ATLANTA—The Rev. Jesse Jackson is touring Southern cities this week to rally opposition to next month's mayoral election in New Orleans, saying too many Hurricane Katrina victims scattered around the country will be unable to vote.
He is asking Black churches, Black colleges and other organizations in cities like Atlanta, Jackson, Miss., and Memphis, Tenn., to encourage their members to march on New Orleans on April 1. The election is set for April 22.
We marched for fair elections, not fast elections
Black leaders have charged that Louisiana officials have not done enough to ensure that voters scattered by the storm will be able to vote. Louisiana loosened procedures for absentee balloting and plans to set up satellite polling places around the state for New Orleans residents driven from their homes, but it decided not to create such stations outside Louisiana.
Jackson and other civil rights leaders have demanded that the election be postponed. Jackson said the march will be the most critical such demonstration since the civil rights era.
"Fast is not more important than fair. We marched for fair elections, not fast elections," he said at a church in Atlanta, referring to his involvement in the civil rights movement with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
New Orleans was about 70 percent Black before Hurricane Katrina, and some Blacks fear they will lose political power if the elections go forward now, when less than half of the city's pre-Katrina population of 465,000 has returned.
Two dozen candidates are running for mayor, including incumbent Ray Nagin, who is Black. The candidates have had to campaign nationally to address their scattered electorate. Only seven of them showed up last weekend in Atlanta for a candidates' forum held for evacuees in the area.
"Those who are running don't know who is eligible, and the eligible don't know who's running," Jackson said.
Among those scheduled to attend the march in New Orleans are actors Bill Cosby and Harry Belafonte, National Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor MarcMorial,NAACP President Bruce Gordon, the Rev.AlSharptonand SouthernChristian LeadershipConference President Charles Steele.
The Rev. Raphael G. WarnockofAtlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was once King's pulpit, said a busload of his congregation members plan to march in New Orleans.
"We are unified in saying no to those who would roll back voting rights won through the shedding of blood," Warnock said.
Jackson said the two options for casting a ballot on April 22 — voting absentee, or going back to Louisiana — violate federal law. He said the Postal Service is having trouble delivering mail, and traveling hundreds of miles to vote is a hardship on many evacuees.
Steele wants the federal government to help pay voters' travel costs or provide out-of-state satellite voting sites.
The Rev. Darrell D. Elligan, president of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc., said satellite voting sites were made available outside Iraq for expatriates who participated in that country's recent elections.
"We should work as hard for our own citizens," Elligan said.
— The Associated Press