Tales From the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March
Marchers fight against Republican attempts to turn back the clock.
They came from across the country – California, Idaho, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan and many states in between. They were young and old, black, brown, white, and yellow – of all sizes and shades. Walking with a common purpose of maintaining the civil rights of all Americans, they sang songs of hope, yelled chants of empowerment and together, they walked 54 miles from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL. What started out as the reenactment of the 1965 Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing as part of the annual Jubilee events led into National Action Network’s 2012 March for Voter and Immigration Rights, the birthing of a new movement and what must become the “Civil Rights Spring” and uprising.
Prior to getting to Alabama, many people would ask me why we were marching. They inquired if it was simply a way to remember what was done 47 years ago. But people need to look no further than the headlines in the papers, the stories that take precedence on TV during the nightly news, or the conversations that dominate radio, social media or the water cooler.
We are involved in an ideological tug-of-war in this country. There are many on the right who would like us to go back to the days where blacks and the poor had to go to extreme measures, like paying poll taxes in order to vote. They would like to see women be silent when it comes to issues affecting us – having no say when it comes to our reproductive health (or else be thought of as a “slut” for speaking out), equal pay, or many of the other issues that we deal with. They would like to see most Latino immigrants deported back to the countries of their birth. There are even some on the right who would like to see schools segregated again.
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Where this country goes depends on who can pull the hardest. It is the reason that I was ready and willing to buy my own ticket to Selma and it was the reason that I pressed on, when my feet hurt and were burdened with blisters, when my forehead was burning from the blazing sun, when I was tired and weary, and most importantly, it’s the reason that I didn’t walk alone. Each day, the number of marchers increased and each night’s rally was jam packed with people who marched all day, but were engaged, wanted more information, and were ready to continue walking for what they believed in.
The overarching theme of voting rights is directly tied to every other issue that people face. Without the ability to vote, you have no voice in who will make decisions about your healthcare, the education of your children, the ability of your parents to care for themselves, the ability to buy a home and reach the middle class, the right for you to join a union, the ability for your sister to determine how she wants to handle her reproductive rights, and on and on. Republicans understand this and it is at the very core of why they have been and are continuing to work so hard – on the local, state, and national level to justify the marginalization of votes that typically don’t swing their way.
They understand that if the right to vote is taken away, it becomes much easier to take away the other rights because there is no one with power who will be able to stop them. So as we sat through rallies focused on education, women’s rights, youth engagement, workers’ rights, and immigration rights, the crowd swelled, not just in numbers, but with frustration, a desire to fight back and pull our side of the rope harder.
But we need everyone who wants to maintain our rights to continue to pull our end of the rope. Just as in the late 1800’s after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and the 15th Amendment to the constitution was ratified, many blacks thought they were free of the racial and socio-economic chains that bound them after they were freed of the physical chains that kept them as they crossed the sea. When Hiram Revels became the first black Senator during Reconstruction, I’m sure there were people of all races and philosophies who felt that blacks had “arrived."
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But as we know, not too long after the era of Reconstruction came, the era of Jim Crow arrived and blacks were denied rights that they previously earned. Let us not doubt the desires of some in this country to turn back the hands of time again and go back to an era when racial minorities and women were relegated to being second class citizens. Don’t think that because we have a black president that all hearts and mindsets have changed.
It’s time for us to wake up and pay attention to what people are saying. When they call a woman a “prostitute” for testifying in front of Congress about contraception, what message does that send? When they say they “don’t care about the very poor,” what are they telling us? When they say they want to put a fence around the US, what is it that they are really saying? When they say they don’t want to make “black people’s lives better by giving them someone else’s money,” what is the implication? I don’t have to tell you what these things mean, because the people who said them mean what they say and they said what they mean.
In the few days since my return from Alabama, I’ve felt a renewed sense of vigor. I’m ready for these battles, I want to win the war for what’s right.
As Ms. Amelia Boynton, the 100 year old civil rights and suffrage leader said to us while in Alabama, it’s time for our generation to get off her shoulders. We have our own battles in front of us. We cannot believe that the battles have been won because in the moments that we rest, in the moments that we stand on the shoulders of Amelia Boynton, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, we lose sight that they are beneath us trying to knock us down. We have to stand on our own feet and fight our battles so that we can lay the foundation for future generations.
My question to you is, what part will you play in this tug of war? Will you be on the sidelines cheering and hoping that your side will win? Or will you get in, get your hands dirty and help us pull?
I pray for us all that you choose the latter.