Special to the Greene County

Democrat by: John Zippert

Rally at North Carolina State Capitol

Rally at South Carolina State Capitol

Rally at Georgia State Capitol

A tour bus and nine cars with 100 people left the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Monday morning March 10, 2014 for a nine hundred mile journey to the nation’s capital in Washington, D. C. The caravan set out to protest voter suppression and the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act making the Section 5’s pre-clearance provisions inoperable.  They also called for restoration of the Voting Rights Act and ultimately a Constitutional Amendment protecting the right to vote.

The ‘Freedom Ride for Voting Rights’ was initiated by the Save Ourselves (SOS) Movement for Justice and Democracy, involving 40 social change, human rights and anti-poverty organizations in Alabama and joined by many other partnering organizations across the South. The caravan left after the three day Bridge Crossing Commemoration and Jubilee in Selma to celebrate the 49th anniversary of “Blood Sunday” when marchers were attacked on the bridge.

The caravan stopped at the state capitals along the way from Selma to Washington to demonstrate the importance of state actions in voter suppression – instituting strict voter ID laws, eliminating same-day voter registration, reducing early voting and other steps to curtail or suppress voting by Black, poor, elderly  and disabled people.

After a short rally at the State Capitol in Montgomery and a stop for lunch at the Tuskegee Municipal Complex, the caravan rolled into Atlanta, Georgia. Local legislators had arranged for a press conference inside the main entrance to the Georgia Capitol and building. The rally which featured speakers from Alabama and Georgia grew so loud that the Georgia state troopers disconnected the sound system but this only encouraged the rally participants to get louder and more boisterous in protesting against voter suppression and for the extension of Medicaid to the poor, immigrant rights, public education and other common themes.

After the press conference, the group moved to a church across the street, for more discussions. The Georgia hosts also raised a collection to help cover the costs of the caravan continuing on its journey.

On Tuesday morning, the Freedom Ride held a rally in front of the State Capitol in Columbia, South Carolina. Several SC Black legislators greeted the crowd and expressed support for the caravan. The SC Legislature was in session considering legislation to expand Medicaid to poor people in the state.

That afternoon, the caravan rolled into Raleigh, the state capital of North Carolina and was greeted by hundreds of supporters of the NC Moral Monday Movement, led by Rev. William Barber of the state NAACP. A spirited rally was held on the steps of the NC State Capitol. A highlight of the rally was a set of songs from the “Ragging Grannies” a group of grandmothers, dressed with flowery hats, who sang about the issues facing the Moral Monday Movement.

Rev, Barber emphasized that the struggle for voting rights was “dipped and anointed in the blood of martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement including Jimmie Lee Jackson, Viola Luzzio, Rev. Reeb and many others. We must realize that this movement was touched by the blood and we cannot go backwards.” Rev. Barber introduced a fourteen year-old white student who protested a newly passed law in North Carolina that cancelled early registration for 16 and 17 year olds, who could pre-register to vote in advance of their 18th birthday.

This young lady was one of many youth speakers that addressed the rallies as part of the caravan. Ms. Jerria Martin, Coordinator of the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement and students from Tuskegee spoke at every stop. Jerria expressed the idea that it was time for young people to take their rightful place along side other leaders of the movement, “ We want to climb down from your shoulders and stand beside you in these struggles.”

On Wednesday morning, the group rallied in Richmond, Virginia and then traveled on to Washington, D.C. where rallies were held in front of the U. S. Supreme Court and the Capitol building. The group was joined by Congress-members, Terri Sewell from Alabama and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina.

On the steps of the U. S. Capitol, members of the Freedom Ride decried the fact that the currently proposed legislation to fix the Voting Rights Act does not include Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and a number of states previously covered by the pre-clearance provisions of Section 5. Sewell and Butterfield said they were working to amend the legislation to remedy these concerns.

Rev. Barber who changed his schedule to meet the caravan in Washington, D. C. said, “ while we want to restore the Voting Rights Act, we must work for a Constitutional Amendment to guarantee the right to vote and take these powers to restrict voting rights away from the states.

Attorney Faya Rose Toure urged all the members of the Freedom Ride to return home and work in their states to change regressive voting rights laws and to register millions of new voters prior to next year’s 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March.

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