Michigan chapters of the NAACP met in Detroit for the group’s 80th statewide convention this weekend.
The historic group talked strategies to confront current civil rights challenges, that range from police brutality and criminal justice reform, to state laws that limit voting rights.
National NAACP President Cornell Brooks, who spoke at the Michigan conference, called 2016 a "critical year" for the modern civil rights and racial justice movements, as well as a critical election year.
Brooks said the group is preparing for the first election in decades without full protections of the Voting Rights Act.
“We’re concerned that because of a broken Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department is not as well-equipped to address last minute, on the eve of the election voter suppression strategies,” he said.
Brooks noted that federal judges have struck down a number of state election laws in recent weeks, on the grounds they unfairly target black voters.
That included Michigan’s attempt to ban straight-ticket voting.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to step in and overrule lower court rulings that found the ban would disproportionately impact voters at majority-black, urban polling centers, by causing longer lines and other delays.
The Flint water crisis was also on the group’s agenda.
Brooks called Flint “the metaphor for what’s happened all across the country, where in the name of fiscal responsibility, we democratically defraud American citizens in terms of their ability to govern themselves.”
The NAACP also honored Flint Mayor Karen Weaver for her work during the past year. She said Flint is making “opportunity of this crisis.”
“And people have asked me why I still refer to it as a crisis. And it’s because any time you can’t drink your water, that’s a crisis,” Weaver said. “That’s a crisis, and we won’t be quiet about it until we get this fixed.”
Brooks and state NAACP leaders said they hope to mobilize black voters for the upcoming election in part by using these issues as motivation.
“That’s why we know that we will be at the polls here in Michigan, voting like our lives depend on it,” said Michigan NAACP President Yvonne White. “Because they do.”