"We are wading through the greatest wave of legislative assault on the right to vote in more than a century," shouted National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous into a microphone at an over-air-conditioned exhibit hall at the George R. Brown Convention Center. "If you let somebody diminish the power of your vote, you will have already lost a battle."
Short-sleeve-wearing men and pretty women in half-sleeves nodded approval as they rubbed their arms in an attempt to stay warm. So much cold air blew through the sprawling room that the three-foot-tall fake plants, which flanked each side of the podium, probably wished they could've called timeout during Jealous' hour-long speech to take a sunbathing break.
A majority of the shivering delegates remained in the hall for the entirety of the two-and-a-half hour session to hear what folks -- including Houston Mayor Annise Parker and U.S. Representative for Texas' 18th congressional district Sheila Jackson Lee -- had to say at the 103rd NAACP Annual Convention on Monday morning.
For the first 20 minutes of his speech, Jealous, who became the youngest president in NAACP history when he took over in 2008, played the role of a corporate executive, catching his delegates up to speed, via sports analogies, about its sprouting membership (which has increased for three consecutive years), increased Facebook presence in terms of followers and successes in registering voters in a crucial election year.
Later, Jealous flipped to church preacher, lobbing critical words at Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania for passing or attempting to pass strict voter ID laws that critics say will suffocate voter turnout for minorities. "We must push for voters so that the election isn't stolen," said Jealous.
Another issue on Jealous' radar was the passing of the "meanest, most racist immigration laws" in states like Alabama and Arizona. "I'm not sure Canadians are being stopped in Alabama for looking mighty Canadian," deadpanned Jealous in his high-pitched timbre.
The biggest applause of the day was reserved for Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, who, on April 25, signed legislation to abolish the death penalty in his state. Getting rid of the death penalty has been and continues to be a nationwide crusade for the NAACP.
Later, Malloy, who said he arrived from the East Coast that very morning, clowned Rick Perry for not showing up at the convention that's being held in his home state.
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"I understand that the Texas Governor sent you a 'hello' by video," said a smirking Malloy as the revved-up crowd rose out of their chairs to give the politician his props.
The 103rd NAACP Annual Convention is scheduled to continue through Thursday at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Speakers on the docket include GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney (Wednesday) and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (Thursday).