Editor's note: The following are excerpts from a speech by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., at the recent NAACP national convention.
This is the 97th annual convention of the NAACP, and I understand this year's theme is "Voting our Values. Valuing our Votes."
I've heard the charge that Democrats take African Americans for granted. We're not above criticism, but I'll tell you this: We're not taking anyone for granted.
We're fighting to earn the support of every American, and we're doing it by making clear where we stand.
All the pundits and all press want to focus on "what" Democrats stand for. But that misses the point.
It's "who" we stand for that matters. And the answer to that is you.
Democrats stand for people who believe America should really be a land of opportunity for all, with good schools no matter where you live, affordable college education, jobs that pay and a government that understands it's the middle class — not the very rich — who need tax relief.
Democrats stand for people who believe America is a country where a hard day's work results in a fair day's pay, with a minimum wage that's increased as often as the Congressional raise.
It's wrong that Congress has increased its salary over $30,000 since 1997, but not increased the minimum wage a penny. And it's not going to happen again. From now on, Senate Democrats are going to block a raise in Congressional pay, until there's a raise for America's workers.
Democrats stand for people who believe our oldest and neediest deserve our care.
We all saw the Republicans' response to Katrina. They dropped the ball when New Orleans needed them the most.
Now, they're setting their sights — again — on Social Security, the most successful social program in the history of the world, a program that provides 40 percent of African American seniors with their total income, a program that provides critical support to the disabled and families after the death of a loved one, a program that reduces the overall poverty rate among seniors from 50 to 10 percent.
Democrats beat privatization in 2005, and if Republicans in Congress want to try again this fall, we'll beat them again. America's retirement security will not fall into the hands of this incompetent administration.
Democrats stand for people who believe that good health is a prerequisite to prosperity.
Republicans have had five years to get a handle on America's health care crisis, but even with control of the White House, the Senate and the House, they've failed.
Under their watch, the number of uninsured has increased to 46 million. Health care costs are crippling middle-class families and our economy. Racial and ethnic health disparities not only continue to persist, but in some cases are getting worse. And the promise of new cures offered by stem cell research remains out of reach.
Democrats don't believe the quality of your health care should ever be determined by the color of your skin, by the language that you speak, the neighborhood you live in or the size of your bank account. We're committed to giving every American access to quality care. And we'll embrace the next generation of medical breakthroughs, like stem cell research, to make that happen.
And you know who else Democrats stand for? People who understand you can't spread freedom and democracy beyond our shores until you honor these values at home. By counting every vote. By drawing fair Congressional districts. And by reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Voting Rights Act is one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress, but it's not politicians in Washington who deserve the credit for this landmark legislation. Credit belongs to the men and women decades ago who had the courage to rise in the face of injustice. Some of them in this room this morning.
Today in Washington, I believe their legacy — your legacy — is being taken for granted. The Voting Rights Act isn't just another bill. It's essential to our democracy.
I don't have to tell you, but, today in Congress some seem to have forgotten that before the Voting Rights Act, African Americans who tried to register to vote were subject to beatings, literacy tests and poll taxes.
I don't have to tell you, but, today in Congress some seem to have forgotten that before the Voting Rights Act, over 90 percent of eligible African Americans in Mississippi didn't register to vote. Not because they didn't want to, but because they couldn't.
I don't have to tell you, but, today in Congress some seem to have forgotten that before the Voting Rights Act, it would have been unheard of to have 43 African American members of Congress, as we do today.
And I don't have to tell you, but, today in Congress some seem to have forgotten that the simple act of voting on Election Day in America isn't so simple. It's a cause for which Americans — just a few decades ago — were willing to give their lives.
This cause, this right to vote, led Jimmie Lee Jackson from Marion, Ala., to attempt a peaceful march on the Perry County courthouse, only to be shot in the stomach and killed by police who were beating his mother.
This cause, this right to vote, led a Unitarian minister from New England named James Reeb to leave his family and travel to Selma in the name of equal rights, where he was clubbed to death outside a restaurant.
This cause, this right to vote, led a mother from Michigan named Viola Liuzzo to the backroads of Alabama, where she was gunned down for having an African American in her car.
This cause, this right to vote, is what we're fighting for with the Voting Rights Act today.
Democrats believe in a new direction for America, but we can't deliver it without your help. I've seen the power of the NAACP in the past and know how critical it is to our future. The struggle for civil rights and economic equality continues, and in that struggle, the Democratic Party and the NAACP walk hand-in-hand.
By supporting Democrats, you are voting your values — and Democrats will always value your support.