Tuesday, March 25, 2008


On this day in 1965 civil rights marchers concluded a march from Selma, AL, to the state Capitol in Montgomery to protest the denial of voting rights to blacks. At least 25,000 civil rights marchers participated in the 54-mile trek led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This march followed a previous march two weeks earlier that was broken up at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by state troopers and sheriff's deputies who used billy clubs, attack dogs and tear gas. The infamous incident became known as "Bloody Sunday." During the second demonstration, marchers, who walked an average of 12 miles a day and pitched tents as they slept in fields at night, sang freedom songs along the way. At its conclusion, an estimated 50,000 people from every state in the country gathered at the foot of the state Capitol to celebrate. That momentous event within the Civil Rights Movement helped usher in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Now, I bring this up because I want to get it through the heads of Barack Obama supporters that they are NOT participating in a movement. At least, I haven't heard about any of them being attacked by sheriff's deputies using whips, electric cattle prods and tear gas. I haven't noticed any cops turning loose attack dogs on them. Obama supporters are free to be excited about supporting the first black man with a serious shot at being President, but puleeeze, stop with the movement talk, and stop comparing him (and yourselves) to people who put their lives on the line, it just ain't so.

You see, to support a candidate of some political party is a wee bit different then say the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, coming to Selma in 1963 to help blacks exercise their right to vote. This at a time when, for example, Dallas County, Alabama, which was majority black had only 325 blacks registered to vote, compared to 9,700 registered whites. Oh and voter ratios in surrounding Black Belt counties were similar—or much worse. SNCC's efforts which predated those mentioned above by Dr. King and SCLC received little press attention compared to what happened later (and compared to the gushing media attention received by the Obama campaign today).

Getting black folks registered to vote in the deep south back then was a little different then registering Obama supporters to vote in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania today (see article below).

Mississippi Summer was a SNCC project. SNCC finally received press coverage when Mississippi Summer volunteers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, disappeared after having been released from police custody. While the search was on for their bodies, corpses of many blacks were found buried in the Mississippi mud. The FBI who reluctantly conducted the search did eventually locate the bodies of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner as well..

SNCC and their allies also established 30 Freedom Schools in towns throughout Mississippi. Volunteers taught in the schools and the curriculum included black history, the philosophy of the civil rights movement. During the summer of 1964 over 3,000 students attended these schools and the experiment provided a model for future educational programs such as Head Start.

Freedom Schools were often targets of white mobs. So also were the homes of local African Americans involved in the campaign. That summer 30 black homes and 37 black churches were firebombed. Over 80 volunteers were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers. Others, including, of course, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the Klan and their racist friends. This attempt to frighten others from joining the campaign failed and by late 1964 over 70,000 students had taken part in Freedom Summer.

It took guts in those days to be a black person and just register to vote. Police harassment and arrests, KKK violence including shootings, bombings, assassinations, and economic terrorism was common against those who dared to try to register.

This is different then you going out and giving a good speech to lots of applause. This is different then voting in a primary. This is different then making phone calls on behalf of a candidate.

One could go on and on and on, but I have to hope the point is made. A Presidential campaign is not a movement. Calling it one is demeaning to the many who participated in a real one.

The following is from Public Opinion (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania).

Obama supporters getting organized

Dozens of local Barack Obama supporters call it a grass-roots movement.

A month ago, most had already decided they favored Obama as the Democrat's presidential candidate, but had only a vague idea of what they could do about it.

On Monday, many of them felt they had taken the first step in making a difference in Obama's march to the Democratic Convention nomination and perhaps the presidency.

It has taken them less than a month to organize, obtain a local campaign headquarters and carry out their first project: A drive to register voters for Pennsylvania's primary.

For the last 10 days, they have hit the streets, approached potential voters and even gone door to door in an effort to get local residents registered.

They feel their efforts have paid off with hundreds of new registered voters, but they also say they are having the time of their lives.

"I have been having so much fun," said an exuberant Rosanne Johnson on Monday as she prepared to hand in the results of her latest effort -- about half a dozen registration forms she had talked people into filling out that afternoon.

She stopped by the new Obama campaign headquarters at 33 S. Main Street in downtown Chambersburg to talk to her new friend, Barbara Weekley.

"It's been exciting," Weekley said. "We have signed up a lot of new voters, as well as quite a few who have switched parties."

The two women, one African-American and one white from different neighborhoods and different walks of life, first met last weekend when they were paired up to go out to register voters.

They braved the cold that Saturday afternoon, armed with registration forms and a determination to make a difference. They shivered together in the cold, ate lunch together and celebrated each new registration together.

"It was cold and windy, and sometimes discouraging, but it was a great experience also," Johnson said. "By the end of the day, we had forged a new friendship, and signed up some voters too."

Johnson and Weekley recalled that effort Monday afternoon, talking about the exuberance of volunteers as they met at the end of the day at the Obama campaign headquarters on South Main Street.

As they were wrapping things up and getting ready to leave, a man came in off the street and told them "I want to register to vote."

A cheer went up among the volunteers.

The incident was just one moment in a string of moments that encouraged and rejuvenated volunteers who have spent many long hours out in the community the past 10 days in an effort to register voters.

The aim, according to volunteers, has not been to campaign for Obama at this point, but to get voters registered so they can participate in next month's primary election.

Justin Caffrey, a senior at Shippensburg University, said College Democrats on campus registered about 700 students, most first time voters.

"Our goal is to get them interested and registered to vote," he said. "We didn't try to influence their votes, we just wanted them to participate."

He said volunteers found that many people wanted to vote but were just not sure how to register.

Volunteers in both Shippensburg and Chambersburg provided the registration forms and instructions on how to fill them out.

Weekley and Johnson said the push in Chambersburg was also to register people, and like the Shippensburg volunteers, they helped anyone who wanted to register, regardless of party affiliation.

"At this point, getting people to register was the key, so they have the option to vote April 22," Weekley said.

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