A meet and greet that started at 5 p.m. drew about 50 people.
Nationally, the NAACP and Tea Party appear to be poles apart, but the local groups have found common ground in Rome, Ga.
The two groups are collaborating on a political candidate forum, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Rome Civic Center on Jackson Hill.
It’s the Rome-Floyd County NAACP’s biennial forum, but organizers accepted the Rome Tea Party’s offer of help with the nonpartisan event. The 100 Black Men and Delta Sigma Sorority also are participating.
Click to see the My Voter web page to see a sample ballot and for registration information.
“The best thing about this is that the candidates won’t be able to tell one organization one thing, and another organization something else,” said Alvin Jackson, political action chairman for the NAACP. “They’re going to have to make the same promises to everybody.”
Mike Morton, a founder of the local Tea Party, said there’s a growing buzz of enthusiasm that is only partly fueled by curiosity about the unique collaboration.
“This is opening some eyes,” Morton said. “People who are perceived to have been at odds are not just talking about finding something in common, we’ve found it: Educating the voter.”
Doors at the Civic Center will open at 5 p.m. for a free spaghetti dinner provided by the NAACP and a chance to meet the candidates and submit questions to the panel.
A full list of the attendees was not available Tuesday, but Morton said they’re expecting “a large representation of state and local candidates from all three parties” — Democrat, Republican and Libertarian.
Television and radio stations from outside the county also have contacted Jackson and asked to send crews.
The forum could have been a battlefield if Jackson and Morton hadn’t worked together to convince their supporters they had the same goal.
The two organizations inadvertently scheduled forums for the same day, but the newly formed Tea Party gave way to the established NAACP. The gesture opened lines of communication and the two men decided a collaboration could benefit the entire community.
“I’ve been called crazy, the n-word, a fool, but I think it’s time we have some dialog with people who have different views,” Jackson said. “To me, it’s all right to disagree agreeably.”
Jackson said the NAACP leadership got behind the idea once they understood the strictly nonpartisan structure being proposed, but others predicted a takeover by the “radical right” and threatened a boycott.
Some political partisans even called the national NAACP and civil rights activist Julian Bond, he said, but they were told nothing in the bylaws prohibits the team-up.
“It was a hot topic at the state (NAACP) convention last week, but I do have the blessings of the local chapter and the state chapter,” Jackson said. “The president and CEO of the Georgia chapter, Edward Dubose, said he would try to be here.”
Morton said he’s received no negative feedback from local Tea Partiers and future collaborations could be in the cards.
“I’m no longer pleasantly surprised. I’m just pleasant,” he said. “It’s turned out to be just like the planning and execution of any forum debate we’ve had, … like two old friends working together.”
Morton said he’s frequently asked about racism in the Tea Party movement, but the few reported examples aren’t part of the grass-roots experience.
“I don’t see it. And when it’s reported, it’s renounced,” he said. “It’s not endemic; just what you’d see walking down Broad Street any day.”
Jackson said both groups want candidates of any party to realize they can’t take their votes for granted.
“I think the scope of America has changed, and we’re not going to move the country forward until we come together,” he said. “I hope everybody comes out for the forum and we all hold these candidates accountable for what they say.”