NAACP Again Asks Bush To Drop By

Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors, speaks during the 97th Annual Convention of the NAACP, Sunday, July 16, 2006, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Is President Bush ready for a change of heart on the NAACP convention?

Every year, the NAACP invites him to drop by, and every year, he doesn't.

He's the first sitting president in decades to have declined such invitations and hasn't said for sure what he'll do this time around.

Mr. Bush does have what appears to be some wiggle room on his Wednesday schedule: a time slot marked "TBA," that is, To Be Announced.

"This year the convention has come to the president and we hope and pray he is coming to us," said NAACP chairman Julian Bond Sunday, speaking about a mile from the White House as he kicked off the group's six-day-long convention.

Bond said Mr. Bush's presence would show that he hears the concerns of African-Americans. "We have values, we vote our values, and we demand to be valued in return," he said.

One highlight of the NAACP convention is an analysis of how certain industries are treating minorities. Since 1997, the NAACP has graded banks, phone companies, hotels and other companies, and the latest report cards are expected to be released on Monday.

More than 2000 people packed the convention center in D.C. to hear Bond's hour-long keynote speech, in which he urged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, condemned attacks on school integration and said the war in Iraq "has weakened rather than strengthened America's defenses, including our levees."

He added, "Our troops may be fighting to secure democracy abroad, but we can't secure our democracy at home."

Voting irregularities and biased laws still hit minorities hardest, said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting Democratic delegate to the House of Representatives.

"The United States has a ways to go before a black or brown voter has nothing to worry about when he or she goes to the polls," she said.

"We might call it voting while black," said Bond.

Bond called on lawmakers to renew expiring portions of the Voting Rights Act. The House voted last week to renew it, but the Senate has yet to act. NAACP members plan to lobby for the legislation on Wednesday.

Bond criticized Republicans for being unethical and said "some of the Democrats won't take their own side in a fight."

His frustrated tone reflected the diminished status of the NAACP and other civil rights groups at a time when conservatives dominate Washington and public policy tackling racial discrimination is being dismantled.