BOSTON (SHNS) – The head of the National Urban League on Wednesday said that in order for the protests over police brutality and social injustice to be successful, they must lead to changes in laws and public policy, just as they did in the 1960s.
“The challenge for us today is can that power, can that protest energy, find its way into the ballot box in November, because it’s a must,” said Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League and a former mayor of New Orleans.
Morial, who took part in a lunchtime discussion on race and equality hosted by the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, said that the protests that ensued after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis were “refreshing,” despite the “disappointing” turn that some took into violence and destruction.
He said it’s important, however, to remember the lessons of the 1950s and 1960s and to use that spirit of activism to change laws and policies.
“We cannot surrender our power. We cannot surrender our right to protest. We cannot surrender our right to vote,” he said.
Morial plans to joined Martin Luther King III, Rev. Al Sharpton and others on Friday to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Without mentioning President Donald Trump, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden or any one political party, Morial said, “The important thing there is we will be focusing on justice and policing and focusing on Congress and placing pressure on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
The Democrat-controlled House has already passed the bill, but the Republican-led Senate has not.
The online lunch discussion was moderated by Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts Board Chair Joseph Feaster and President Keith Motley, and featured Urban League of Springfield President Henry Thomas.
The group spent time discussing Morial’s new book “The Gumbo Coalition,” which offers lessons in leadership through stories about his life and career, and the new Urban League headquarters being built in Harlem.
Morial said the “Gumbo Coalition” is the name he gave to the diverse group of supporters he worked to assemble during his first campaign for mayor of New Orleans, and the notion that the more ingredients that get tossed into a stew, the tastier it becomes.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh dialed in for a portion of the discussion, heaping praise on Morial and talking about the city’s efforts to address racial inequality, including his decision to declare racism a public health crisis.
Walsh noted that Feaster was part of a commission helping the city look at policing reforms, and he spoke briefly about the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday.
“Enough is enough,” Walsh said he told a friend of his, during a private discussion about the shooting. “This case is horrifying. It demands accountability and justice.”
Prompted by Feaster as Hurricane Laura bears down on Louisiana and eastern Texas, Morial compared the federal response to COVID-19 to that after Hurricane Katrina. As was the case after Katrina, Morial said, the country lacks a national strategy to deal with the pandemic.
But he said President George W. Bush pivoted from his initial position of leaving the natural disaster response to state and local officials when that wasn’t working, while President Donald Trump has not, leading to what he described as the politicization of safety precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing.
“Because we have not had a national plan, it has cost us lives,” Morial said.
Morial said the pandemic has “unmasked” racial and ethnic disparities that have existed for a long time, and put them under a microscope.
Since the National Urban League started publishing an equality index in 2005 to create metrics by which to measure progress, the overall scores for Black and Latinx citizens hasn’t changed, he said. While some disparities in health and education have narrowed “slightly,” Morial said the economic and social justice gaps in society have widened.
“Let us commit in this time to do everything we can to seize this moment so that this moment of tragedy becomes a movement for constructive change,” Morial said.