In case you hadn’t noticed, something new and important is afoot in the country. It’s often messy and unscripted and at times downright disorganized, but it’s also genuine, born of the grassroots, brimming with potential and very likely to be around for a while.
The subject, of course, is the newly energized civil rights movement that is fast emerging across post-Ferguson America. Spurred initially by the power of modern technology and, in particular, the ability of smartphones to document the terror that so many people rightfully and tragically experience with respect to the law enforcement officers who are sworn to serve and protect them, the movement is fast branching out to merge with other extant social justice causes like the fight for living wages, voting rights and the effort to save public education.
Six and half years ago, this would not have seemed possible or, perhaps, even necessary. After all, the country had just elected its first President of color and there was a palpable sense that perhaps we had finally really reached a fundamental turning point in the national dialogue over race and equality.
Sadly however, as we have been reminded repeatedly during the last several years, one should never underestimate the power of fear — especially fear fanned by a massive global recession and billions of dollars in plutocrat-funded fairy tales – to chase people back into their shells of selfishness and exclusion.
And so here we are in the summer of 2015 contemplating a combination of both dreadful and encouraging news items.
The bad news is that fear and ignorance still reign in many circles. Innocent people (almost always African-Americans) still regularly find themselves unfairly enmeshed in dangerous and even deadly encounters with law enforcement. Meanwhile, a thoroughly moderate national leader is still savaged on a daily basis with every imaginable defamatory label for advancing proposals that would be greeted with yawns if proposed by a white president.
The good news, however, is that a fast-growing number of people of all races and backgrounds have simply had it with the bad news. It may have been difficult at times to rouse people to action when the public debate was over the latest regressive tax complexity, another thinly-veiled move to sell off our public schools to Wall Street investors or even a new restriction on the right to vote, but when people can see a video of an innocent person being shot in the back because of what he looks like, it’s hard to stay silent. And when people finally grasp that both things (the regressive policies and the shootings) are often born of the same kinds of fear and ignorance – well, then we’re really getting somewhere.
One exciting example of how this powerful awareness has taken hold and come together in recent weeks and months will be on display in North Carolina starting this weekend when the NAACP’s “Journey for Justice” march reaches the state. As you may have become aware by now, the Journey for Justice is an unprecedented march that blends some of the best traditions of the 20th Century Civil Rights movement with the best of the new and emerging activism of the current era.
The 860 mile march – and it is a real march – commenced way back on August 1 in the iconic movement city of Selma, Alabama. Since that time, marchers have been proceeding – a few miles a day through Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. This Saturday, August 29, the marchers are scheduled to cross the border into North Carolina. Later they’ll proceed through Virginia and into the District of Columbia for an historic rally at the Lincoln Memorial on September 16.
And for those for whom joining the marchers along the road is not an option, be sure to mark your calendar for next week when the march comes to Raleigh. A rally is planned for downtown on the afternoon of Thursday September 3. Other activities will take place at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in the days surrounding the rally.
The specific focus of the stay in North Carolina for the marchers next week will be voting rights – an issue that is painfully apt given the aggressive actions of state leaders in recent years to roll back decades of hard fought progress. Ultimately, however, it is something more than access to the ballot box that will sustain the Journey for Justice. For more and more average Americans, the time has simply arrived to say “no more” to politics and policies driven by fear and division that, ultimately, put the lives of innocent citizens at risk.
Rob Schofield is the Director of Research and Policy Development for N.C. Policy Watch.