US 860 mile ‘Journey for Justice’

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CORNELL William Brooks, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) on Saturday led off ‘America’s Journey for Justice March’ in Selma, Alabama.

The 860 mile relay march, organised by the NAACP, is planned to go from Selma to Washington D.C. over the course of 40 days. More than 200 supporters took part in the first leg of a march that will be about 16 times the 54-mile distance covered by voting rights activists in 1965.

Announcing the march last month, the NAACP said: ‘From August 1 to September 16, America’s Journey for Justice – an historic 860-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. – will mobilise activists and advance a focused national advocacy agenda that protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education.

‘Issue Focus by State:

‘Alabama – Economic Inequality

‘Georgia – Education Reform

‘South Carolina – Criminal Justice Reform

‘North Carolina – Voting Rights

‘Virginia – Youth Rally

‘Washington, D.C. – Full advocacy agenda.’

The march kicked off on Saturday at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the setting for Selma’s Bloody Sunday. Fifty years later, the scene from Selma’s Bloody Sunday march still leaves a dark stain on United States history. Four months from its anniversary commemoration, the NAACP says the march for voting rights is not yet finished.

As Congress prepares to go back into session, hundreds and thousands are expected to put their feet to the pavement this summer to join the NAACP in ‘America’s Journey for Justice’ to demand federal protection of civil rights for all Americans. It will culminate in a rally at the nation’s Capitol where they plan to shout: ‘Our lives, our votes, our jobs, our schools matter.’

NAACP President Brooks said: ‘We have to change the laws, and that means pacing the interracial profiling act. ‘It means protecting the voting rights act. It means passing the law enforcement integrity act.’ He said the march to Washington will focus on a ‘national policy agenda that protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system’ as well as ‘uninterrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box’.

Brooks indicated that an estimated ‘one million steps’ will be required to complete the distance ‘and we have enough people along the way to make sure they will be taken’. Referring to the historic 1965 march, Bruce Boynton, Civil Rights Attorney said: ‘People were hungry and they got into the street and they demonstrated for their rights. ‘We need to recognise that the battle is not won at all.’

Quincy Bates, Southwestern Region Organiser at NAACP, said at Saturday’s start: ‘This is not a joke.

‘It’s the middle of the summer. It’s 100 plus degrees. We’re marching for our lives, our votes, our jobs, our schools.

‘We’re demanding real policy reform and we need support from everyone in our country.’ When Henry Singleton was 13, his grandmother took him to St. Jude Hospital in Montgomery to see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on his way from Selma to the Capitol in Montgomery. He said: ‘I remember that day as plain as today, as I walked with my grandmother, and my grandmother. I didn’t know the magnitude of the struggle at that time. All I knew was the songs and the beat they carried by clapping their hands, and I was very excited about that.’

Fifty years later, the NAACP has returned to Selma and started a march of even greater magnitude.

Singleton said: ‘At the 50th anniversary of the march (on March 7), President Obama was here, and I was here. I did not know then that some months later I’d be back in Selma and back in Montgomery and at a history-making march again.’

Along the journey, marchers from the NAACP plan to hold teach-ins on issues, including education, criminal justice and voting rights. Their ultimate goal: restore the Voting Rights Act. Two years ago, the Supreme Court overturned a key part of the 1965 law.

The 5-4 ruling allowed nine states that have a history of discrimination at the polls to change voting rules without prior federal approval. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion. Critics say the ruling opens the gates for discrimination against minority voters. In response, members of Congress introduced a bill last year to strengthen the act.

Singleton, now an SEIU (Service Employees International Union) official, added: ‘People died on this bridge to have the right to vote. ‘To see in 2015 that a grandma has been voting in the same place for 40 years and now she got to go get some kind of state-regulated ID to vote, that’s not good.

‘That’s wrong. We’ve seen this throughout the US where these states are coming up with new rules and regulations for people to vote. The NAACP along with others will not have that.’

NAACP organiser Bates said: ‘Fifty years ago, they gave us the right to vote and fifty years later, we’re being challenged again. ‘This is my turn. This is my time. They did it for me and I will be doing it for someone else.’ Erin Gaddis, Texas NAACP Youth and College Division president and senior at Baylor University, is mobilising youth in her state to push for the reauthorisation of the Voting Rights Act and the End Racial Profiling Act.

She said millennials play an important role in shaping collective action on these issues. In her view, youth involvement and action in the march will put more political pressure where needed. She said: ‘When they see us coming together on these certain issues, it helps them to understand that this is something that we’re serious about.

‘This allows for the space for us to have some more conversations about the individuals that we don’t know outside of the Mike Browns and Trayvon Martins.’ With the fate of the Voting Rights Act still in question, the recent cases of police encounters in Texas and Cincinnati which led to the deaths of Sandra Bland and Sam DuBose respectively brought NAACP Southwestern Region Organiser Bates and other people to a breaking point.

He said: ‘We are being attacked. Our consciousness has been heightened because of the different criminal injustices that we’ve been experiencing. It’s the perfect time to let them know that we will not stand for these different injustices in our community.’