One newspaper referred to Selma, AL as a tiny town on the outskirts of nowhere, but for 72 hours this week, Selma rose to its full height as the living, breathing center of the civil rights universe. With more than 60,000 marchers converging on the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, the world was once again given images from the same place marchers were being clubbed, gassed and trampled in 1965.
Fifty years after Bloody Sunday, hundreds of IAM members and their families joined civil, human and workers’ rights activists to commemorate the sacrifice of those who risked their lives to end Jim Crow-era policies preventing millions of African Americans from voting. Their bravery captivated a nation, and led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act later that year.
“All that history met on this bridge,” President Obama said at the commemoration. He was joined by the likes of Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who nearly died at the hands of Alabama State Troopers when he led marchers over the same bridge 50 years ago.
But Obama made clear that the fight is far from over. There are newly-enacted voter-ID laws, early voting restrictions, unfair redistricting and a recent Supreme Court ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act.
“Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote,” said Obama. “As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.”
IAM General Vice President Diane Babineaux was joined by a contingent of Machinists Union members carrying signs proclaiming “Voter Rights are Human Rights.”
“It’s an awe-inspiring experience to be amongst the civil rights icons who risked their lives to march across this bridge 50 years ago. They did it for us, and we’re here to recognize that sacrifice,” said IAM General Vice President Diane Babineaux. “What makes me hopeful is the amount of young people here who weren’t even alive in the 1960s. The torch is being passed to a generation that is ready to fight back against modern-day affronts to voting rights. The future is in good hands.”
“We had nearly 200 IAM members and their families come from all over the country to mark this momentous anniversary in our country’s history,” said IAM Southern Territory General Vice President Mark Blondin. “They came here because one of our most sacred American freedoms – the right to vote – is under attack once again. The IAM stands on the right side of history, and we stand for the right of everyone to have their voices heard.”