Courtesy of the National Urban League via Twitter
Courtesy of the National Urban League via Twitter

“I thank you, Urban League, for all of your leadership, and I look forward to fighting with you. … Part of the strength of this organization and all of the leaders in this room is we have always been motivated by knowing what can be, unburdened by what has been. This is a fight that is born out of optimism. This is a fight that is born out of knowing that we must fight for the soul of our country also out of love of country. And this is a fight we will win.” — Kamala Harris, address to the National Urban League Conference

The last time the National Urban League convened for an in-person conference in July 2019, special counsel Robert Mueller was taking a seat to testify to the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the then-president’s efforts to obstruct that investigation.

That president was then engaged in a racist campaign of slander against four congresswomen of color and spreading lies about immigrants and voter fraud.

The first cases of the deadliest pandemic in American history were months in the future. An insurrection against the United States government was still an unimaginable prospect.

On July 20-23, the National Urban League and our network of affiliates and allies gather in Washington, D.C., with the nation’s most influential voices in government, business, social activism, and the arts. Our task: to confront the transformation of the nation’s political, social and economic landscape and chart a path toward a more equitable and resilient society.

The nation is only beginning to grapple with the aftershocks of the past few years. The 2022 Conference is an opportunity to highlight and redefine the National Urban League’s role in responding not only to the medical and economic crises wrought by the COVID pandemic, but to the rise of extremism and an unprecedented assault on democracy and civil liberties.

The Conference kicked off Wednesday, July 20, with the Urban League Fights For You Rally on Civil Rights, Hate Crimes, Women’s Rights & Economic Justice at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The rally sets in motion the relaunched Reclaim Your Vote campaign of civic engagement and defense of democracy.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris last addressed the Conference as candidates for the nation’s highest office; now they head the administration tasked with leading the nation out of its current turmoil. High-ranking members of the Biden-Harris administration, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge, Census Director Robert L. Santos, and Environmental Protection Agency Michael S. Regan will share their vision for repairing the damage inflicted by the previous administration and reimagining our national institutions and systems to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

On the second day of our last in-person conference opened — less than a day after Mueller’s testimony about the continued threat of interference in American elections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell twice blocked legislation to improve election security. Since then, he has repeatedly led filibusters to defeat voting rights.

Then, we were alarmed that Black Americans were being deterred and denied participation in elections.

Now, we are alarmed that there no longer will be elections in which to participate. More than 70 election deniers are candidates for state offices that run, oversee, or protect elections. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could open the door for a state legislature to refuse to certify the results of a presidential election and instead select its own slate of electors — much as the plotters of the Jan. 6 insurrection attempted to do.

It is these extraordinary threats to the foundation of our democracy that we will confront as the National Urban League Conference convenes next week in Washington, D.C. To participate virtually, visit our conference website and follow the social media hashtag #NULCONF22.

Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.

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