Albany Times Union
Biden: Voting rights still assailed
SELMA, Ala. — President Joe Biden used the searing memories of Selma’s “Bloody Sunday” to recommit to a cornerstone of democracy, lionizing a seminal moment from the civil rights movement at a time when he has been unable to push enhanced voting protections through Congress and a conservative Supreme Court has undermined a landmark voting 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 told a crowd of several thousand people seated on one side of the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a reputed Ku Klux Klan leader.
“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,” he said.
As a candidate in 2020, Biden promised to pursue sweeping legislation to bolster protection of voting rights. Two years ago, his 2021 legislation, named after civil right leader John Lewis, the late Georgia congressman, included provisions to restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, strike down hurdles to voting and bring transparency to a campaign finance system that allows wealthy donors to bankroll political causes anonymously.
It passed the thendemocratic-controlled House, but it failed to draw the 60 votes needed to advance in a Senate under control by Biden’s party. With Republicans now running of the House, passage of such legislation is highly unlikely.
Many in the current generation of civil rights activists feel let down because of the lack of progress on voting rights.
Few moments have had as lasting importance to the civil rights movement as what happened March 7, 1965, in Selma and in the weeks that followed.
More than 600 peaceful demonstrators led by Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams had gathered that day, just weeks after the fatal shooting of a young Black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, by an Alabama trooper.
Lewis and the others were brutally beaten by Alabama troopers and sheriff ’s deputies as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge at the start of what was supposed to be a 54-mile walk to the state Capitol in Montgomery as part of a larger effort to register Black voters in the South.
“On this bridge, blood was given to help redeem the soul of America,” Biden said.
The images of the police violence sparked outrage across the country. Days later, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. led what became known as the “Turnaround Tuesday” march, in which marchers approached a wall of police at the bridge and prayed before turning back.
On March 21, King began a third march, under federal protection, that grew by thousands by the time they arrived at the state Capitol.
Delores Gresham, 65, a retired health care worker from Birmingham, arrived four hours early, grabbing a front-row spot so her grandchildren could hear the president and see the commemoration.
“I want them to know what happened here.”