The marchers didn’t have three minutes. “Bloody Sunday” and the images on national television shamed our nation. Two more attempts were made to cross that bridge in Selma. On the third attempt on March 21st, the voting-rights activists were able to make it from Selma to Montgomery.
Five months later President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act which eliminated many of the barriers to voting for blacks – from poll taxes to literacy tests.
In his usual brilliant and incisive writing style, Leonard Pitts Jr. writes about the meaning of Selma 50 years later as well as the current state of affairs.
In 2013 the Supreme Court significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act. The change would allow states to impose new barriers to the ballot box such as requiring photo ID’s in order to vote. And so Mr. Pitts asks, have we lost what we fought for 50 years ago?
One of the many lessons of Selma is that “liberty and justice for all” as our Pledge of Allegiance reminds us is an aspiration. Our democracy and the rights it provides to Americans requires active engagement by its populace. And, that involvement goes beyond voting one of our most public expressions of civic engagement.
Our democracy cannot be sustained unless we take personal responsibility for the government and the laws of our nation. Involvement requires educating ourselves about the legislative process, engaging in public discourse and participating to effect change.
At Hispanic Unity, one of the most important work we do is around Civic Engagement. We are not only assisting more than 1,300 individuals through the citizenship process every year, we educate and encourage our New Americans to become civically engaged.
Perhaps some of our New American citizens will be inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and the courageous struggle in Selma 50 years ago. And perhaps they will continue the work to protect the cornerstone of civic engagement which is our right to vote.
And perhaps a new generation of civic activists will actively work to ensure our democracy lives up to its promise of “liberty and justice for all.”
(To learn more about what Hispanic elected leaders have to say about this topic, read the NALEO Educational Fund Report, Latinos and the Voting Rights Act: Protecting our Nation’s Democracy, Then and Now.)