On the 58th anniversary of the seminal “Bloody Sunday” march, President Biden visited Selma, Alabama and issued a renewed call to action for voting rights protections.
This trip’s purpose is twofold for Biden– it both emphasizes his 2020 campaign promises and commitment to Black voters who were crucial to his ascent to the White House, and it underscores his commitment to democracy “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,” AP News notes.
At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where approximately 600 civil rights activists in 1965 “were attacked by state and local lawmen” on their route from Selma, marching eastward, Biden spoke to the assembled crowd paying tribute to those protestors and galvanizing support for the voting rights bills currently stalled in Congress.
“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 [have passed] fueled by the ‘Big Lie’ and the election deniers now elected to office,” said Biden.
“Selma is a reckoning. The right to vote and to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty…With it, anything’s possible. Without it, without that right, nothing is possible. And this fundamental right remains under assault,” continued Biden, adding “On this bridge, blood was given to help redeem the soul of America.”
Selma became a turning point and lynchpin moment for the civil rights movement, after images of the brutal police violence from that day circulated, becoming a spark for national outrage. President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act of 1965 just eight days after “Bloody Sunday,” referencing this pivotal moment as one wherein “history and fate meet at a single time.”
Before Sunday’s visit, activists had sent a letter to Congress and Biden, expressing their frustration on the limited progress towards enacting voting rights legislation and “urged Washington politicians visiting Selma not to sully the memories of Lewis and Williams and other civil rights activists with empty platitudes.”
Biden seemed to heed their words, stating, “We know that we must get the votes in Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act…I’ve made it clear: I will not let a filibuster obstruct the sacred right to vote.”
“My message to you is this: We see you. We’re fighting to make sure no one’s left behind. This is a time of choosing and we need everybody engaged…So let’s pray, but let’s not rest. Let’s keep marching. Let’s keep the faith. But most of all, let’s remember who we are. We’re the United States of America, and there’s nothing, nothing, beyond our capacity when we act together,” said Biden before concluding with “Let’s finish the job.”
After his speech, Biden was joined by other politicians and prominent civil rights leaders who all partook in the annual walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Sunday’s commemorative events displayed the scars of the violent EF-2 tornado that ripped through Selma in January that destroyed or damaged thousands of the city’s properties, which Biden referenced in his speech.
“We know there’s work to do, especially as you recover from this devastating tornado and the storms that hit in January.” Mayor James Perkins thanked the President for approving a declaration of disaster, which aided in debris removal and cleanup, stating “We remain Selma strong…we will build back better.”