A block down the street, near the building's parking lot at 14th and Fir Street, a single man quietly held a large sign in support of Oscar Eason Jr., NAACP president.
For the first time in 30 years, an NAACP member was challenging the incumbent president for his seat, and it brought members to the polls in swarms--even an 11-year-old showed up and wanted to vote. "It's energized entire generations of people!" NAACP elections committee chair Nate Miles remarked. In other words, this election was a big deal for NAACP members, who were not only choosing between two men, but choosing a direction for the organization. Judging by the uneven showing outside, it was clear early on which would win.
Mack and Eason, who have decidedly different styles of leadership, worked together for years on the Seattle NAACP board. Mack, 40, is currently the chapter's vice president, while 72-year-old Eason has been president for the past four years.
Mack put his name on the ballot a month ago, and has been actively campaigning for the past two weeks. In fact, he possibly cinched his win by encouraging members he signed up to vote. He also mailed out a two-page statement of his accomplishments and goals.
Eason, on the other hand, sent out a glossy brochure but has otherwise been relatively quiet. He did not grant interviews before the election because he felt news stories were too focused on the age difference between him and Mack. "Voters weren't concerned about that," he said while the polls were open.
But voters apparently had concerns about Eason, and voted for Mack by a wide margin (final numbers weren't available because election officials needed to verify some voters' memberships, but officials said Mack's victory was solid). Though Eason is a highly respected leader in the African American community, Mack--along with 32-year-old Alfoster Garrett Jr., who was unopposed for vice president--will undoubtedly give a shot of vitality to the 89-year-old organization, something that has been lacking in recent years. Many members of the African American community feel a disconnect with the organization, privately saying the leadership is too status quo.
"The everyday brother and sister on the street that was just going on with their life probably didn't have a connection with the NAACP," explains Dustin Washington, a leader of the People's Coalition for Justice (PCJ). "Carl's energy is going to help expand the relationship with the community, especially with younger people."
Conversations in the black community about the election were guarded--in fact, few wanted to discuss the race--but a few things were clear. While everyone expressed admiration and respect for Eason, and pointed out the accomplishments during his tenure, many people called him a member of the "old guard" leadership. ("The people you see the mayor prop up as leaders," one younger man said.)
"There are a lot of us who are 40 and under who, number one, revere what the generation before us has done. We really appreciate that," says member George Griffin, a public relations consultant, who fiddled with his cell phone all night. "But there are some new players on the scene who really want to take more of a leadership position."
Mack has definitely taken a visible leadership position in the NAACP, even before the election. He's currently fighting to keep a Central Area nursing home from closing, along with Eason and other organizations. He signed up over 300 members during his tenure with the group's membership committee. And Mack attended the inquest into the April shooting death of Robert Thomas Sr. at the hands of an off-duty King County sheriff's deputy, and later reenacted the proceedings for a standing-room-only crowd at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. In fact, the president-elect has been at the forefront of recent protests over Thomas' death; he was arrested at one protest march on October 14 intended to draw federal attention to the Thomas case. That march was not officially sanctioned by the NAACP.
Perhaps part of the reason the Seattle NAACP was slipping off people's radar was Eason's tendency to strictly follow the national NAACP guidelines, as he did before that march. Eason explained that the NAACP didn't endorse the march because there wasn't a permit. That's typical of Eason's style: He seems more comfortable working for change behind the scenes--or in the boardroom, as he says--and that left many younger organizations out of touch with the NAACP. "We take a more aggressive stance on issues, and I don't know if [Eason] was comfortable with that," explains Washington, whose PCJ allies have done actions like sit-ins in the mayor's office. "Now, more than ever, we are sure that we can get NAACP support."
That's because Mack doesn't mind breaking the rules and rallying people on the streets. During his impromptu acceptance speech on Monday night, Mack said the NAACP would continue to go in the same direction under his leadership, but "with different methods." Mack now has the opportunity to utilize his louder style and make Seattle's NAACP more prominent and effective.
He has already pledged to make small changes in the NAACP's operations--simple things, like creating a newsletter, returning phone calls, and keeping membership rosters up to date--that will help the organization be more efficient.
NAACP members and observers hope Mack's simpler ideas will streamline the organization, and help the community know what's on the NAACP agenda (which, VP Garrett says, will include pushing for a city task force on employee discrimination, and meeting with the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington).
"Carl's approach is going to be to insert the full membership of the organization into public policy discussions," says lifetime member Nate Miles. "In the past, I think there was an effort to work within existing organizations and the establishment track that was out there. Carl's going to do the same thing but expand it."