Recap of the Eugene Delegation to Washington DC. September 2015

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It seems, to some, like these last few years have seen the clock of racial tolerance running backward. The alternative view however, understands the sands of time never run backward, people advance, cultures advance, and so  do nations.. Today there is, as there has always been, a natural inertia toward peace, balance, and sustainability amongst the masses of Americans and people worldwide, and there is as there has always been a minority element which seeks to gain from imbalance and bigotry. By standing fast on the rock of tolerance and justice we will be able to withstand the waters of chaos and contradiction.

I just returned from Washington DC via Spokane Washington, where the NAACP’S Alaska, Washington, and Oregon State conference was held. At this conference we elected the next State area conference Executive team. The state area Exec team coordinates the activities of the tri state area which consists of over 15 local branches, such as ours. After a lively session a vote was held and Gerald Hankerson was re-elected to serve as the State area president for the next two years. President Hankersons story is unique in that he served 25 years in prison before being exonerated in 2009 his resilience and dedication are to be admired. We also heard from two talented and insightful speakers; a young African American lawyer named Nicholas Brown who serves as the Washington Governor Jay Inslee general legal counsel, and prominent African American business owner and attorney Kim Keenan who both urged us to stand up for voting rights and police reform.

Prior to going to Spokane, our Oregon delegation of five was in Washington DC, as a participants of the historic 2015 #summer of Justice march, known as America’s Journey for Justice. I was joined by my Daughter Mtima, and three others from our area, Sally Crum, Aloha Heart and KJ Johnson. This historic March was conceived by Cornel Brooks, the national President of the NAACP in response to the attacks on the voting rights act, in support the work of the President of the United States, and in defense the American people themselves. The summer of 2015 will be remember as the middle passage to our new beginning and it is up to all of us to directly affect what this new beginning will look like. By attending this historic march our delegation of five represented in our Nation’s capital, and  on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, and in the halls of congress, the will of all those in Eugene, who hope, and work, to affirm the message of equality and dignity for all people.

We arrived in DC and traveled by train to Fredericksburg Virginia, where we joined the other Marchers who arrived that evening. Upon our arrival we learned that a prominent marcher, the flag bearer in fact, had died while marching the day before on September 12th. The 68 year old African American navy vet had been leading the march carrying the US flag for 926 mile when it began to rain, Middle Passage, as he was known, covered the flag as is protocol, and marched on. As the sun began to shine again, Middle Passage unfurled the flag, and simultaneously released his own spirit, dying on a country road in Virginia.  Two days later in the synagogue belonging to the historic Washington Hebrew Congregation (over 200 rabbis participated in the march) Middle Passage was recognized during the moving interfaith service held there, as a symbol of the struggle here in America. Although he had had several bypass surgeries he thought it important enough to risk his life to highlight the causes, which the American flag represented to him, equality, brotherhood, and dignity. On the last day of the March in the shadow of the Lincoln memorial, a rally was held, attended by people of all faiths, color, and age. Our delegation heard from members of the Black congressional caucus, Sen Jeff Merkley, Senator Patrick Leahy, and others. The focus of the day was the need to support the passage of the restoration of the voting rights act of 2015.  After the rally our delegation personally visited the offices of Senator Wyden and Merkley and representative Defazio who posed with us and our banner. It was noted however that the looming government shut down will not only call into question planned parenthood funding, but would jeopardize any legislative work being accomplished this year, setting the stage for massive voter disenfranchisement, especially in the south for the 2016 presidential election. The next presidential election will decide the direction of our nation going into the future, but right now we have the opportunity to push for real change, in the wading days of the Obama administration! Just recently President Obama became the first sitting president to visit a Federal prison seeing firsthand the conditions and people there. His push for criminal justice reform recognizes that all lives matter even the current and formerly incarcerated. Now is the time to stand for Strengthening voting rights, increasing support for quality health care and education and for tackling wage disparity as well as increasing the minimum wage. Stand with us as we continue the important work during this middle passage toward a Just and dignified Future!

Eric Richardson

President Eugene/Springfield NAACP