A leading civil rights organization in the United States is urging African-Americans to vote in November's presidential election - as a means of countering state laws the group says threaten gains that blacks and other minorities have made over the years.
"Not on our watch are we going to be pushed away from the decision-making table when it comes to school and education, jobs and economic policy in this country," said National Urban League President Marc Morial - unveiling the organization's annual "State of Black America" report. At a town hall meeting in Washington, the organization joined a chorus of other civil rights groups in condemning new voting laws in 34 states.
"We believe that these laws will impact the voter participation of some 5 million voters across the nation," said Morial.
Impact of new laws questioned
Several U.S. states have implemented new laws their sponsors say will cut down on voter fraud and other voting errors.
Some narrow the list of acceptable forms of identification at the polls. Others tighten restrictions on registration. Morial says the new regulations are a national assault on voting rights and will discourage political participation among minorities, students and the elderly.
"We have got to push back forcefully against this effort to create voter suppression laws in this country. It is just inconsistent with American values and inconsistent with democracy. It is though as in the 21st century we are going to block the path to the ballot box," said Morial.
The Urban League is launching several campaigns to increase voter turnout among Black Americans in November. They include an online election center to provide information on voting requirements. The league also hopes to conduct get-out-the-vote drives. In the 2008 election won by President Barack Obama, more than 65 percent of eligible black voters turned up at the polls, about the same percentage as eligible white voters.
Education faces budget reductions
The National Urban League report also is critical of proposed state and federal cuts to education investment, which it says will hurt minority students. The league is calling for efforts to expand educational opportunities for young African-Americans and prepare them for college.
Raequan Jones was homeless and ready to give up on an education, but thanks to a program designed to re-engage high school students, his grades improved and he got financial aid to attend a university.
"By me inspiring people is just being that positive role model, making sure that I complete everything [my education] that I set out to do, not only going and achieving my goals, but actually going above and beyond my goals," said Jones.
The civil rights group also supports jobs training legislation intended to reduce high unemployment in minority communities. The National Urban League says it will push the government to create more programs that train low-skilled workers and young people for jobs when the economy improves.