On March 7, 2015 the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, my heart was full as I marched with hundreds of men, women and children through the streets of Indianapolis honoring the legacy of those who were brutally attacked for demanding their right to vote. We were escorted by police officers in cars and on bicycles and our group brought traffic to a standstill with well-wishers and bystanders passed out bottled water encouraging us to march on.
The event reminded me of when I was a senior on the campus of Clark-Atlanta University, as my classmates and I watched in shock and horror as the evening news broadcast images of people being stoned and racial epithets hurled in their direction as they peacefully marched through a small town in southern Georgia. Racism was rampant in this community and Blacks were warned to never travel through the area after sunset lest they face unspeakable consequences. Several days after the broadcast many organizations including the NAACP, the Atlanta Urban League and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference outraged by the behavior of the community decided that it was time to take a stand and organized a march that was determined to leave an indelible mark on the townspeople and shine a national spotlight on the racial inequities perpetuated by its residents. Upon hearing this news we knew the following Saturday we would participate. We would march. We would take a stand.
And we did.
My classmates and I joined over 10,000 people of all ages and races on an unseasonably cold January morning. When I reflect on the highlights of that day I remember the hundreds of city buses traveling in a caravan carrying us to our destination. Our bus was so crowded. I sat on the floorboards listening to stories told by many people who had marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They told us about being attacked by police, bitten by dogs and knocked to their knees by fire hoses and pepper spray. They told us to never stop marching. That if we saw the threat of injustice or suppression it is our responsibility to take a stand. We sang songs, shared our food, prayed together and steeled our nerves, hoping deep down inside things would go smoothly. I have to admit, I was a little scared.
On that day while being led by Coretta Scott King and escorted by the Georgia National Guard we marched through that town. The townspeople lined the streets shouting racial slurs and holding signs. My fellow marchers and I and locked arms and walked through that town silent with our heads held high trying so hard not to respond to a community that let us know that our presence was not welcome. A middle-aged woman held a sign that stood out to me. It read “Go Home Niger’s”. Niger’s. I thought to myself, “This woman is holding a sign and does not even know what it means.” That sign served as a sad testament to the mentality of the people who call that city home.
As we marched in Indianapolis I thought a lot about the woman holding that sign. Her ignorance overshadowed her disdain for our being in her community that day. I also thought about the numerous emails, text messages and social media posts I received from people in our community who do not understand that voter suppression is real and it affects everyone – young and old, black and white. It’s not just a Black thing. The Voting Rights Act is a federal mandate that protects all Americans from discrimination of any sort while exercising their right to vote. It has been 50 years since the Voting Rights Act became law and still we hear stories about voter suppression in our community and around the nation. On March 7, we took a stand. We said no to voter suppression in Indiana. Not now, not ever.
As we approach the 2015 May and November elections, do not be like that woman holding the sign. If you have not registered to vote, what are you waiting for? If you are not aware of proposed changes to voting laws in Indiana make sure you follow SB466, it could affect you. When it comes to your voting rights and the rights of those you love always remember Selma is now. And forever.
Denise is the owner of Herd Strategies LLC, an Indianapolis based strategic communications firm. She is a professor and a Harley Davidson enthusiast.
For more on Herd Strategies, visit herdstrategies.com