I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I get very annoyed when people ask, “Why should we still march?” They think it’s something from the past, something we don’t need to do anymore. On Sunday, I joined Rev. Al Sharpton and others from the National Action Network as we marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., along with Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. John Lewis, civil rights groups, and thousands of others to commemorate the 1965 march. It was one of the most-moving experiences to know that this helped bring about the Voting Rights Act and helped usher change.
To know that so many were viciously beaten by police on “Bloody Sunday” – including Rep. Lewis – yet they somehow pushed forward and won really moved me. But as I walked across the bridge, I soon realized that these same rights which so many sacrificed their lives and livelihoods for are under attack again today. For all the folks my age and younger — part of the “now generation” — the time to do something really is now.
If you think marching and raising our voices aren’t needed anymore, think again.
Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that’s possibly the biggest attack against the Voting Rights Act we’ve ever seen. Shelby County v. Holder is a challenge to Section 5 of the Act, which basically says that places that have a history of voter discrimination can’t just change their rules without approval from the federal government.
It is pretty much the core of the Voting Rights Act because states and jurisdictions were coming up with all kinds of rules and roadblocks to prevent Blacks from voting until the federal government stepped in. So if you take away Section 5, they can once again come up with ways to keep us away from the polls and out of the electoral process.
Just look at all the recent attempts at voter suppression like new ID laws, elimination of early voting days, and many other tactics that tried to stop minorities and the poor from participating in the last election. Thankfully, we were able to push back against many of those things, but if we don’t do the same now, voting as we know it could be a thing of the past – and not the good past.
The marchers of Selma and elsewhere during the civil rights struggle weren’t only fighting for voting rights, they were also pushing for greater equality across the board for all Americans. From education to housing and quality of life, they wanted to see discrimination end and everyone have the same opportunity to succeed.
Unfortunately today, while we’ve made obvious gains in many areas, certain things are setting us back yet again. Even something like the sequester itself. I know reports keep referring to it as “across-the-board cuts,” but what does that really mean?
A simple, quick translation is that it will hurt poor people the most.
And it’s no surprise that the poor are often people of color. When things like health care, homeless programs, unemployment benefits, nutrition assistance, mental health services, funds for emergency responders, and much more will be impacted by these cuts, who will suffer the most?
If we don’t do something to counter the sequester, it will be poor people – especially poor mothers and their children – that will feel the effects the greatest. That’s definitely not equality across the board. These are again the voiceless who we must stand up for and fight for because often times they can’t.
Walking over the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday was a remarkable moment. While people may not be physically beating us as we try to vote, you better believe that they are still trying to stop you in other ways.
That’s why I don’t know how to stop marching.
Until we live in a country where my voting rights aren’t under attack, and where the poor and people of color don’t face unfair hurdles, I don’t know how to stop marching. Even as we continue to progress, these kinds of strategies try to bring us back down, so no, I don’t know how to stop marching.
And neither should you.