Alabama’s Law Backfires, Creating A New Civil Rights Movement

By Eliseo Medina, SEIU

Alabama’s show-me-your-papers law, HB56, threatens to turn the clock back to a time when hardworking men and women were persecuted because of the color of their skin. The law legitimizes racial profiling, terrorizes people of color throughout the state, frightens children, and harms the state’s economy. Sound familiar? Alabama’s past — post emancipation years characterized by racial terrorism, segregation, and discrimination — marks one of the darkest chapters of our nation’s history, and what happens in the state in the months ahead stands to create a precedent for the fight for immigrant justice in our nation.

On March 7, 1965, confronted with billy clubs and tear gas, more than 600 marchers gathered in Selma to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery to fight for voting rights. Later known as “Bloody Sunday” for the police brutality that occurred that day leaving many marchers hospitalized, the march highlighted the civil rights movement and eventually led to the Voting Rights Act passed on Aug. 6, 1965.

A new generation of civil rights advocates, community organizations, and faith groups are calling upon the nearly 50-year-old civil rights struggle to combat this latest attack on people of color. On March 4 to March 9 this year, labor leaders, immigrant rights activists, grassroots organizations, and faith groups will participate in a 10-mile-per-day march to call for the repeal of HB56. We march because the bloodshed on the Pettus Bridge 47 years ago was not in vain. We march because we refuse to repeat one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history. We march because this movement is bigger than Alabama; it is a true test of our national will to live up to the promise of the civil rights movement.

The march marks the first time that leaders from the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the National Action Network, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center, SEIU and other national organizations will join together in an action of this magnitude to call for justice for immigrants. This united effort demonstrates that immigration is not just a Latino issue, but a national priority that calls for a national response.

Holding hands across racial lines and ethnic barriers, we will form a unified front against the threats posed against our nation’s values. We do not live in a country where “justice for some” is the law of the land. The color of our skin should not define our protection under the law. This is not the America that our historic civil rights leaders died for. We will not let our children live in a nation where they fear for their well-being because of legitimized discrimination.

Proponents of HB56 were wrong if they thought that this law would slip under the radar, isolated in Alabama without resistance. They have actually galvanized a new movement of leaders that are not only armed with technology at their fingertips to come together across great distances, but also have the past as prologue to write a brand new chapter in our nation’s story.

For more information on how you can join the fight against Alabama’s racist law, visit our website. March with us virtually using #HB56 and #CrisisAL on Twitter.

Eliseo Medina is the International Secretary-Treasurer, Service Employees International Union.

[Photo By SEIU]

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