NAACP Elects New President, Will Assume More Political Non-Profit Tax Status

NAACP President Derrick Johnson addresses the Newsmaker Luncheon at the National Press Club August 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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The NAACP — which at 108 years old must balance both its storied legacy as the nation’s oldest civil rights group and the potential for irrelevance amid a fresh crop of racial justice groups born of social media such as Black Lives Matter — decided to shake things up a bit on Saturday.

The organization announced its new president and CEO and its intention to alter its tax status to a non-profit category that permits more aggressive political lobbying.

Forty-nine-year-old Derrick Johnson is familiar not only with the organization but also with the post he was unanimously elected to Saturday for a three-year term. Johnson had served as interim president and CEO since July.

In February, he had been elected as vice-chairman of the board of directors. Before that, he served as state president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.

During a phone call with reporters, Johnson also said the NAACP’s national office would soon transition from the 501(c)3 non-profit status it currently holds to become a 501(c)4.

The change will lift significant restrictions on the NAACP’s ability to engage in political lobbying. IRS rules permit political actions by 501(c)4 groups, though not as their “primary activity.”

Speaking with reporters, Johnson said the decision was in line with one of his organization’s top priorities now: promoting candidates and issues in local and Congressional elections ahead of next year’s midterms. He added that the change would also allow the NAACP to speak to the needs to African-Americans across the country in an increasingly political climate.

The NAACP said in a statement that it chose Johnson believing he could help the organization reinvent itself to more vigorously respond to “new threats to communities of color emerging daily and attacks on our democracy.”

After more than a century in operation, the NAACP continues to face questions about its relevance to a new generation of younger, more technologically savvy racial justice advocates.

Black Lives Matter leader DeRay Mckesson said he’d seen the NAACP’s name recognition on the wane during protests in Ferguson, Mo. three years ago.

“There was a younger person than me who was, like, just budding 20. And he was like, what is NAACP? And we were, like, shocked,” he told NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang in July.

Johnson told reporters Saturday that, while the organization doesn’t disclose its membership count, its rolls have seen growth in the past two years. He has previously conceded, however, that the NAACP needs to draw more young members, specifically those between the ages of 21 and 35.

The NAACP made headlines in August when it issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri, saying visitors should “show extreme caution.” The organization had never before done so for a single state.

The move was in response to a newly-passed state law that made discrimination lawsuits harder to win, as well as racial incidents at the University of Missouri and statistics indicating black drivers were significantly more likely to get pulled over.

Johnson was interim president in August when a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. turned deadly and provoked an equivocal response from President Trump on the moral standing of protesters marching to defend a Confederate monument.

“We shouldn’t have a president – we shouldn’t have a country that tolerates this type of situation,” he told NPR’s Morning Editionat the time. “We have lived through this. We should’ve learned from our history. And there’s no reason for us to repeat this history again.”

Perhaps signaling his willingness to also perform activism over more contemporary mediums, Johnson also responded to Trump via Twitter.

When Trump gives permission for hate to thrive, this is what happens. Sick. #Charlottesville@NAACP

— Derrick Johnson (@DerrickNAACP) August 12, 2017

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Dozens Of Egyptian Police Killed In Desert Shootout

A picture taken on October 21, 2017 shows an Egyptian Health Ministry ambulance parked in the desert near the site of an attack that left dozens of police officers killed in an ambush by Islamist fighters.

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Dozens of Egyptian police officers and conscripts were killed in what seemed to be a carefully orchestrated ambush by militants Friday, according to multiple news reports.

A statement from Egypt’s interior ministry acknowledged the incident in broad terms but did not disclose details such as casualty figures.

At the time of publication, various press accounts were reporting differing numbers of those dead and injured in the attack.

Two wire services were told by sources within Egypt’s security forces that police, acting on what they believed to be a credible intelligence tip, were lured to a suspected militant hideout only to be attacked with fire and rocket propelled grenades.

The apparent ambush took place late Friday in the desert about 80 miles southwest of Cairo, according to the AP, which called the incident “one of the single deadliest attacks by militants against Egyptian security forces in recent years.”

Islamist militant groups have stepped up attacks within Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula that borders Israel and Gaza Strip, since a 2013 coup by the country’s military removed the democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

One such militant group is affiliated with ISIS and has killed hundreds of Egyptian security forces in recent years, says Reuters.

Some local news reports Saturday said Hasm, another extremist group, had claimed responsibility for the attack, but these claims appeared to be untrue, AFP reports.

No group has declared responsibility for the attack yet.

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In Florida, Felons Want Their Voting Rights Restored Automatically

Florida law permanently strips felons of the right to vote and other civil rights, including serving on a jury, running for public office and sitting for the state bar exam.

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On most days from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Mary Grimes can be found pacing along a crowded street in Orlando, Fla., with clipboards in both hands.

“Can I have five minutes of your time?” the 58-year-old says to a parade of passers-by. Those who are in a rush, she quickly wishes well; the others, Grimes directs to a blue and yellow form, reciting her spiel and soliciting a signature from each.

For several months, she has made her living this way. She transforms public parking lots, city parks and sidewalks into a home office from which she urges registered voters to endorse proposed constitutional amendments.

But for her, this is more than a way to pay rent.

“This is what I’m really praying for,” she says pointing to a stack of yellow petitions inside her bag one afternoon outside Orlando’s downtown public library.

Thousands of petitions like these are circulating across Florida in an unprecedented grass-roots campaign to restore voting rights to the state’s more than 1.6 million felons who have completed their sentences. This includes Grimes. At 17, she was sent to prison for a burglary. Although she has served her time, Florida law has barred her from participating in municipal and presidential elections for the past 41 years.

According to The Sentencing Project, a voting rights advocacy group, disenfranchisement laws have kept 6.1 million Americans from voting, and Florida is home to the largest concentration of them: 1.68 million, or 27 percent.

Florida’s law permanently strips felons of the right to vote and other civil rights, including serving on a jury, running for public office and sitting for the state bar exam. Similar laws are on the books in Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia. The law requires that felons who have served their time and want their rights restored petition a clemency board consisting of the governor, the attorney general and two Cabinet members in a convoluted and subjective process that could take years.

Florida’s law and its lengthy clemency process, born out of the Reconstruction era, have disproportionately kept African-Americans — many of whom have committed low-level offenses — disenfranchised for decades. Under Florida Gov. Rick Scott, 2,807 people have had their voting rights restored out of more than 29,611 cases the clemency board had reviewed as of Oct. 5.

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Those cases include Desmond Meade, who heads the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. He waited five years for a response from the clemency board and was denied on the grounds that he had petitioned too early.

“This is an issue that has consumed every part of my life,” says Meade, a law school graduate who is ineligible to practice because the law prohibits him from taking the state bar. “I thought that it is better for me to concentrate on changing these policies or finding a different way than to rely on this old policy that says basically that I’m not going to get an opportunity.”

Ten years ago, Meade launched Floridians For A Fair Democracy and the Say Yes to Second Chances campaign with the help of citizen-led initiatives and advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida League of Women Voters. Their mission has been to put an end to Florida’s clemency process and automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their time for nonviolent offenses.

In March, the campaign reached an unprecedented milestone when volunteers gathered the 68,314 signatures required to trigger a review of the proposed constitutional amendment by the Florida Supreme Court. The court unanimously approved the language that will ultimately appear on the ballot and, if voted in, will appear in the Florida Constitution.

Howard Simon, executive director of Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union, was part of the group that helped write the ballot language. The process took nearly a year and a half of researching and framing clear and concise language.

“I feel very good about the fact that even in a politically and ideologically divided Florida Supreme Court, they found the ballot language to be clear and consistent with constitutional principles, and they did so unanimously,” he said. “That, I think, is a big shot in the arm for this movement.”

The next step in the potential overhaul is to submit the required 766,200 signatures before Feb. 1 to be eligible to appear on the midterm election ballots. For the law to pass, 60 percent of voters have to support it. The sheer volume of petitions needed, coupled with the fact that state law prohibits felons from signing petitions, has led the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to solicit help from petition-gathering companies. This approach is similar to past efforts that have led to major overhauls of state law, including the medical marijuana amendment and fair districting.

If you live in Florida, sign the petition to restore formerly incarcerated individuals’ right to vote: https://t.co/pUv68wkSLYhttps://t.co/KkpTMXimht

— John Legend (@johnlegend) September 26, 2017

In the past year, the effort has drawn the attention of celebrities such as musician John Legend, financial contributions from donors across partisan lines and $5 million toward mobilization from the American Civil Liberties Union. For Simon, it is the largest contribution he can remember in his career with the organization.

“This is the unfinished business of the civil rights movement here in Florida,” Simon says. “We are the world’s — not the nation’s — but the world’s epicenter for taking the vote away from people, and I think people have come to recognize more and more that it’s wrong.”

Ahead of the November 2016 presidential election, felons in Florida drew attention to their inability to participate in the process. Since then, support has grown exponentially into what Meade calls “a cornucopia of citizens” impacted by an issue that transcends partisan and racial lines, age and gender.

“We’ve had someone as old as 97 years old collecting petitions, and as young as 9 to 10 years old. We’ve had Latinos, We’ve had whites. We’ve had blacks. We have conservatives. We’ve had progressives. We’ve had independents. We’ve had people who may not even have a political preference but just believe that people should have their ability to vote restored. They’re just coming from all over.”

The campaign will continue with days of action across the state, with more than 300 volunteers coming together at churches, in shopping plazas, and even house parties. Then, there are petitioners like Mary Grimes, who will endure the Florida heat in a bandanna and sunglasses and walk from sidewalk to sidewalk to ask passers-by for a minute of their time.

Many will ignore her and some will stop, and she’ll keep going.

“I’m not worried because somebody’s going to listen, you feel me?” she says.

Renata Sago (@RenataSago) is a general assignment reporter for Marketplace.

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Fresh Air Weekend: Novelist Amy Tan; 'Death In The Air'; Director Noah Baumbach

A 3-year-old Amy Tan appears with her brother Peter in this 1955 family photo. Peter died in 1967 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Courtesy of Amy Tan

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Courtesy of Amy Tan

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

‘I Am Full Of Contradictions’: Novelist Amy Tan On Fate And Family:In Where the Past Begins, Tan connects her experience with spirituality to that of her parents and grandmother. “I don’t consider myself any religion,” she says. ” … I have an amalgam of beliefs.”

‘Death In The Air’ Revisits 5 Days When London Was Choked By Poisonous Smog: Kate Winkler Dawson’s new book chronicles The Great Smog of 1952, when moist air from the Gulf Stream stalled for days over London, mixing with poisonous gases and causing more than 12,000 deaths.

Noah Baumbach Explores Love, Resentment And Anger In ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’:Baumbach’s new film mixes comedy with deep emotional pain. It revolves around three adult siblings whose father is a self-absorbed sculptor. Baumbach’s previous films includeThe Squid and the Whale.

You can listen to the original interviews here:

‘I Am Full Of Contradictions’: Novelist Amy Tan On Fate And Family

‘Death In The Air’ Revisits 5 Days When London Was Choked By Poisonous Smog

Noah Baumbach Explores Love, Resentment And Anger In ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’

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