United for civil rights in Ala.
reports on a demonstration that followed the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965--with the aim of furthering the struggle today.
CHANTS OF "Now is the time for Black and Brown power!" flooded the streets of Montgomery, Ala., on March 9 as more than 1,000 union members, immigrant workers, students and people from all walks of life completed the fifth leg of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march.
The march was organized by Al Sharpton's National Action Network to commemorate one that marked a turning point in the struggle against Jim Crow segregation in the South. The 2012 march retraced the steps of the 1965 voting rights march, which was brutally attacked by police. It brought together Blacks and Latinos to demand an end to the assault on civil rights today, including laws that attempt to roll back the rights of immigrants, workers and voters.
Marchers made their way downtown for a rally in front of Alabama's State Capitol, and the contingent gradually grew, as students from nearby schools joined in along the way. The march began at St. Jude's Educational Institute, where buses carrying people from around the country gathered.
Unions that endorsed the event included the AFL-CIO federation, United Auto Workers, Service Employees International Union, AFSCME, Communications Workers of America, American Federation of Teachers and International Association of Machinists. Other endorsers included the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP and the ACLU.
Protesters' enthusiasm reached a high point under a highway bridge where the echoes of chants were amplified. An immigrant contingent composed mostly of Latinos chanted, "¡Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!" (We are here and we won't leave!). At one point, they made clear their opposition to the toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, Alabama's House Bill (HB) 56, through loud chants of "Undocumented and unafraid!"
Earlier this year, Alabama lawmakers passed HB 56, a package of racist measures that target undocumented immigrants. Provisions of the bill allow police to stop and detain people they "suspect" of being in the country illegally. Other provisions deny immigrants state medical aid and make it a crime to hire, harbor, rent property to--or give a ride to--an undocumented immigrant.
During multiple points on the march, union and Latino immigrant contingents joined their chants in Spanish and English with enthusiasm and solidarity. The multiracial crowd came together in front the state Capitol, as Latino and Black speakers took on HB 56 and voting laws that discriminate against Blacks, Latinos, immigrants and the poor.
'The laws in Alabama are not immigration laws. They're Jim Crow laws,'' Sharpton told the crowd. ''Our fathers beat Jim Crow,'' he added. ''We're going to beat James Crow Jr. We have awakened again. Black, white, Latino, Asian, workers, union members, young folk, old folk.''
Speakers also took up voter ID laws that have passed in 34 states, which civil rights groups say could disenfranchise as many as 5 million minority voters. Republicans argue that the laws are necessary to prevent supposed voter fraud, with restrictions such as requiring voters to show photo IDs at polling stations or cutting back early-voting periods.
Alabama's state government, of course, has a long history of turning a deaf ear to the cause of social justice. It was easy to draw the connection between the struggle today and in the 1950s and 1960s, as speakers recounted the events that took place in Alabama during the height of the civil rights movement.
Today, a terrorized Latino population, including children as young as 4 years old, are being asked for their papers--making Alabama once against a center for scapegoating and racial discrimination.
For many activists, this protest helped draw the connections between the struggles faced in the Latino and Black communities--and showed the potential, and urgent need, for mobilizing networks of people to stand up to this assault on civil rights.