.

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JOHNSON: The consequence of the 2016 election is one in which individuals pursued a course of action to divide this nation by stoking the flames of fear.

PALACIOS: He says the current tone of the political landscape is riddled with racial intolerance, and he isn't shy on his criticism of President Trump.

JOHNSON: Oh, no question - I think this president is a racist. We measure that based on words and actions.

PALACIOS: And those thoughts are shared by NAACP board chairman Leon Russell.

LEON RUSSELL: Muslim ban how many days after he was sworn in? Snatching children away from their mothers and fathers, not creating a system that would follow those folks - yeah, he's a racist.

PALACIOS: Russell says the convention is focused on getting people energized for local races and congressional races since it's the closest government to the people. Gina Stewart is a board member from Memphis, and she says there's plenty of work to do.

GINA STEWART: We've got to go home, register people to vote, take people to the polls. I'm a pastor. Our bus will be rolling to ensure that people get to the polls if they don't have transportation because it's critical, and the time is now, and we cannot afford to stand back and wait to see what the outcome is going to be. We are the change that we've been waiting for.

PALACIOS: Yesterday, the NAACP announced former President Bill Clinton will speak at the convention's closing dinner tomorrow night. For NPR News, I'm Joey Palacios in San Antonio.

(SOUNDBITE OF NUJABES' "STEADFAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.