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THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES…How Long, Not Long By Sherry Cannon

I  want so badly to quit writing articles about the Struggle Continues. Often because it doesn’t seem like it will ever end, and sometimes because I’m just tired. 

After George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last year, Robert Sellers, University of Michigan’s Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, penned an op-ed titled “I’m So Tired.”

“I woke up very tired, not your normal tired. I woke up with a kind of tired that can only be found on the other side of loss, anger, frustration, sadness and despair.”

That’s the kind of tired I’m feeling right now, but then I remember John Lewis and C.T. Vivian and Shirley Chisholm and Annie Lou Hamer and John Gwynn and Dr. King.  

Bloody Sunday – Alabama police attack Selma-to-Montgomery Marchers, 1965  Photo credit Federal Bureau of Investigation, Public Domain

It has been 56-years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of non-violent civil rights activists on a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to the state’s capital, Montgomery, Alabama. That day was the third attempt to complete this march. The first attempt was made on March 7th and resulted in people beaten almost to death, including John Lewis. It will forever be memorialized as “Bloody Sunday.”

The idea for the march came about after a young Black man named Jimmy Lee Jackson was killed on February 18, 1965, by an Alabama state trooper, for protecting his mother and grandfather from being beaten with the trooper’s nightstick. They had been participating in a peaceful voting rights demonstration in Marion, Alabama.

Not only was Jimmy Lee Jackson murdered fighting for the right to vote, James Reeb, a 38-year-old Unitarian Universalist pastor, and a civil rights activist, was also murdered by white segregationists on March 11, 1965 in Selma. Reeb responded to Dr. King’s call for white clergy to support the voting rights march scheduled for March 9th. The 2nd attempt to march to Montgomery was canceled when Dr. King turned the marchers around, after prayer on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, rather than have another violent confrontation with state troopers.

Viola Liuzzo was a 39-year-old wife and mother of five, who drove from Detroit, Michigan to participate in the March. Liuzzo was murdered as she drove marchers back to Selma from Montgomery, by the Klan on March 26, 1965. Liuzzo was the only white woman killed in the Civil Rights Movement. It was her death that pushed President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

It was after that march, Dr. King gave a speech in which he said “How long, Not Long. I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again. How long,  Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long, Not long.”

In the November 2020 election, Black voters did what no one thought was possible; they turned the state of Georgia blue. They also sent the state’s first Black senator to the United States Senate. Unable to win elections fairly, there are now 253 voter suppression bills pending in 43 states. Republican control legislators are openly telling everyone, that brown and Black people do not deserve the right to vote.

The interesting thing is that when Black people vote, all voters benefit. We vote for change that will help everyone. A living wage, health insurance, criminal justice reform, and affordable housing are all things that every American citizen benefit from. When black votes are suppressed, only the privileged and elite benefit.

Two Republican governors have signed into law these regressive voting laws, under the guise that they protect the integrity of elections. Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa signed into law a bill that cut the states early voting period from 29-days to 20-days, and polls on election day will close an hour earlier. Absentee ballots must be received by the night of election to be counted. Previously, ballots had to be postmarked the day before the election and given until the following Monday to be received by county auditors. The law stripped county auditors of their discretion in running elections in their counties. It also limits who can return a voter’s absentee ballot and allows county to only have one ballot drop box at the auditors office.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed an even more egregious voter suppression law. The bill passed the house, senate and signed by the governor all in one day. Signing the bill behind closed doors, with only white men as a witness, with a picture of a former slave plantation was fitting optics of what this law represents.

The bill takes authority from local elected officials and the Secretary of State and gives it to the legislatures. It restricts the number of drop boxes that a county can have. It requires a voted ID for mail-in ballots. It reduces the time for run-off elections, and it makes it illegal to give someone waiting in line food or water within 150 feet of a polling place.

The 15th amendment made it illegal to deny a person (male) the right to vote on the basis of race, ethnicity, or previously being enslaved. However, Jim Crow Laws were designed to circumvent this right for Black citizens. They instituted poll tax, literacy test, and the grandfather clause. The grandfather clause was passed by seven southern states during Reconstruction to deny suffrage to Black people. Anyone who had engaged in the right to vote prior to 1867or their direct descendants would be exempt from educational, property, or tax requirements for voting.

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is slowly being stripped, beginning with the Supreme Court’s gutting of section 5’s preclearance requirement in 2013. This session the Supreme court will rule on two Arizona Voting policies that are in direct violation of section 2 of the VRA. It prohibits practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, and membership in one of the minority groups that is spelled out in the VRA.

We must actively fight against these Jim Crow 2.0 tactics. It is imperative that the US Congress passes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which will restore section 5 of the VRA and keep section 2 intact. Our voice is needed; we cannot allow people whose only interest in running for office is to control power and keep it in the hands of white men.

This is why I must keep writing, keep agitating, and reminding all of us what is at stake. In that same March 25, 1965 speech, Dr. Martin King Jr. said, “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”