Saturday, March 07, 2015

President Obama at Selma's 50th Anniversary

Yesterday President Barack Obama traveled down to Selma, Alabama to participate in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965, which was the day on which roughly 300 Civil Rights marchers, who had been planning and organizing for several years to launch their attempt to march, on behalf of voting rights, from the smaller city to the state capital, encountered a horrifying brutal response from white Alabama State troopers and local posse members. As they proceeded over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, marchers, who included organizers Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) Director of Action James Bevel and Amelia Boynton, as well as future US Representative John Lewis (D-GA), encountered beatings with nightsticks, horses trampling them, and near-suffocation by tear gas. TV cameras captured the attacks, including Boynton clubbed and lying unconscious, broadcasting them across the nation and globe, which helped to make possible two subsequent marches, the third successful and both led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and also spurred President Lyndon Johnson and Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as Ava Duvernay's Oscar-nominated film Selma, depicts with great skill.

In his remarks, which I watched today and found to be among the best speeches he has given since becoming president, the President outlined how far we as a society have come since the events of 50 years ago while noting the journey left before us. His emphasis on voting rights is especially important given the challenges black voters--and voters in general, especially the poor, and the young and elderly--still face as a result of changes enacted by state legislatures, and court rulings, including the US Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which held that the coverage formula delineated in Section 4(b) was unconstitutional, since it no longer responded to current conditions in the US, thereby rendering Section 5 of the Act, which apply to specific jurisdictions singled out in Section 4(b), legally unenforceable. The stakes of voting rights are huge, and as the President and other speakers at the event asserted, the future not only of the blood-stained, tear-drenched gains of the past hang in the balance, but of our democracy in general. We have come so far, as a nation, but we still have a way to go.

Later, the President, Mrs. Obama, their daughters, and Mrs. Robinson, the First Lady's mother, marched with participants, including many veterans, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge as a symbolic gesture to those who had bravely done so 50 years before, and who have done so many times since. Commemorative marches also took place all over the country, including over the Brooklyn Bridge.

U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd L) participates in a march
across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015.
Also pictured are first lady Michelle Obama (L), U.S. Representative
John Lewis (D-GA) (2nd L), former first lady Laura Bush (2nd R)
and former president George W. Bush (R). The event comes
on the 50th anniversary of the 'Bloody Sunday' march
at the bridge, where police and state troopers beat
and used tear gas against peaceful marchers
who were advocating against racial discrimination
at the voting booth. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
To build upon the events of 50 years and today, and of the hundreds of years of struggle over the right to vote, over social, political and economic equality and freedom, I hope everyone commits to contacting her Congressperson to urge them to vote for new legislation to address the Supreme Court's ruling; to pushing all our state legislators to expand, rather than restricting voting rights, including greater access, extending voting periods, and the franchise to former felons; and to championing the repeal of the SCOTUS's monstrous 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, which has gutted regulation of campaign spending laws and unleashed an ocean of money, masquerading as "speech," into our election system at all levels.

No comments:

Post a Comment