Michelle Obama Rouses NAACP Before Vote Condemning 'Racist' Elements of Tea Party
Tea Party Leaders Say Political Motivation Driving NAACP Agenda
By HUMA KHAN
July 12, 2010
First Lady Michelle Obama brought renewed energy to the NAACP today, delivering the keynote speech at the annual convention one day before the nation's largest civil rights group is expected to condemn what it calls racist elements in the Tea Party movement.
The nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization will vote on the resolution Tuesday during its annual convention in Kansas City, Mo.
In her speech, the first lady focused on the issue of childhood obesity and her "Let's Move" initiative, but outside of her remarks, anti-Tea Party activism has been a key focus of the gathering, which conservative leaders say is driven solely by a political agenda.
Tea Party members have used "racial epithets," have verbally abused black members of Congress and threatened them, and protestors have engaged in "explicitly racist behavior" and "displayed signs and posters intended to degrade people of color generally and President Barack Obama specifically," according to the proposed resolution.
"We're deeply concerned about elements that are trying to move the country back, trying to reverse progress that we've made," NAACP spokeswoman Leila McDowell told ABC News. "We are asking that the law-abiding members of the Tea Party repudiate those racist elements, that they recognize the historic and present racist elements that are within the Tea Party movement."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in coordination with 170 other groups, including labor unions, is planning a protest march in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2 as the next step in building momentum against the Tea Party.
The "One Nation" march is designed as an antithesis to the Tea Party, and it's about "pulling America together and back to work," McDowell said.
"We see it as a threat to democracy. We see it as a threat to human rights. We certainly see it as a threat to civil rights," McDowell said, adding that the resolution will likely pass when it's voted upon Tuesday.
Supporters of the Tea Party movement have frequently faced charges of racism.
The most notable case is that of Kentucky GOP Senate hopeful Rand Paul, who came under fire in May for criticizing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul said he supports the act and opposes discrimination, but added that the government doesn't have a right to tell private restaurant owners who they can and cannot serve.
"If we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about, 'Do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well,'" Paul said on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show. "If you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into the restaurant, even though the owner of the restaurant says, well, no, we don't want to have guns in here."
In March, Tea Party protesters opposing the health care bill were alleged to have shouted racial slurs at black House members in the halls of Congress, a charge that Tea Party supporters say has not been proven. Liberal blogs have also seized on signs that have appeared in Tea Party protests, comparing President Obama to a monkey.
Tea Party leaders say the charges are misguided and are being fertilized by the left for the sole purpose of gaining political ground.
The Rev. C.L. Bryant, a former president of NAACP's Garland, Texas, chapter who is now a leading Tea Party activist said the idea that the Tea Party is racist or is trying to instigate a racist climate is "simply a lie."
"I have seen posters ... where every president from Reagan to Obama has been called a fascist," Bryant, who serves as a contributor to FreedomWorks, which organizes Tea Party groups, told ABC News. "Why is it that just because we have a black president, we are hyper-sensitive to posters at rallies?"
The NAACP wants to "create a climate where they can say that those on the right are in fact racist and those on the left are their saviors," he added. "This is very much what the liberal agenda is about."
Dale Robertson, a Tea Party activist who runs TeaParty.org and has himself been at the center of a race-related controversy, said the NAACP is merely pandering to the Democratic party.
"I find that the NAACP should be standing against the new Black Panther and their stance and yet instead of doing the right thing, they're doing the wrong thing by attacking people who feel government should be held accountable," Robertson said.
NAACP Takes on Tea Party Movement
The Tea Party movement's popularity has been boosted by the likes of Paul and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but it has yet to find a unified voice or widespread support among Americans.
Twenty-seven percent of Americans support the Tea Party, according to a May ABC News/Washington Post poll, but nearly as many Americans oppose the movement as those who support it.
Among registered voters, 15 percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate for Congress who's associated with the Tea Party movement, but 24 percent say they'd be more apt to oppose such a candidate.
The poll also found that 57 percent of people who opposed the Tea Party suspected its members of racial prejudice specifically against Obama. Only 10 percent of Tea Party supporters expressed such a sentiment.
The NAACP, on the other hand, is trying to reenergize momentum within its own ranks. The organization received a big boost from the first lady, who was the keynote speaker at this year's convention.
The first lady's speech focused on childhood obesity and her "Let's Move" initiative designed to promote healthy living and eating for children.
NAACP leaders have individually taken on the Tea Party in the past, but the organization is now trying to build a bigger momentum against the Tea Party, which has emerged as a strong grassroots, albeit fragmented, force across the country.
"We have to close the enthusiasm gap," NAACP president Ben Jealous said in an interview with the Associated Press Friday. "The danger of the Tea Party is that people see them and think about periods in history when groups like them were much more powerful than they are now, and so a lot of what we spend energy doing is explaining to people what reality is, and that the reality is that the majority from 2008 still exists."
ABC News' Gary Langer contributed to this report.