(July 24, 2016 — Source: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images North America)

The Fight for America’s Soul

Philadelphia, PA — With the Democratic National Convention winding down, progressives face a consequential choice in the weeks and months ahead. The stakes are monumental and the hard work now begins.

We are, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, engaged in a battle for our nation’s very soul.

This isn’t hyperbole. We are witnessing a well-documented resurgence of white nationalist extremists in this country, fueled by a calculated “otherism” that casts black and brown people as the authors of white America’s pain. This atmosphere has been fed by the Republican presidential nominee, whose dangerous rhetoric has emboldened xenophobes of every stripe.

When a former Ku Klux Klan leader is inspired to run for the United States Senate because the Republican nominee has embraced “most of the issues that I’ve championed for years,” it’s clear we’ve entered a new era of manifest racism.

This is borne out by the Republican Party platform, which, despite claiming to consider discrimination “unacceptable and immoral,” seeks to further undermine the Voting Rights Act and perpetuates the myth of voter fraud. That’s in addition to advocating onerous restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, calling same-sex marriage “an assault on the foundations of our society,” and categorizing immigrants as “aliens.”

By contrast, I am proud of my fellow Democrats and our vigorous debate that resulted in the most progressive platform in our party’s history. If the Republican nominee gives us something to fight against, the Democratic Party Platform and the positions taken by Hillary Clinton’s campaign give us a unified, progressive vision to fight for.

It is a vision for not just defending but advancing civil rights by calling for a Department of Justice investigation of every police shooting and policies that build trust between communities and law enforcement.

It is a vision for ending mass incarceration — one that exhorts us to shift our nation’s priorities away from the failed War on Drugs and toward rehabilitation, the reincorporation into our society of men and women leaving prison, and public safety strategies that actually make us safer.

It is a vision for recalibrating our national energy priorities by moving away from oil and coal toward wind and solar, and for making sure that our trade deals lift all boats — first and foremost by stopping the TPP, as Hillary Clinton has promised to do.

It is a vision for improving the lives of hard-working American families by raising the minimum wage to $15, lowering the Medicare enrollment age to 55, and making college and health care affordable for everyone.

The differences between the Democratic Party’s vision and that of the Republicans could not be more stark, or more serious.

As an ardent ally of Bernie Sanders, I join him in unequivocally endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.

This will be the first presidential election since the passage of the Voting Rights Act (adopted more than 50 years ago) without its full protections, which the United States Supreme Court hobbled when it ruled that jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination no longer must seek preapproval before changing voting rules that could adversely affect minority populations. Of the two major party nominees, Clinton is the only one on record calling for restoration of the Voting Rights Act. She is also the only one engaged in a massive voter registration campaign to enfranchise communities of color and ensure they have a voice in this pivotal election.

Progressives must work together — with each other and with the Democratic Party — to ensure that all eligible voters can vote and have their ballots counted. We must mobilize people of color and young voters around a progressive agenda that will provide economic opportunity and create a policing system that truly values black and brown lives.

We all must be clear that the 2016 presidential election is not, as the Republican candidate claims, about making America “great” again.

It is about saving America’s soul.

The author is former president of the NAACP and a member of the DNC Platform Committee.

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