Combat racism by voting, says NAACP speaker
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY - In an impassioned speech that brought people to their feet, a Winston-Salem preacher and social activist said racism continues to divide America, and one way to battle it is to vote. "The struggle is far from being over," Dr. John Mendez, senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, said Friday at the 18th annual NAACP Harvest Banquet. Mendez urged the audience at Livingstone College to wield the right to vote like a weapon. "Voting is power," he said. "… The vote is our equalizer. Voting is healing. It is the tug at the seam of the veil." Mendez equated racism to a veil that divides the country and said too often, those on the progressive side of the veil have grown silent. He urged them to speak out against corporate greed, neoconservatism and public policies that destroy dreams of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. While African Americans used the power to vote to elect the first black president, they can't rest on that accomplishment, Mendez said. "Because we have an African-American president does not mean the struggle with the veil is over," he said. In fact, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 has stirred greater resistance and retaliation against the movement for equality, Mendez said. The country has never been more divided along lines of race, gender and class than it is today, he said. "There is a need for a new tug within the veil, not only by black folk but by progressive, freedom-loving white folk," he said. Old racist politics, as well as gender discrimination, have re-emerged since the 2008 presidential election, disguised within new political movements and hidden behind code words like "welfare queens," "dropouts" and "jobless," he said. "Yet they ignore systemic institutional greed and oppressive public policies as having anything to do with the poor," Mendez said. He called "unprecedented" what he sees as an attempt to take over America by the "same wealthy one percent who bankrupted the nation and the world." Mendez repeatedly invoked the "47 percent," a reference to secretly recorded comments Gov. Mitt Romney made about Americans who don't pay income tax. "The last time I checked, this country belongs to every American, including the 47 percent," Mendez said. "Including women, the elderly, veterans, the disabled, children and the working class." Romney initially defended his remarks but later said they were "just completely wrong." In a stinging criticism of Republican leadership, Mendez said conservative leaders "prey on masses of hardworking people to keep them misinformed, so they will vote against their best interest." Voting was the theme of the evening, with reminders posted throughout the hall and Mendez urging audience members to find any way to get to the polls, even if it meant riding a bike or going on foot. Dr. Bryant Norman, local NAACP president, said he recently watched a steady stream of people exercise their right to vote. "We asked for it, bled for it and died for it," Norman said. "So we've got to use it." Linda Gregory won the NAACP President's Award, and Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson accepted the NAACP corporate sponsor award on behalf of the city of Salisbury. Additional corporate sponsor awards went to Holmes Iron and Metal, Food Lion and the Salisbury Post. Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.