In Selma, relatives on foot are strengthening the role of young people’s suffrage

For a long time, as Eliot Smith may recall, the annual commemorations of historic voting rights are held with Selma in Montgomery, Alabama, doubles as family reunions.

He first visited as a newborn. On the iconic Selma Bridge of Edmund Pettus, where protesters were stopped, tear gas fired and brutally beaten by state troops on a fatal “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, Smith’s father, the deceased Amelia Boynton Robinsonpushed him in the cradle during the commemoration of the 30th.

“I consider myself a mobile child,” he told the Associated Press.

Twenty years later, Smith swapped roles with Boynton Robinson, Selma’s voting strategist and civil rights matriarch: a few months before her death, Smith was driving his uncle’s wheelchair across the bridge during a 50-year commemoration of the march she helped lead.


Now, at age 27, Smith himself is in Selma, leading a multi-stake delegation of millennia and Generation Z activists who intend to change the current debate on voting rights around their generations ’access to political power and socio-economic justice.

“If our national narrative focuses exclusively on suffrage and attacks on black people, then our message is too narrow. We don’t have enough of that, “he said, looking through the message he intended to share in Selma.

Tens of millions of young Americans will be eligible to vote between the 2016 general election and the upcoming midterm elections, which Smith sees as an opportunity to increase young people’s civic activism and pay tribute to his sincere aunt.

“We must expand our framework and always link the struggle for the right to vote with the struggle of low-paid workers who do not receive a living wage,” added Smith, co-director of student and youth cooperation for the poor, reviving the economic justice campaign. junior.


Together with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Rev. Jesse Jackson Smith’s Transformative Justice Network, he planned another reconstruction of the 1965 marches on Monday. The group will cover an 11-mile (18-kilometer) stretch of the original route toward Montgomery.

Marchers from other groups are expected to walk their own sections of the route throughout the week and arrive in the capital for a rally on Friday.

For decades, brave pedestrian warriors have been devoted to marching commemorations. They pushed their nephews, children and grandchildren to take the case over the bridge. But as the celebrations became a standard photo operation for elected officials and candidates to bolster their civil rights in good faith, the historic location and presence of young people in the movement were hidden.

“Today, the most popular memory of the movement is the one run mostly by senior black intellectuals and activists, and it’s a convenient memory, but it’s not entirely accurate,” said John Gigi, an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama and director of the Somerset Center for Southern Studies.


Whether it’s a history of civil rights in Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham or tiny Greensboro, almost every part of the race for racial justice in Alabama depended on the willingness of even more senior people to take risks and make sacrifices, Gigi said.

“How did we not serve the younger generation? Without insisting that, looking back, one should see oneself in this movement, ”he added.

In January, lawmakers in Washington failed to meet term Civil rights leaders have decided to pass a federal suffrage law after a wave of proposals in conservative states to restrict access to early voting, eliminate voter registration on the same day, restrict postal voting and reduce the number of ballot boxes. in the election in the pandemic era, among other consequences.


This wave was caused, in part, by false statements by former President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. According to Brennan Center for Justicebetween early 2021 and mid-January this year, lawmakers from 27 states introduced, pre-filed or transposed more than 250 pieces of legislation that the center called voter suppression measures.

Due to the approaching by-elections this fall and the narrow democratic control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, some fear that the window of opportunity has almost closed to overcome the repression of voters at the state level. And with such high stakes, defenders see this year’s memory of Selma as an important gathering point.

Smith, who organized voter registration on campus as a student at Redford University in Virginia, said he viewed inaction in Washington as an insult to the memory of all those who shed blood on the Selma Bridge 57 years ago.


Boynton Robinson, one of the first black women to successfully register to vote in the 1930s Jim Crow South, spent decades organizing and trying to register black people to vote in cities controlled by white segregation leaders. Her efforts culminated in the 1965 marches to which she invited King, hoping he would help nationalize the struggle for the right to vote.

On March 7, 1965, before King arrived in Selma, state troops and members of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Squad stopped protesters at the foot of Pettus Bridge. A soldier smashed the head of John Lewis, the late congressman who was then a student activist, during a conflict that left dozens injured.

Boynton Robinson told her nephew how she was hit, once on the arm and the second time on the head, leaving her on the ground, gasping for air, and the local sheriff stood by, refusing to offer help.

Horrific depictions of violence prompted the passage of the 1965 Electoral Rights Act. Until nearly a decade ago, federal law required U.S. Department of Justice attorneys to consider changes to voting laws in states with a history of racial discrimination. The Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Holder v. Shelby County, Alabama’s jurisdiction, lifted the claim, which critics say has paved the way for a nationwide set of regressive voting laws.


“Given all the tactics of voter suppression, it is clear that what our ancestors said in the 60’s is relevant today,” Smith told the AP.

Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Campaign of the Poor, said he had initially declined an invitation to speak at Sunday’s event, insisting that Smith speak in his place. Eventually, Barber delivered portions of Smith’s prepared remarks with the blessing of the 27-year-old.

“At the age of Eliot, King led a boycott of buses in Montgomery,” Barber told the AP. “We don’t need people to wait until they are 40 and 50 years old to take the lead in the movement. His generation needs to speak. They are not the people of tomorrow, but of the present. “


This was announced from New York by Aaran Morrison, a national writer from the AP team on race and ethnicity. Follow him on Twitter:

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