Friday, March 20, 2015

Senate Sketches #1449: How we made it over: 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday

  When our children’s children ask, “What mean ye these stones? You can tell them how you made it over." These are words from the Biblical Book of Joshua. They refer to the way the children of Israel miraculously crossed over the Jordan River on dry land to enter the Promised Land. I cite this passage to ask the question, “What mean ye these happenings at the Bridge Crossing Jubilee and the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the 1965 Voting Rights Act?” I also want to tell how we made it over.

  During the four day Bridge Crossing Jubilee that extended from Thursday, March 5th through Sunday, March 8th, hundreds of thousands of people came from across the state of Alabama, the United States of America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia and North, South and Central America. During this commemoration, only two arrests for disorderly conduct occurred. What mean ye these happenings? I don’t know for sure, but I believe that this was because most people came on a holy pilgrimage with a sacred spirit. I appreciate the good work of law enforcement and others, but with hundreds of thousands in attendance all the law enforcement, guards, leaders, etc. in the world could not limit violations to a couple of disorderly conduct charges. The sacred spirit with which we came was truly powerful. However, we also had other help.

  The Honorable President Barack Obama came to speak on Saturday. There was an estimated 80,000 people in Selma, a majority of whom heard the president one way or another. This was truly a tremendous turnout. After hearing the president, many returned to the places from which they came. However, many more were in attendance the next day on Bloody Sunday. Estimates exceeded 100,000 counting all those in and out of the march. I thought we would have far more on Saturday than on Sunday. What mean ye these happenings? Again, I don’t really know, but I think there was a vast realization that Bloody Sunday is sacred. However, we also had other help.

  Too many of us have taken the right to vote for granted. Now that right is under great attack with the U.S. Supreme Court gutting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act; government issued photo I.D. required to vote; proof of citizenship required to register; reduced registration and voting days; redistricting schemes that greatly limit minority voting power; and more. In addition, we see other attacks including law enforcement repeatedly killing unarmed Black youth. Finally, many others came pushing their issues in the understanding that every issue is ultimately tied to voting. But we also had other help.

  The composition of the Jubilee crowds was noticeably different than previous crowds. Not only were there more people from all over the world, but there was greater variety in race, age and status. What mean ye this diversity of the crowds? I think there is a deep flowing movement for justice moving across the world, and the commemoration crowds reflected this reality. But we also had other help.

  President Obama, the First Lady and the First Children came on Saturday as expected. However, in addition to the usual civil rights leaders such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and SCLC President Charles Steele, a number of cabinet members were also present on Sunday including Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, Budget Director Shaun Donovan, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch and former Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick. What mean ye this powerful delegation on Sunday? I think that President Obama appreciated the sacredness of Bloody Sunday, and the presence of these cabinet officials was a way to acknowledge the sacredness. But we also had other help.

  I saw so many multigenerational families, even the president came with his family. What mean ye this family happening? I realize that some people came just because this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Others may have been spurred by the movie "Selma." Still others came for varying reasons. But family is powerful. I know each family will remember this experience for the rest of their lives. The seeds sowed will bear bountiful fruit for generations to come. However, we also had other help.

  Finally, there were actions meant to diminish Bloody Sunday. Not only was the president diverted from Sunday to Saturday, but marches with other luminaries were planned for Saturday in Selma and Montgomery on Sunday. After a struggle, these additional marches were cancelled. The result was a very big day on Saturday with the president and an even bigger day (population wise) on Sunday. Even the weather earlier projected to include rain and cold on Saturday and Sunday turned out to be beautiful. What mean ye these happenings? I don’t know, but it seems to me that what was meant for harm ended up helping. When I put it all together I am convinced that a greater power was at work in all these happenings. And that’s how we made it over.

EPILOGUE – Sometimes we think something is so bad. We do all we can to stop the bad. Then we later realize that even if it were meant for bad, it turned out for good. When that happens, we must understand that we had some mighty help. Then we must be prepared to go forth to meet other challenges knowing we can turn bad into good because we have help.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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