Joe Biden Marches For Truth In Selma
President Joe Biden shared some difficult truths with the crowd assembled yesterday to commemorate the 58th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," when Selma, Alabama, police officers brutally beat Black civil rights marchers. He somberly observed that voting rights are still under attack. President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act days after "Bloody Sunday," but the conservative Supreme Court has actively undermined the law.
"Selma is a reckoning. The right to vote ... to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty. With it anything’s possible," Biden said. "Without it, without that right, nothing is possible. And this fundamental right remains under assault. The conservative Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act over the years. Since the 2020 election, a wave of states and dozens and dozens of anti-voting laws fueled by the ‘Big Lie’ and the election deniers now elected to office."
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Voting rights activists understand what's at stake and while most appreciate that Biden is keeping the issue in the spotlight, they also would like to see actual progress made. Biden said, "We know we must get the votes in Congress," but there's no longer any viable path now that Republicans control the House and would probably actively remove Black people's voting rights if they could. There was an opportunity during the past two years to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late congressman from Georgia and civil rights legend, as well as the For the People Act. The John Lewis bill would've strengthened the Voting Right Act, and the For the People Act would've restricted partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts (arguably, how Republicans "won" their piddly ass majority), removed existed hurdles to voting, and addressed a corrupt campaign finance system.
Sen. Joe Manchin opposed the For the People Act, claiming "that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy." That's of course gibberish. Republicans are the ones attacking voting rights and democracy itself, so any realistic response would be "partisan." It's not a shock that Republicans didn't support "Stop Republicans From Cheating" bills.
Manchin and literally one other Republican announced a "bipartisan compromise" on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but neither Manchin nor Sen. Kyrsten Sinema from the Sinema Party would bend on the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass anything.
Biden again stressed, "I made it clear I will not let a filibuster obstruct the sacred right to vote.” Good to know he's on the right side, even if Manchin and Sinema (and the senators they likely provided cover for) failed to act when it mattered.
The activists who crossed the bridge that's still named after Confederate general and Klan leader Edmund Pettus "forced the country to confront hard truths,” Biden said, “and to act to keep the promise of America alive.” He added, “On this bridge, blood was given to help redeem the soul of America."
Biden didn't ignore the loud voices from the Right who insist that America's soul is spotless and needs no "woke" redemption. He called out the efforts to whitewash history.
“History matters," he said. "The truth matters, notwithstanding what the other team is trying to hide. No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know.We can’t just choose what we want to know and what we should know. We should learn everything. The good, the bad, the truth, who we are as a nation. Everyone should know the truth of Selma.”
When Biden spoke, marchers shouted “We love Joe” and “Bring it home." Black voters will prove key to Biden's re-election, and while there's frustration over lack of movement on voting rights, there is collective appreciation for the administration's other achievements. Tornadoes devastated Selma early this year, and yesterday, Mayor James Perkins declared that “we will build back better." He also thanked Biden for his disaster declaration that helped the city with debris cleanup and removal.
But true friends can maintain their affection while also keeping it real. The Rev. William Barber II, a co-chair of Poor People’s Campaign, and six other activists wrote Biden and members of Congress to demand an "action-rooted commemoration of Bloody Sunday."
If the President or other politicians are going to come to Selma, they should come on Bloody Sunday, when John Lewis and others were beaten and almost killed, to declare that the fight for voting rights and the restoration of what they marched across that bridge for is not over.
You can watch the president's remarks at Selma here:
[Associated Press / New York Times / Washington Post]
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."