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People of color are here to stay

Ceo of Naacp | , President | , Benjamin Todd Jealous | 11/26/2012, 4:26 p.m.
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Election Day was a victory for African-Americans and other people of color in our democracy. Our communities showed up and showed out, despite the best efforts of backward-looking politicians who tried to count us out.

They tried to suppress our vote. For the past two years, politicians passed more laws blocking more people from the ballot box than at any time since the dawn of Jim Crow. But their tactics backfired. The cynical attempt to steal our votes only reminded us how important each vote really is.

NAACP volunteers registered 433,000 people across the nation, up from 125,000 in 2008. NAACP units turned out more than 1.2 million people, up from 500,000 in 2008. These historic numbers were felt strongly in states like Florida, where we registered 133,000 people. The state was decided by 73,000 votes.

Some individuals said we lacked enthusiasm. But people of color were in fact as determined as ever. Our community waited in long lines for hours. In some cases, voters waited until 11 p.m., hours after the polls were supposed to close and the election was called. African-American voters made up at least 13 percent of the voting population in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia, a percentage that matched or exceeded the 2008 total.

They said our students wouldn't show up after record turnout in 2008. But our young people were fired up and ready to go. They sent a message that they are ready to respond to those who target them, through voter suppression or budget cuts. In Pennsylvania, the Black youth vote made up 5 percent of the voting population.

Today, we wake up in a nation where no one can say that a person of color becoming president was a "fluke." We wake in a nation where every child will be able to aspire to the presidency without their parents worrying that their race or their family name is an insurmountable barrier.

From here on out, every party will have to develop a real strategy to compete for our votes. In order to succeed democratically, politicians will need to get along demographically. And at this precipitous moment, we must insert our voice into the national conversation with authority.

We can increase job creation and decrease discrimination, but we need to remind leaders of both parties that our vote matters. We can increase graduation and decrease mass incarceration, but we must have the courage to find new common ground. We can tackle climate change for our planet and end the climate of violence in our communities, but we must be prepared to fight with more clarity than ever before.

We still desperately need for America to fulfill her destiny as a land of freedom, justice and opportunity for all her children. We can get there, but it can only be done as an American family.

They tried to suppress our vote, dampen our enthusiasm and discourage us from showing up--but we did. Now it is time to remind them that we are here to stay.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP.