NAACP officials said Aug. 27 they will be a presence at both the Republican and Democratic presidential nominating conventions to encourage candidates to address issues important to the Black and civil rights communities.

“The real debate and critique of each of these conventions is not the balloons and lights and canned speeches, but which platform presents a vision of our country… that allows us to live out the promises of our democracy,” said Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference and a national board member.

So far, the 2012 presidential campaign has seen a “crisis of silence,” officials said during the press briefing on Monday, as concerns such as voter suppression, criminal justice reform, immigration reform and ending predatory lending practices have been given short shrift by the thousands of candidates running for offices across the country.

“Many Americans complain that presidential campaign coverage has become sound bytes over substance. For Black America it has become silence over substance, as we face some of the largest challenges in modern times, but with very little public discourse,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous.

That silence has been most deafening within the Republican Party, Jealous and others said. The number of NAACP allies within the GOP has shrunk dramatically in the last couple of years. And Jealous said they expect that far fewer persons will be willing to meet with them at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., this week than ever before.

“We are concerned that we are rapidly approaching a time when the Republican Party has no space for civil rights,” Jealous said.

And, the GOP-led assault against voting rights seems to support that fear, the civil rights leaders said. Since the 2010 elections ushered in a rash of conservative governors and lawmakers in state legislatures and in Congress, 33 states have passed voter ID laws—and an amendment to the Republican Party’s platform supports those laws.

Some state measures have cut back on same-day registration and early and weekend voting. Other measures have made it difficult to conduct voter registration drives and, in the case of Florida, stripped from convicted felons the recently restored right to vote.

All of those policies disproportionately impact the poor, Blacks and other minority voters in ways that undermine their right to vote, the NAACP representatives said.

“We are in the face of the most aggressive onslaught against voting rights,” Barber said, adding “We’ve seen backlash like this before—we saw it after the Civil War, we saw it after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and we saw it after the election of this nation’s first Black president. Whenever the Black electorate has expanded…we have seen this backlash follow.”

Jealous said there were two “bright spots” on the Republican landscape with regards to voting rights. Governors Bob McConnell of Virginia and Rick Snyder of Michigan, after meeting with the NAACP to hear the civil rights group’s concerns, each called on state lawmakers to produce non-restrictive voter ID laws.

Additionally, Jealous added, the organization has found common ground with the more conservative elements of the GOP on the matter of criminal justice reform. The president said he hopes that augers well for the future.

“Four years from now, we hope when the Republican platform is unveiled there is a greater space for civil rights and that the looks more like the party of Lincoln and not like a modern day creation of the ‘tea party,’” he said.

In the meantime, the NAACP will do their best to bring visibility to their agenda, which includes extending economic and environmental justice, expanding civil and labor rights, and decreasing inequalities in education and the criminal justice system.

“We are convinced at the NAACP that we have an agenda that transcends petty party politics,” said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president of Policy and Advocacy/Washington Bureau director of the NAACP. “ we will ask candidates, ‘Can we see your solutions?’ so that our members and others around the country can make an informed decision on Election Day.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO