Remarks by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the NAACP104th Annual Convention

Earlier today, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke to the 104th NAACP convention in Orlando, Florda where she addressed voting rights and the need to protect those fundamental rights.

Remarks as delivered

Thank you, so much, it is an honor and a pleasure to be here with you at the 104th NAACP Annual Convention, and it is a special pleasure to have you join us in my home state of Florida. Adora, thank you for your kind introduction and for your leadership and commitment to equality and justice.

I know I don’t have to tell anyone in this room, but Florida’s State Conference of the NAACP is incredibly fortunate to have Adora obi Nweze as our leader. She never waivers in fighting for and standing on, the side of right. Chairman Brock, President Jealous, Hilary Shelton, members of the board of directors and all of the members of the NAACP, I’m delighted to be here for your 104th annual convention.

I am especially pleased to salute National Vice Chair Leon Russell and the presidents of the local chapters from the counties I represent in the United States Congress- Bishop Victor Curry, President of the Miami/Dade Branch and Marsha Ellison, President of the Ft. Lauderdale Branch in Broward County of which I am a proud member. Thank you, Thank you. Let me also take a moment to acknowledge my colleagues and the distinguished officials you’ve heard from over the course of this week’s convention. My friend, Congresswoman Corrine Brown who proudly represents parts of Orlando in Congress.

Corrine is a fierce champion for civil rights and social justice and she “delivers” for her constituents and all Floridians. I know you also heard from Florida’s rock-solid voice for the values we all share, our senior Senator Bill Nelson, our Democratic Whip in the House Steny Hoyer who has been a leader on Voting Rights for the House Democratic Caucus and the incomparable John Lewis as well as other Members and Administration officials.

We all stood with President Obama at the forefront of some of the biggest battles fought in Washington over the past four years and let me be clear, those battles aren’t over. Democrats know that as Dr. King suggested, “real change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but it comes through continuous struggle.” The NAACP knows this to be true. You’ve been a leader in the great struggles to make our Union more perfect for decades.

For over 100 years, you’ve been on the front lines advocating for freedom and equality.

From the ballot box, to the classroom, the board room and court room, the NAACP has never wavered in its fight for social justice for all Americans.

As Chair of the Democratic National Committee, part of why I am here today is to say thank you! I firmly believe that when you are truly grateful for someone’s efforts, you should honor their effort, face to face and tell them so. Thank you. Truly, thank you.

So, I’m here today without hesitation or reservation to say on behalf of Democrats, we don’t take for granted all of the progress that has been secured as a result of your work and your leadership.

We recognize and respect the sacrifices and the struggles; We know, that from time to time, you may have to agitate and make us all a little uncomfortable by raising issues that some of us would rather not talk about; and we know that at the end of the day, you do this with truth, reminding us all that we are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keeper. I appreciate the NAACP’s leadership on countless issues, particularly those that relate to the sacred right that every American has to vote.

In 2012 you registered more than 430,000 Americans and you didn’t just register voters: you educated them on their rights as voters; on what to expect at their polling places; and on the issues facing our country.

You ensured that voters knew the two paths in front of them, two drastically different visions, and the clear choice they would have in determining our nation’s future.

You – the NAACP – the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization provided the information many voters needed so that they could cast their vote and exercise that fundamental right.

As a Democrat, a public servant, but most importantly as an American – Thank you!

Thank you for your work; Thank you for stuffing envelopes, for making phone calls and providing rides to the polls; Thank you for standing in the lines, the long, seemingly never ending lines; Thank you for bringing your driver’s licenses, your marriage licenses, birth certificates, voter registration cards, passports, your cable, your telephone bills and your electric bills to vote. And I know some of you brought them all, just in case one form of proof was rejected!

But more importantly; Thank you for declaring “We shall not be moved!” After waiting for hours upon hours to make your voices heard!

Your efforts helped to ensure that together, we can keep moving America forward!

In about a month, many of us will gather in our nation’s capital with people from across the country to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. We will come together after the past month of what some might view as a huge setback for civil rights, but what we must remember is this: On that long, hot day in August 1963 when hundreds of thousands of people – young, old, black and white – gathered in unity to make their voices heard, they had endured tremendous setbacks, and they simply declared, “We shall not be moved!”

And to the young people here today, as we struggle to make sense of something so senseless, remember that many of the young people who gathered on that August day went on to become leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. They didn’t just make demands for change – they created it! And we will create that change together.

They gathered that summer day, and put their voices and collective power of the purse together; they pushed for President Kennedy and Congress to pass national legislation codifying the civil rights of all Americans. In spite of the many long odds, stacked high against them, they petitioned their government to pass legislation that would outlaw poll taxes, literacy tests and other impediments to the vote. And this grassroots effort helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

President Johnson, upon signing the bill into law said that “The central fact of American civilization—one so hard for others to understand—is that freedom and justice and the dignity of man are not just words to us. We believe in them.”

That’s as true now as it was then. We know it hasn’t always been easy, but I know that what drives each of you—as it drives me—is the essential march toward freedom and equality.

That’s why we can’t just talk the talk and be content. To paraphrase President Johnson, as Americans, we must walk the walk to turn what we believe into reality.

Because we did just that – and passed the Voting Rights Act, we’ve seen significant increases in voter registration among African Americans and Latinos.

It also provided the framework for challenging discriminatory election systems that harm voters’ ability to cast their ballots and ensure their vote is counted.

In 2006, I was proud to serve on the House Judiciary Committee when we reauthorized the Voting Rights Act. Very, very proud.

As a member of that committee who helped shape the final legislation before it went to the House floor, I felt it was my way of honoring the trailblazers who had fought and in some cases given their lives to make the Voting Rights Act of 1965 possible.

Today, I proudly serve as a member of a special Democratic House taskforce on voting rights. Thank you.

I do this work – Democrats do this work – you do this work, because it is up to all of us to ensure that the sacrifices of those Freedom Fighters, those marchers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge that Bloody Sunday, those brave men and women, like my colleague John Lewis who sat-in at lunch counters and other public spaces, did not do so in vain.

In the words of my Republican colleague Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, who was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in 2006:

“The Voting Rights Act is vital to America’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process. Section 5 of the Act was a bipartisan effort to rectify past injustices and ensure minorities’ ability to participate in elections, but the threat of discrimination still exists.”

Yes, the threat and the reality of discrimination still exist. Thank you.

It existed in 1965, in 2006 when Congress reauthorized the Act and the voter suppression efforts during the 2012 election cycle, right here in Florida and across the country, show us they remain today.

For too many voters who still face too many obstacles to voting in some parts of our country, we must take a stand for them. Just last year, a federal court blocked a proposed Texas congressional redistricting map because it discriminated against Latino voters.

Then, the federal court that reviewed South Carolina’s photo ID law essentially said, were it not for the Voting Rights Act requiring the state to make changes, South Carolina would have unfairly targeted black voters.

Without the Section 4 formula that the Supreme Court threw out, neither of these discriminatory voting changes would have been subject to review and both probably would have been put into effect immediately!

And, these are just two examples demonstrating that, in the words of our nation’s bold and unflinching Attorney General, Eric Holder, these problems “have not been consigned to history – they continue to exist.”

That’s why groups like the NAACP have fought—and continue to fight—to protect and defend the right to vote, because we know that voting is not a privilege, it is a right which must not be infringed.

We also, we also know and remember the incredible sacrifices of the many Americans who gave so much to secure and protect the right to vote.

And yet despite those sacrifices, we have recently been reminded that progress is never guaranteed and that the right to vote is only as safe as the political will to protect it.

We’ve seen states like South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and yes, Florida, launch cynical and divisive campaigns to restrict access to the ballot.

These wide-spread efforts to suppress voting are a blemish on our democracy. They are wounds which we simply cannot allow to fester.

That’s why we must all remain vigilant and focused in light of the Supreme Court’s decision and hold the leadership in the House accountable to update the law. Sitting on the sidelines, waiting for something to happen is not an option.

President Obama and I know, and many of my colleagues in Congress know that these attacks on our fundamental rights cannot go unchallenged.

I can assure you that Democrats will – as we have for over 50 years – continue to ensure that we protect the franchise.

It’s who we are as a party, as a people, and as a nation.

And we will never back down;

We will never give up; and

We shall not be moved! We shall not be moved.

No, even when it gets tough and it seems like progress is out of our reach, we will stand because we know as Dr. King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

So, my friends, as a tribute to the men and women who throughout generations have joined hands and sang these words in the face of great adversity, I’m here today to tell you . . . We shall not be moved! We shall not be moved.

We shall not be moved when it comes to ensuring that every child in America has access to quality public education, with great teachers who care for their futures, and state of the art schools for them to learn;

We shall not be moved when it comes to creating good middle class jobs for every American of every background, for fighting to make sure hard-working families have a fair and living wage—which is why the President has called on Congress to reward work by raising the minimum wage;

We shall not be moved when it comes to making sure that every American who strives to realize the American Dream of home ownership can live in an affordable, safe neighborhood where their children and families can prosper;

We shall not be moved when it comes to ensuring that health care is accessible, affordable and attainable for all Americans and that insurance companies can’t just drop you because, if you are a breast cancer survivor like me, you have a pre-existing condition;

We shall not be moved when it comes to fighting for opportunity, fairness, and equality for all Americans, no matter who you are, what you look like, what religion you practice or whom you love; and my friends, know this:

We shall not be moved when it comes to protecting our children from tragic and senseless violence!

As parents, as leaders, we will stand our ground to ensure the safety and future of all of our children!

On these critical issues and on all the values we share, President Obama, Democrats, and our nation shall not be moved!

Again thank you, NAACP for your incredible leadership, for your tireless-work, for your advocacy.

And thank you so much for the honor of being able to address you this morning.

On to more struggles and more victories together!