“For more than 100 years, this organization has worked to bring our country together in coalition in the collective fight for the freedom, rights, and justice of all people. … we know we have more work to do, being clear-eyed about the moment we are in – a moment when state by state in places like Texas and Florida, extremist so-called leaders attack hard-won rights and freedoms.” – Vice President Kamala Harris, National Urban League 2023 Conference
At my first National Urban League Conference in Pittsburgh in 2003, just weeks after I became President and CEO, I outlined a five-point Empowerment Agenda that evolved into the Five Pillars of our movement: Employment, Education, Housing, Healthcare, and Justice.
Twenty years later to the day, at our Conference in Houston, I introduced a new phase of advocacy and activism – Empowerment 2.0 – that builds upon the foundation of the Five Pillars through what I call the Three Ds.
The first D is Defend Democracy.
We will, and we must, demand the full restoration of the Voting Rights Act. We demand fair representation in Congress and state legislatures and an end to racially-based gerrymandering. We demand freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and we will not comply with book bans and warped lesson plans designed to erase us from history and force our LGBTQ brethren back into the closet. With 2024 around the corner, and states purging their voting rolls and putting up barriers to the ballot box, we are going to need an effort like never before.
The second D is Demand Diversity.
We insist on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in all aspects of American life, from our courtrooms to our classrooms and campuses, from our factory floors and construction sites our C-suites and every workplace in America. We must level the playing field, so our children and children’s children have an equal opportunity to succeed.
The third D is Defeat Poverty.
The third D is Defeat Poverty. In order to close all racial income and wealth gaps, we will focus on closing gaps in education, healthcare, housing and justice. For a nation with a $23 trillion economy, the largest national economy in history, to have double digit levels of poverty and even more people living on the brink, is unacceptable.
The 20th century Civil Rights Movement of our fathers and grandfathers was a movement to defeat the white supremacist terrorism of Jim Crow. When I came to the Urban League in 2003, we were facing a new villain: James Crow, Esquire, who wore a suit and a tie instead of a robe and hood, and spoke of “states’ rights” and “welfare queens” instead of the n-word.
Twenty years later, we are facing the son of James and the grandson of Jim: Jimmy Crow. Not content with suppressing Black votes, he seeks the power to ignore election results altogether. He rants about “replacement theory” and “Critical Race Theory.”
We are engaged in a battle for the future of this nation. It is clear that the progress, hard fought, since the Brown decision, is under assault on every front. From the Supreme Court to right-wing state legislatures, to cable talk shows, to the utterances of some Governors, presidential candidates, members of Congress and the United States Senate – it seems they are trying to bend that moral arc not toward justice, but backward to a dark time, long gone.
With the Three Ds as our battle cry and our clarion call, this generation of Urban League leaders, partners, and supporters is prepared to face the headwinds that lie before us.
Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.