Fifty Years Ago Oppression Was Obvious: The Selma Diaries

It’s been said that the devil’s greatest trick is convincing the world that he doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s true.

Whether or not you’re a person of faith you’ve probably been in a situation at one time or another when someone tried to convince you that what you instinctively knew to be true was not real, right?

That’s where we are in 2015 with the issue of Civil Rights.

Civil Rights? In 2015? Come on. Seriously?

Yeah, we know. Logic says that once an issue has been addressed by the Constitution, written into law and confirmed by the courts, we can all go about our business, content in the knowledge that justice has prevailed.

In a perfect world, maybe. But not in this one.

Today behind an invisible curtain, hidden in mounds of legal text, lives an insidious—and systematic—effort to return the United States to a time when average people, especially people of color, had no Constitutional rights.

It longs for a time when education was something for a privileged few; when slavery – in many forms – was still legal; when a ruling class dominated the country from Wall Street to Main Street, fueled by money, empowered by cronyism and driven to crush any who dared challenge the entitlement they believed was their birthright.

Yesterday’s robber-barons had the best government money could buy answering to them – UNTIL everyday people began to rise up – by the thousands – to lay claim to their own humanity and demand nothing less than equal treatment under the law.

It was a time for celebration, and it had its finest hour 50 years ago this week, in Selma, Alabama, when after two attempts resulting in pain, humiliation and yes, even casualties – hundreds of brave citizens armed only with their dreams and the voices to articulate them, marched boldly across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and into American history.

If only real life could have the happy ending Hollywood envisioned.

But as movies have taught us, the villain never dies. Like a viper – the mythic manifestation of evil – he lies in wait until the hero lowers his guard, then strikes with deadly force, exacting his revenge.

It’s been nearly five decades since the voting rights act was signed into law (August 6, 1965) and the grandchildren of yesterday’s robber-barons and their friend and ally Jim Crow are alive and well and up to their old tricks.

They’re back to manipulating the legal system, drafting and shopping – state by state – crazy voting restrictions and oppressive “voter ID” laws – and getting them passed.

Their objective? Protect the spoils of their war on equality, and make sure democracy doesn’t have a chance to rear its ugly head again to threaten what’s rightfully theirs.

Last year they argued successfully – before the Supreme Court – that important voting rights’ protections were no longer necessary, turning back the hands of time on hard-won equality. Emboldened by success, their drive is picking up steam; greasing the skids for dismantling systems of fairness that protect all of us.

Now, these 21st century plantation owners have gone global, setting their sights not only on US people of color and the working poor, but on anyone, anywhere, who represents a threat.

Dozens of people who would fight back – both here and abroad – from attorneys and judges to lawmakers, journalists and other public figures who’ve stood up for equality – have become targets for threats, intimidation, malicious prosecution and worse.

Some who got in the way, such as former Governor Don Siegelman, are now in prison, serving time – on trumped up charges. Governor Siegelman’s crime was trying to bring quality education to Alabama. But more than that, he was guilty of believing that to govern requires the consent of the governed – a radical idea even in “modern” Alabama. He was a homegrown freedom-rider who, like centuries of populist heroes before him, paid with his own freedom for living his convictions. Hard to believe it could happen in 2015, right?

The devil’s greatest trick is convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.