Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, born out of the blood, sweat, tears and lives of thousands of Americans citizens who marched across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge en route to the Alabama Capitol Building in Montgomery. They were followed the lead of a few brave souls who vowed to save the soul of America by making it live up to its creed “that all men are created equal,” to ensure all its citizens had the right to vote.
But less than 50 years later, our U.S. Supreme Court, with a 5-4 vote and the stroke o a pen, cut out the heart of that landmark Act in a lawsuit from Shelby County, just south of Birmingham. That singular, misguided decision effectively opened the door to any and all forms of voter suppression that hasn’t taken place in America since the days of Martin Luther King, Jr.
With the voting rights of blacks, immigrants, college students, the elderly and the poor (most of them, it seems, voted for President Barack Obama, twice) under attack, extreme politics now grips many Southern states of the former Confederacy and other pockets across the country.
Because voters who put Barack Obama in office in 2008 failed to return in the same record numbers to the polls in 2010. Those who hated him came back with a vengeance to start a counter-revolution. Extreme lawmakers began pushing harsh immigration policies, making cuts in social services programs, keeping tax breaks for the uber rich, attacking unions, and public education — all of the programs that helped “the Greatest Generation” become great. These extremists refused to expand Medicaid, opposed living wages, ignored pleas for sane workforce programs.
Elections have consequences. So does apathy.
Ferguson, MO, learned this lesson very painfully. By not voting for the people in office, Ferguson’s elected officials felt no need to answer meet the needs of to non-voting citizens who demand justice over the mishandling of a young man’s tragic death. Young people, because they don’t vote their voice and because they don’t value their history, don’t have the tools to fight a system that works against their best interests.
No vote, no voice. That means no control over highways that tear through poor neighborhoods, over trains carrying dangerous chemicals near schools, no piece of the economic pie as new industries and jobs come into an area, no control over affordable healthcare.
The people who first marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago knew all this. They couldn’t vote. Their voice didn’t matter to the powers that strangled them then. So through strategic, nonviolent direct action, they got up and walked toward Montgomery to get their right to vote. Instead, they got billy clubs upside their heads, trampled by horses and tear-gassed. The march failed. Other marches failed too. But finally, thousands came to Selma, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Those men — considered old history among today’s under-40 set — were themselves under 40, even under 30 then. They were the brave young leaders who faced ridicule, arrest, harassment, dogs, terrorists and even death. Some were killed.
Just to vote.
If voting was so important to extremists 50 years ago, why did they use every trick and even violence to keep certain people from voting? If voting is so unimportant now, why are extremists today STILL using arrests, harassment, trickery and even violence to keep certain people from voting today? The reasons are still the same — to maintain power to rule without sharing, without caring, without competition.
If you want to set the course for our children and grandchildren 50 years from now, where they are considered just citizens, people judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin, then vote. Vote on Nov. 4. President Obama’s name isn’t on the ballot because it’s a mid-term election. But some will make their decision as if he is. We can choose who sits in the seats of power in state Legislatures, in judgeships, in US Attorney offices across the country. These people will decide if President Obama’s healthcare plan lasts, if he’s impeached, if your lives are valuable and worthy of support and protection.
You can’t afford to stay home and neither can your neighbors, family or friends.
Vote at every election you can. Do it because Nov. 4, 2014 and the next 50 years are in your hands.
See more on upcoming anniversary events in Selma and Montgomery at www.dreammarcheson.com and www.selmajubilee.com.