WASHINGTON — National Action Network president Rev. Al Sharpton promised a “season of civil disobedience” in reaction to the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for attorney general in the Trump administration.
Sharpton, an MSNBC host, said activists have planned a march in Washington on Jan. 14 during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend to protest the Sessions nomination. Sharpton recalled spending 90 days in jail for protesting on U.S. Navy land against military exercises on the island of Vieques in 2001 when George W. Bush was president, adding that civil disobedience usually works because it changes policy.
“We’re not just doing this to be doing it. We do it because it can lead to change and, believe me, there will be a season of civil disobedience particularly around the Sessions nomination,” he said Friday on a conference call with other civil rights organizations’ leaders such as Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.
Sharpton offered a preview of the mass march, explaining that activists plan to outline their intent to visit senators’ offices and make some house calls to “make them understand” they will be held accountable for voting in favor of Sessions, whose confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Make them understand that if they think they are voting based on some courtesy of a Senate colleague and will not face a real backlash in their own states, then they have another thing coming. This is not going to be some regular ceremonial procedure that they’re going to be able to bluff their way through,” he said.
“We intend to make this a critical stand in terms of where people are with civil rights and voting rights in this country. No one will be given a pass to say ‘I had to vote for my colleague.’ This is an affront to everything the civil rights and voting rights community has stood for historically and a vote for Sessions should be held accountable and punishable by the voters,” he added.
The political activists on the call said Sessions has a poor record on issues such as civil rights, immigrant rights and LGBT rights. The activists said Sessions’ confirmation hearing should be delayed so a more thorough review of Sessions’ record can be conducted. Brooks focused most of his criticism of Sessions on voting rights in particular.
“Senator Sessions, over the course of many years, his support for voting rights has been a matter of vacillating between indifference and out-and-out hostility,” said Brooks. “He has not acknowledged the reality of voter suppression while loudly in faith of voter ID laws predicated on the myth of voter fraud.”
Brooks criticized Sessions for supporting a voter ID law in Alabama.
“This is not the kind of person we need to serve as attorney general,” he said.
Sharpton said civil rights activists must remind senators that the nation is “watching” how they vote on Sessions’ nomination. He pondered how the government could justify having Sessions follow Eric Holder, the nation’s first African-American attorney general, and Loretta Lynch, the nation’s first African-American female attorney general.
“That is something that should not even be considered,” he said.
“Clearly members of the Senate, both Republican and Democrat, particularly moderate Republicans, need to know that the nation is going to be watching not only the hearings but the vote, which will be sometime later,” he added.
Brooks mentioned Sessions being rejected for a federal judgeship in the late 1980s before he became a senator, calling it a “rare” occurrence.
“We’re going to focus on the record,” he said.
Murguia said her organization disagrees with Sessions’ position on immigration, calling his record “hostile” toward Hispanics. In the past, Sessions has supported stronger enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws and voted in favor of additional border security measures.
Murguia cited Sessions’ opposition to moving 2,000 minors, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, into the state of Alabama.
“Remember these are frightened children who fled hellish conditions and trekked across several countries by themselves in hopes of finding refuge in this country, yet Senator Sessions could not muster any sense of compassion or understanding of their plight,” Murguia said.