Read these excerpts (and articles) commenting on Selma and Ferguson as a narrative, and I wonder what story they tell. What story do they tell about us? What story do they tell about us and our unfinished (perhaps now hopeless?) quest for participatory democracy in the United States?
Inae Oh at Mother Jones:
Many say the aggressive display of force by police officials towards non-violent demonstrators in Ferguson mirrored the events in Selma nearly fifty years prior.
Greg Palast at Truthdig:
Despite the glorious story of the Selma march, the truth is that the USA and Old Dixie in particular are marching backward over the bridge. Disenfranchisement—a fancy word for ballot-box apartheid—is worsening, especially since June 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court nullified key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
Anna Palmer and Lauren French at Politico:
Scores of U.S. lawmakers are converging on tiny Selma, Alabama, for a large commemoration of a civil rights anniversary. But their ranks don’t include a single member of House Republican leadership — a point that isn’t lost on congressional black leaders.
Jamelle Bouie at Slate:
Today’s anti-government conservatism has its roots in the antebellum politics of Sen. John C. Calhoun, was modernized in reaction to the civil rights movement, and was brought to the Republican Party by an alliance of Southern reactionaries and ideological conservatives. And while it’s been attenuated from its racial history, you see hints of the past in its practical politics: The national coalition for ideological conservatism is anchored by white Southerners while the national coalition for progressive governance is anchored by blacks.
Ari Berman at The Nation:
The attack on voting rights has spread to virtually every state in the country. From 2011 to 2015, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in forty-nine states (Idaho is the lone exception). Half the states in the country have adopted measures making it harder to vote. (Scroll to the bottom for a list of the states.)
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, states with the worst histories of voting discrimination, like Alabama, no longer have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. The Southern states that were previously subject to "precelarence" have been particularly aggressive in curbing voting rights.
Dale Ho at Moyers & Company:
States and localities, blocked from denying African-Americans the right to vote, switched to new tactics: at-large elections, gerrymandered district lines and other arrangements that weakened the voting power of minority communities, preventing them from electing their preferred candidates.
Alan McCornick at Hepzibah:
Another powerful emotion wells up as you watch this film, and that’s the realization that this tale of an historical moment, the sacrifices made to attain voting rights for blacks in the south, is being told in a modern context in which today’s conservative forces are still at it, still trying to remove the rights forced from the hands of LBJ in the 1960s. It brings to the film an immediacy you don’t get from every historical drama.
Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic:
One should understand that the Justice Department did not simply find indirect evidence of unintentionally racist practices which harm black people, but "discriminatory intent”—that is to say willful racism aimed to generate cash. Justice in Ferguson is not a matter of "racism without racists," but racism with racists so secure, so proud, so brazen that they used their government emails to flaunt it.
Elias Isquith at Salon:
So long as the mainstream refuses to own up to the way race-based plunder is not contrary to but rather in concert with U.S. history, we will continue to understand racism as what happens when a bunch of mean cops sit around forwarding each other racist jokes. And until we’re willing to recognize that Ferguson is New York City is Los Angeles is Chicago and so on, fewer “politically incorrect” emails is all the change we’re going to get.
Mychal Denzel Smith at The Nation:
It’s good to have this documentation [i.e., the Department of Justice report on the Ferguson police department]. It’s good to have this evidence. But the desire of the American people to do nothing to address racism, much like climate change, is impervious to facts. No matter how much evidence you throw in our faces, we’ve decided it’s our right as Americans to pretend the problem doesn’t actually exist.
Charles A. Pierce at Esquire:
Lyndon Johnson said it best in his great speech to Congress. The triumph of the civil rights movement freed us all. The victory does not belong to all Americans, but all Americans benefitted from the sacrifices made by the Selma marchers and all the other people who threw themselves into the movement. It deserves to be celebrated by the entire nation as much as, say, D-Day does. That a president of the United States would participate in this event should surprise nobody. As president, Jimmy Carter would have been there. I suspect that, in his second term anyway, Ronald Reagan would have shown up, if someone had made a good case that he should. Far more interesting is that no Republican politician of note is going to be present. This is something to remember the next time somebody makes the "But, Robert Byrd..." argument to you.
Andrew Beck Grace at New York Times:
When Johnson gave his historic speech advocating for passage of the Voting Rights Bill, he invoked the death of the white minister, James Reeb, as opposed to the black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson. And with the support of a galvanized nation now behind it, the Voting Rights Bill was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965.
In 1967, Dr. King noted, "The failure to mention Jimmy [sic] Jackson only reinforced the impression that to white Americans the life of a Negro is insignificant and meaningless."
Fifty years after Bloody Sunday, these issues are as important as ever.
And so, it’s my hope—really, my prayer—that the uprising we saw in Ferguson is the beginning of a new, bold, radical, courageous movement for justice that will ensure that parents in the future don’t have to tell their children that in the eyes of their law they don’t matter.
The graphic, a quote from William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun, is from the Quoteonary website.