“Selma is now” expressed by common on the award as he and John Legend shared for “Glory”award winning song by both the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. In fact,many feel that the presentation of “Glory” at the Academy Awards was THE MOMENT of the Academy Awards-taking the glitter and gold to the heart and soul of “Selma.”
From Paris to Ferguson, the issues of Selma are a presence in our lives. Around the world the conflict and dissension around integration and inclusion of those excluded from power, from choice, from having the privilege of self determination in a context of equality is very much the issue of today. 1964 and the Civil Rights Act and the addition of women’s rights to the long struggle minority rights has been considered “accidental,” a political ploy, an attempt to derail the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Ruth Rosen and other historians attribute the passage of the Civil Rights Act as a consequence of House Speaker Howard K. Smith in a last minute effort to sabotage the passage with the addition of sex to race and country of origin in the Civil Rights Act. In fact,the passage of the bill was only the beginning of decades of struggle, and a severe backlash that have limited the purpose of the bill to bring voter’s rights and engagement by those disenfranchised to the realm of access, opportunity, human dignity and equality for minorities and women realized in fact and in deed.
Today, January 12, 2015 the New York Times has on the front page: ” Solidarity in Paris against Terrorism” and describes the millions who march in response to the killing of journalists, artists, cartoonist, social commentary writers and people who were caught in the crossfire of Islamic terrorism with the killing of 17 people. Over a million people from all over the world gathered to march and honor the dead and affirm their united commitment to deal with this tragedy, many voicing grave concern for the future of freedom of speech. “Je suis Charlie” has been taken up by all those who have chosen to step up and into a resounding response to the tragedy and its meaning, and the future they determine will not be impacted, limited or intimidated by acts of terrorism.
In the same New York Times edition, there are the references to the Golden Globe Awards and the many expressions from those in the film and television industry to uphold freedom of the press, freedom of the arts to express their freedom of speech – in Paris and in Ferguson. In the background also was the North Korea debacle of high jacking Sony’s files in an effort to intimidate Sony to not release a film of questionable taste that made light of terminating their leader. The tie, the connection is even more profound given the awards and recognition of the film “Selma,” at the Golden Globes award show. Martin Luther King and the people of Alabama who fought with their lives for the privilege of gaining access to voting is very alive in our world today. “Selma is Now” was the message by John Legend as he accepted his award for the music of the film “Glory” which called for the recognition of the connection between Selma and Ferguson to all those viewing the show, as well as the artists attending. History is happening.
History is not always perceived as happening in the moment in which events conspire to change the course of humanity. Certainly the day my husband and I were driving in Montgomery the summer of 1964, and witnessed the group of African American men and women of all ages walking together in the heat of the middle of the day caught our attention. We had no knowledge of what we were seeing. Some things about racial issues came through on the 6 o’clock news about SNCC, NAACP with images of Dr. Martin Luther King, but all that seemed remote to us in Madison, Wisconsin. My husband was in the midst of a course given in Montgomery for military officers, only there for 8 weeks. WE lived where other officers and wives lived and ventured out for shopping generally. So what we saw on that day had no context in which to hold what we were seeing, or what it meant. The newspapers and the radio never referred to that event that day though we looked for some understanding of what we saw. Just as in the film “Selma”, the faces of the people with eyes straight ahead, their clothes even for the hot and muggy mid day looking fresh, and undampened by the 90 degree heat. Going to school with many mixture of irish, italian, lithuanian and black students in Norwood, Massachusetts and later the same in high school in Philadelphia, what was unusual in seeing the people pass our car as we waited was their silence. The silence that conveyed the gravity of their intention, and “Selma” conveys without mercy the consequences they faced barehanded. I did know I was in the South and that silence was known to me. It carried a weight of the unspoken power bracing and unrelenting that would not be stopped in meeting a destiny that in many ways is still unmet. But the lengths to which that African American people who had the courage to march endured was not visible,not reported and lived in the silence.
The film “Selma” has so much to contribute to an understanding of what was witnessed on that summer afternoon in 1964 which at the time had no context or meaning that could convey the movement it became. Particularly valuable in the film is the life size Martin Luther King. Throughout the years of Dr. King’s work, his image and the speeches conveyed the immense and essential meaning of what was at stake for “black children and their families.” As remote as it seemed to my life, still those images on TV had him appear larger than life. In many ways, Dr. King certainly was larger than the world around him, in his scope of view and passion to see through a struggle that would have a broken lesser man. But in the film, and perhaps on that summer day in 1964, he is among others and has no particular position and is marching with the people, among the people, bringing along people. In the film and on the tv news, Dr. King made clear that all who stand by – by their lack of action. are part of the problem. In the film, Dr. King brings along President Johnson who finally steps up and brings about the passage of the Civil Rights Act by his considerable clout with congress, ultimately only because he doesn’t want to be :”on the wrong side of history.” The message of “Selma” to me is that any of us who stand by and allow the killing in Ferguson, and Michael Brown, New York and Eric Garner and Jacksonville Trayvon Martin to pass are on the “wrong side of history.”
“Selma” deals with the restrictions to voting that kept the black community powerless, very much like Ferguson with white men in power and white men killing black men. There is a stepping up in Ferguson to get voters registered and voting. The connection between voting and gaining access to leaders who represent the community’s needs has been made, and with that the recognition that poverty and no future hopes are the disease in any community and voting as citizens is a right and responsibility. Future hope in terms of exercising your vote and having the agenda and needs of all of the people recognized is the tomorrow and the potential that the people of Ferguson have woken up to. But just as in 1964, voter restrictions is a reality in many states of this country with Republican driven agendas.
Voter restrictions is very similar to the increase in restrictions within states that are attempting to reduce women’s rights, a reality of our lives today. Women’s rights, women’s equality likewise is under attack from the Republican states banning insurance coverage, in some of the same states.
In Alabama, Indiana,North Carolina, Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin, there is an attempt ban Roe VS Wade. In other states – Arkansas, North Carolina, Pennsyvlania and Virginia, the Republicans are attempting to ban insurance coverage for women. Thus the attempt 42 times to bring the end of Affordable Health Care ACT has had the serious agenda of limiting women’s rights to choose and access to birth control. Just as the Republican state legislation is driven to attempting to restrict voter’s rights, there is the attempt to reduce women’s rights. The suppression of women and minorities is clearly a response to the fact that the 2008 election of Barack Obama was produced by the huge impact of African American, Hispanic and women with the greatest turnout that the country had seen in 40 years. (Mother Jones: Stephanie Mencimer October 2014)
Women’s rights, the rights of African American, Hispanic to full participation is under attack, there is no question. Perhaps it never was really accidental but providential that minorities and women were granted the Civil Rights Act as a beginning to full entry, equal entry into a society that once again is attempting to contain, restrain and maintain the white male privilege which is in fact being diluted and diminished by the consequence of the blend of races and culture that cannot be stopped. A consequence of demographic shifts and changes that will happen anyway, but can be interrupted, can be slowed down by aggravating the progress that has been made, inflaming fear and ethnocentric views in an attempt to limit the progress underway. The attempt to push back and restrict the power of people – women, African American and Hispanic in particular- who are in the process of determining their choices to manifest their lives, that represents their needs and fulfills their potential power politically and economically.
The conflict and struggles globally reflect the struggles in every area of the world of the struggles to maintain the status quo by those who are primarily benefiting from the conditions that are changing and are unstoppable. As the New York Times today described, in the Paris crowd of millions as they shared their grief at the loss of their countrymen, they emboldened their stand to meet terrorism and vanquish those responsible for the horror of their loss.
(Liz Alderman, January 12, 2015: In Honor of Dead, World Leaders Link Arms) In the crowd, Liz Aldermann reported that Lillith Guillot. a woman of 23 who had marched with her friends all day expressed her shock that the people who came to this march who “descended on Paris appeared to believe that the response to terrorism or homegrown extremists was to spend more on security or escalate the potential to war. “ Guillot said that the people who had carried out the killings in France, and those who had committed similar acts in other European countries had all come from deprived backgrounds. Those from France’s suburbs, she said, appeared to have gravitated to extreme Islam partly because they could never get out of the ghetto.” Ms Guillot went on to say “What those men did was inexcusable, but all these leaders need to look at the root of the problem: (hat is needed is ) integration and inclusion. Until then, nothing will change.”
Integration and inclusion, so it is with Ferguson, and so it was with Selma then. “Selma is now” was shouted out at the Golden Globe awards. And at the theater where “Selma” was presented Saturday night at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, as the credits began-a chant began: “Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter…”
Our lesson, our only hope is a world where all lives matter and are of equal value and the struggle, the actual work in maintaining women’s rights and bringing up and supporting the minorities who have been excluded and criminalized is the work ahead. As Dr. King said-we are all responsible for all the victims and all those who limit human potential and human life. That is the future of feminism, that is the future of democracy, that is the only future sustainable.