Tony Robinson was shot to death by a Madison, Wisconsin policeman on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the March in Selma. Obviously, the two events are unrelated, but Robinson’s death at the hands of yet another policeman in yet another police department, in a city fraught with a long-standing history of racial tensions and economic inequality is emblematic of where we are today. Black males and females’ lives are in danger from coast to coast, north to south, at the hands of an increasingly violent and brutal police apparatus.
Voting rights continue to be under attack in all the red states and a solution in a now all-Republican Congress is highly unlikely. Relief from the US Supreme Court, the very body that whittled away Selma’s crowning achievement, is unexpected. After all, it is Justice Roberts’ court that kicked the Voting Rights Act right back in Congress’ court.
So, fifty years after the march on Selma, we still summon the winds of change. Fifty years later, we still worry about the lives of young men and women who, just based on the color of their skin, are at risk of being brutalized, killed, for things their fair-skinned compatriots would never even be given a second look for. Imperfection, a prior, has become justification for a kill, when at no time in our history since the end of the Wild West, have we ever conceded life and death to the split-second decision of a law enforcement officer.
Fifty years on, the bar for respectability, and one’s right to live, has been raised to an unattainable standard of perfection. Perfection, it seems, is the new standard for young Black men. But on the surface, even when they do meet that lofty ideal, that risk for brutality doesn’t vanish. When needless brutality comes knocking, it is justified and perpetuated, rather than analyzed and corrected, in the context in which it happened.
Fifty years after Selma and during one of the most severe economic downturns, one in which only the very few didn’t suffer deep economic loss, Black unemployment still remains very high. Joblessness among the young is still at an all-time high. Among the displaced workers of the Great Recession, the 99ers, unemployment and underemployment are still a real problem. Wages, which slumped well before the Great Recession, have yet to rise. Poverty and hunger among children is at all-time high.
We’ve seen several movements rise since the seminal events of the last seven years and the start of our Great Recession. None of them have become sustained national movements. There’s not been a move to consolidate or merge, either. It seems, our connected society’s networks are functioning in separate realms. The remnants of Occupy, the still growing Moral Monday, and the barely perceptible Black Lives Matter, unable to join and grow to the unstoppable wave for social change that Martin Luther King dreamed of.
When you think of it, Black Lives Matter and Moral Monday are a perfect match in that the concerns, interests, and ultimate goals of each intersect perfectly. A populace unable to vote is a populace that is unable to improve its lot. Whether it is poor whites of Appalachia, the disenfranchisement of Blacks and whites in North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Harlem, Compton, Oakland, Chicago, the beleaguered residents of Ferguson or even the entire St. Louis, Missouri metropolitan area, the aspirations for a better, more prosperous life are common. These should be the aspirations of a nation; aspirations which have no color and are an amalgam of the classes. Working across race and class to bring equality and prosperity to all is an attainable goal. These are the very aspirations Martin Luther King was in the process of realizing, until that awful April day… It should be the goal of our generation to finally bring that goal to its successful completion.
The NAACP was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. Without it, we would not be where we are today. Grassroots organizing was at the heart of the movement. Without it, we would not be where we are today. Moral Monday is a movement that is organic and crosses race. That movement needs to be tended to and cared for so it grows. While some may feel resentment at having to carry the burden of growing movements, I say this: there is no equivalent movement in the white communities that can galvanize the population. Yet, that galvanization is needed. As Georgetown University Professor Sheryll Cashin concludes in her July 2014 op-ed in the New York Times:
“The only way for advocates of racial and economic equality to overcome partisan gridlock is through alliances with reachable whites, who often hew Republican. Such reconciliation could create a true politics of fairness, one that is worthy of the Civil Rights Act and the movement that made it possible.”
In his 1963 book, The Fire Next Time, American writer James Baldwin wrote:
“If we- and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others- do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world”
Baldwin was right. Restoring voting rights, ending police brutality, scaling back the police state, restoring our democracy and putting growth and prosperity back on the path we deviated from will take a high degree of unity across class, religion, and race. There is only one organization in the United States, today, that has the infrastructure to unite groups and communities to include those reachable whites Professor Cashin wrote about: the NAACP.