Commentary: Back to the Future: All Roads Lead to Selma, Alabama

From Selma to Montgomery ... the fight for voting rights and immigration reform continues.

Posted: 03/01/2012 10:43 AM EST

(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, we watched Willard Mitt Romney give another lackluster speech following his victory in Arizona and extremely slim win in Michigan. Once again devoid of passion, it was as if he was reading someone else's words without any clear vision of what his platform would be in office. At the same time, you had Rick "I don't believe in higher education" Santorum give his own speech as if he didn't lose on Tuesday. And whether it was Romney or Santorum speaking, it's important to note that neither mentioned the other by name last night, indicating therefore that they're in it for the long haul. The truth is, it really doesn't matter who becomes the eventual GOP nominee, because all of the contenders and the Republican Party as a whole have proved that they would indeed like to take the country back — back to a time when systematic maneuvers suppressed the votes of people of color and the marginalized. While they try to regress us back, we must do something today for the sake of our collective future.

From March 4-9, my organization, National Action Network, will partner with Congressional leaders, activists and everyday citizens as we once again make the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. We will begin at the Edmund Pettus Bridge this Sunday, march at least 10 miles per day, stay in tents along Route 80, convene rallies and teach-ins along the way, and finally gather in front of the Alabama State Capitol building on Friday, March 9. After the state of Alabama passed the most draconian anti-immigration legislation, and at least 31 states now have voter ID laws on the books, we must take immediate action if we hope to preserve any notion of progress.

The Selma to Montgomery March consisted of three different marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement. Beaten with billy clubs and attacked with tear gas, it was the third march which lasted five days that made it to Montgomery after soldiers from the Army, members of the Alabama National Guard (under federal command), FBI agents and federal marshals eventually protected the demonstrators. It was because of these marches, and the national and international attention they garnered that Congress rushed to enact legislation that would protect voting for all Americans. It was called the Voting Rights Act, and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law later that year on August 6, 1965.

It's amazing that almost 50 years after this historic legislation was enacted that we now find ourselves under attack yet again. After countless sacrifices — including many people of all races who literally gave their lives for equality — we are watching the very gains we achieved being slowly and covertly stripped away. It's important to remember that our Selma to Montgomery March next week isn't about the past, however — it's about the future. Your future, my future, our children's future and the future of this very nation. Without any validation, individual states are passing these strict voter ID laws that are clearly designed to disenfranchise the poor, people of color, the elderly and young folks. Instead of allowing utility bills and other items that were used for years as appropriate forms of ID for voting, supporters of these new laws would like nothing more than to discourage people from participating. Rather than making the process easier and open to all, they are working diligently on finding new ways to suppress the vote.

The state of Alabama is where the civil rights movement found its heart. Today, when voter ID laws have crept into dozens of states, and one of the toughest and most reprehensible anti-immigration bills passed in Alabama, we will gather once again in the deep South and march. Congressman John Lewis, who helped lead the march in '65, will join us, as will leaders from across the country. To learn how to participate in the Selma to Montgomery March, please visit nationalactionnetwork.net.

Whether you march along this historic route with us, or help organize buses, or participate in any fashion, make sure you do something. We have fought far too long and sacrificed far too much to allow anyone to repeal justice. Say no to voter suppression and anti-immigration laws. Let's remind the world once again what's at stake here. It's time to go back to the future: All roads lead to Selma on Sunday.

 
Rev. Al Sharpton is the president of the National Action Network and the host of Politics Nation on MSNBC.

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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