By John O’Connell, MontanaHistorian.com
Is Freedom Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose?
Very little attention was paid in the press to Bloody Sunday this year. Not the Bloody Sunday of Ireland but here in the United States. It seemed odd to me what with all the talk of voting rights, human rights, and civil rights that, other than one photo I saw with Vice President Harris at the Edmund Pettus bridge, little was said about it.
What we often forget is that Bloody Sunday was just the beginning of a tense and violent few weeks in the fight for voting and civil rights in Alabama that ultimately led to the Federal government’s involvement in guaranteeing civil rights for all. Let me refresh your memory and then make a few points of my own.
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Monday, March 7th was the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” On March 7, 1965 25-year-old John Lewis led protestors over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The bridge was named after a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader, in Selma, Alabama. He was the perfect symbol to draw attention to the lack of civil and voting rights for Black citizens despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act the year before.
The killing of activist and deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson by a police officer during a peaceful civil rights protest in February of 1965 had so angered the community that James Bevel called for a massive Selma to Montgomery March in protest. Bevel directed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) Selma voting rights movement and had been working on the state-wide voting rights movement since 1963.
Locally, in Selma, the march that took place on Bloody Sunday was organized by Bevel and Amelia Boynton. This was the march John Lewis, later Congressman Lewis, led starting at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church and crossing over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. At the bridge, the protest was met by the Alabama State Police. The police brutally assaulted the marchers, thus crushing the protest. It was indeed a bloody Sunday, yet more bloodshed was to come.
A second Selma to Montgomery March was held two days later on March 9th. This one was led by Dr. Martin Luther King. The police let them pass without incident and King, who had a federal injunction hoping for federal protection of the protestors, led the group back to the church. That night a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, James Reeb, who had traveled to Selma to support the protestors was beaten to death by a White crowd.
A third march started out on March 21, this time with the protection of the Alabama National Guard. Governor George Wallace made it clear he would not protect the protestors, so President Lyndon Johnson stepped in and provided federal leadership for the National Guard and the march was completed successfully with no more bloodshed.
The three marches drew so much attention to the dire circumstances of the Black community in the Jim Crow South that Johnson was able to present the Voting Rights Act to Congress and on August 6, 1965 he signed it into law.
Of course, there was far more to all of this. No one was ever held accountable for Jackson’s or Reeb’s murders. Many in the Black community didn’t trust President Johnson’s commitment to civil rights and believed he had tricked Dr. King and the SCLC.
One of the reasons for that distrust was the fact that despite the Voting Rights Act, local officials throughout the South did everything possible to stop Blacks from registering and voting. Slowly but surely massive “turn out the vote” campaigns were held by various groups and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act became more robust.
Various amendments to the act were written and passed by Congress, the most important of which was made in 1972, seven years after Bloody Sunday. It changed the wording on the definition of discrimination when it came to voting. Instead of being required to prove “intent” (an extremely high bar) a prosecutor could observe and show “effect.” This eliminated one of the most intractable dodges used by local registrars and voting officials to disobey the law and keep Black citizens from voting.
It worked, albeit very slowly. In 1960 there were just over 53,000 Black voters registered in Alabama. Thirty years later there were over 500,000.
It’s quite the story, isn’t it? It can be very difficult to look at. Some will deny it ever happened that way. For Black Americans, it’s not hard to believe at all. They know the truth. Their parents and grandparents lived it.
For someone like me, a White kid from Connecticut, it was obviously true. I read about it in the newspaper I delivered every morning to our neighbors and saw it unfold on TV. My grade school teacher taught us all about Lewis, Dr. King and Selma, Alabama. She also talked about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Klan, and Jim Crow. I now realize what a great teacher she was and how lucky we were to have her.
Just for the record, as far as I can tell, it didn’t damage us in any way. If anything, our teacher enlightened us and forced us to look at the world around us with a more critical eye. There was no need for laws to protect us from the truth. The truth was that our country could do some terrible things but also some great ones. We were taught to acknowledge these truths, learn from them, and apply what we learned to our interactions with our neighborhood, town, state and nation. I wrote about it, amongst other things, here: The Answer is in the Past.
Yet, despite the blood, bravery, and victories of those civil rights activists, here we are in 2022 still arguing over voter rights and freedom. It’s certainly disheartening but we do have to be honest. There are some blatantly bad faith arguments out there. The most obvious of which is the rigged election narrative the former president is spewing every chance he gets. It’s the main reason GOP run states are changing election laws. They claim to be attempting to prevent the fraud that never happened in the last election from ever happening again. We know it never happened because the former president and his party can’t show any evidence of it happening no matter how hard they try.
I was just reading about the My Pillow Guy, Mike Lindell, who claimed to be filing a “class action” lawsuit against all machines. Then qualified it in a later interview by saying he was suing all voting machines which he says are defective and that led to the former president’s electoral loss. One assumes, since he is suing the machines, they must be sentient which should come as a shock to most Americans. He also claims to have 300 county officials supporting him but it’s not clear, at least to me, if they are actually part of his class action suit or just didn’t call the cops when he showed up at their office with his fruitcakery so he assumed they supported him.
In the past, Mr. Lindell, claimed to have evidence that the former president was still president and that the Supreme Court was going to reinstate Trump as president by various dates. At best it seems to be a side show in the overall circus but there are various states who are deliberately making it more difficult to vote. Eliminating drop boxes, moving them from where they had always been or just having one or two drop boxes for an entire county are great tricks. Can’t be accused of undermining democracy because you moved some drop boxes, am I right?
Changing your registration to inactive if you voted absentee in the last election or just missed it for whatever reason is another recent method. (Remember how many of us voted absentee during COVID?) They don’t tell you about this little tidbit of course until you go to vote. Then they don’t give you a provisional ballot because that’s the law, so you just don’t get to vote this time.
In one state, election officials can be prosecuted for suggesting a voter request a mail in ballot or monitor poll watchers’ behavior. In some states you can be prosecuted if you return an absentee ballot for someone who is disabled or needs assistance. Say your parent is wheelchair bound and it’s physically difficult for them to vote. If you bring their ballot and drop the envelope in the drop box, you are a criminal.
I know some believe this kind of law-making is very important, and the fate of the nation hangs in the balance. I just don’t see how doing your family or neighbor a favor by dropping off their twice sealed ballot in a drop box, assuming the box hasn’t been moved, is going to topple the government.
I’m not going to go to the trouble of listing all the states and which law goes with which state. You would be well-advised to look up your own state before voting and maybe keep informed about what your state legislature is up to. You would be astonished at all the skullduggery that goes on in the name of freedom while you are not looking and even when you are.
Speaking of freedom, have you heard of The Peoples Convoy or the Freedom Convoy? I’ve heard and read both titles so it’s anyone’s guess what it actually is. (The People’s Convoy sounds so Chinese Communist, doesn’t it? I love irony.)
In case you missed it, some truckers and their friends are upset about lots of unspecified things and decided to drive to Washington D.C. and demand satisfaction or they would drive around the Beltway in circles and blow their horns while driving slowly thus ruining everyone’s day and one assumes, to own the Libs. Strategically this would seem foolish because The Beltway is famous in song and lore for barely moving traffic no matter the day or hour. I know. I drove it a bunch 35 years ago and I’m sure the traffic flow has not improved with time.
Along the route, at least around here in Montana, some people waved flags and shot off fireworks in support of trucking freedom. Apparently, the vehicles adorned with fluttering flags of freedom were inspiring and exciting, but I noticed it wasn’t inspiring enough to get the supporters to join in. After all, they had to go to work the next day.
As an aside, I never can understand where protestors or insurrectionists of any kind get the time off from work not to mention the money to participate in ongoing protests. Taking a Saturday to stand in front of the local courthouse to protest the lack of duck crosswalks is one thing but this People’s Convoy must be costing the participants a fortune. I didn’t think truckers had that much expendable income.
Something else that has been confusing was that there are multiple convoys driving from different parts of the country towards different destinations, at least according to published reports. Some had celebrities driving with them. One of these celebrities, whose film work I admire, was heading south towards Denver and said on camera that we were going to have to kill them to stop the convoy he was in. I think his big issue was about wearing masks. That of course is becoming a thing of the past. I also haven’t heard of someone being killed by the authorities or Big Box store employees for not wearing one so the whole, “You’ll have to kill us to stop us.” seems a tad melodramatic but that’s an occupational hazard for an actor I suppose.
Moreover, I think we all are familiar with the phrase, “Timing in life is everything.”
So when a country is fighting for its very existence against a brutal, totalitarian state and it’s on television 24 hours a day where we can watch the horror of what the actual loss of freedom looks like… well, how do I put this delicately?
When contrasted to the war in Ukraine, there is a reason why some call the trucker protest The Freedumb Convoy. These yahoos are not victims or heroes. (You should have seen the guy in the Crusader costume who believes the convoy is fighting for God. He was literally dressed as a Crusader!) Despite their delusions of grandeur, they have not risen anywhere close to the level of actual champions of freedom like Dr. King, John Lewis, Amelia Boynton or the thousands of activists/ protestors who faced down riot police, water hoses, tear gas and snarling police dogs just to vote or sit at a lunch counter to have a sandwich.
They seem to be sad human beings who desperately want attention and get it by being loud and obnoxious. Parents of young children will understand the concept perfectly.
From what I’ve heard and read from interviews they can’t understand why their lives aren’t better. After all they are real Americans and a good life is owed to them. They think they are being poisoned by vaccines and wearing masks makes them slaves. Joe Biden has made fuel very expensive, and they want the Keystone XL pipeline reopened so that we will be energy independent. They claim they will continue to drive in circles using that expensive fuel until the State of Emergency over COVID is ended and vaccine mandates for health care workers are rescinded.
Except when it rains. The People’s Convoy didn’t drive the other day because it was raining. I don’t know why. Maybe the flags will get wet?
It wasn’t put very delicately, was it? I’m sorry but there are so many ludicrous, false and plain old goofy statements and actions attached to the People’s Convoy that large groups of people can’t or wont see, that my patience which has been tested during the past seven years (has it really been that long?) has finally been worn thin. I also know that the truth is not a stick to beat people with but how else will I get their attention? Print it on a flag and fly it from the bed of my pickup while driving around in circles?