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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

Silence Is Not an Option

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After a decisive win in the state of Florida, you would think GOP hopeful Willard Mitt Romney would be more careful in his approach towards serious subject matters. But somehow, the self-proclaimed rich guy still manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Proudly showing his disdain and disregard for the poor in an interview yesterday, Romney once again ridiculed and demeaned the most vulnerable among us. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich (coming in second place yet again), continually wastes no opportunity openly disrespecting African Americans and blaming us for the ills of society. Couple this outrageous behavior with an entire Republican Party that is so entrenched in suppressing the vote, that they don't even realize how far from reality they have veered. Watching these so-called candidates and this party continually disrespect Blacks, Latinos, the poor and other minority groups, I've come to one definitive conclusion: silence is not an option.

By now everyone is familiar with Gingrich's statements referring to Barack Obama as a 'food stamp president' and accusing him of placing more people on food stamps than any president in American history. It doesn't take a genius to know that this use of coded racial language is the same verbiage Gingrich used when he was Speaker and the same that was used by Republicans for years -- including during Reagan's 'welfare queen' saga. Same old tactics; same purpose. Not only is it patently false to juxtapose Black people with welfare and food stamps when the majority (36%) of those on food stamps are White, it's also reprehensible to state that President Obama has placed more people on the program when we know the facts show that there were 14.7 million more food stamp recipients added under Bush as compared to 14.2 million recipients added under Obama. But then again, these are facts -- something the extreme right has problems recognizing.

The most troubling aspect of this GOP race perhaps is the notion that people like Gingrich and Romney suddenly think it's OK to make offensive statements and mistruths openly about Blacks and others. When did it suddenly become acceptable for them to say Black people shouldn't be satisfied with food stamps and handouts? Or that Black people just don't have any role models? Who anointed them as the spokespeople for Blacks in this country? And how dare they have the audacity to make such baseless lies in the first place. Yet if we defend ourselves and speak the truth, we're somehow bringing race into the conversation -- I don't think so.

As each debate and each primary continues, it's becoming evident that these sorts of outrageous claims will continue -- if not grow. We cannot allow them to intimidate us into silence and inactivity. While they pollute the public's mind with fabrications and misinformation, we will readily remind them of the immense progress that we managed to achieve in this nation.

From March 4th - March 9th, my organization, National Action Network (NAN), will be conducting a re-enactment of the infamous Selma to Montgomery march. Camping in tents and walking along the same route as was done in '65, we will call attention to voter ID laws, draconian immigration legislation and voter suppression schemes taking place at this very moment all across the country. It was this, the Selma to Montgomery march, and all of the attention it garnered that ultimately pushed Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act. Today, when we see those very rights that many sacrificed their lives for being stripped away, we will take action.

Then on March 27th, NAN will convene a massive rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. as they begin hearings on the health care reform bill. After millions of Americans have already benefited from reform to our broken health care system, some would like nothing more than to repeal progress. In partnership with AFSCME, the AFT, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NOW and other leaders from the civil rights community, we will collectively show our solidarity and support for the Affordable Care Act and the right for all Americans to receive health insurance.

NAN is only getting started. For information on the Selma to Montgomery march and our Supreme Court rally, please visit nationalactionnetwork.net. And stay tuned throughout the year as we galvanize, mobilize and bring power back to the people.

While Romney, Gingrich and the other GOP candidates continue to attack people of color, the poor, the elderly, the working class and others, we will remind them who holds the majority. We've fought too hard and come too far to let complacency take over; it's time for a national movement.