The National Action Network, or NAN, celebrated its 25th anniversary today. The organization, founded by the Reverend Al Sharpton, opened its national convention in Midtown, bringing together veteran civil rights activists from all over the city and as far away as South Carolina and Texas. But just how relevant is quarter-century old civil rights organization in the age of Black Lives Matter and Twitter activism? Jaki Johnson reports.
Johnson 1: Valerie Wilson has been a member of the National Action Network for 16 years… But she says, some of the younger people in her family don’t really understand what it’s all about.
Lewis 1: “Sometimes if they see progress they say alright, alright, but the last thing where the cop got off they said you’re out there for nothing.” (00:08)
But Wilson takes a longer view. She joined NAN after the death of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant killed by police in the Bronx in 1999.
I was so frustrated. I said you know, I really need to get up and do something. You know, go out or march or something.
Of course NAN has done more than just march. Over the years NAN has registered voters, pressured the advertising industry around inequality, and helped open doors for minority and women-owned businesses.
But today’s convention was focused on the future, the youth, those young people in Valerie Wilson’s family who just don’t seem to get it. Reverend Al. Sharpton’s daughter Dominique Sharpton says groups like NAN and new activist groups like Black Lives Matter, may have different methods, by they share similar goals.
Sharpton 1: “I think it’s a lack of communication, I think that the more we convene and come together the more we can see that there are really no issues between us. I just feel like the action agenda to me has not been laid out so what you see is a lot of angry young people that are upset with the system.” (00:15)
Johnson 3: For Sharpton, understanding policy is critical, so that online anger can be transformed into practical solutions. Solutions that begin at the ballot box.
Sharpton 2: “Yes, it’s great that you can go on Twitter and state your cause or state how you feel, but are you voting to change that situation?” (00:23)
Johnson 4: And NAN has always been about persistence. Sharpton says it’s important to understand that efforts have to be long-term.
Sharpton 3: “I feel like people are really trying to look for instant gratification. So they feel, if I march or rally, if I do this one thing that should be enough to change it.” (00:09)
Johnson 5: And of course, this years convention comes just days before the New York primary, giving NAN’s discussions of the future, that much more urgency.
Jaki Johnson, Columbia Radio News