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President Obama, 20,000 mark 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights clash in Selma, Alabama

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Leading thousands of marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the men and women that stood their ground in the face of violent attacks March 7, 1965 in an act of courage that helped pave the way for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, their daughters Sasha and Malia, former President George W. Bush and wife Laura, Congressman John Lewis who marched in Selma in 1965, other members of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus, Obama delivered a historic speech at the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on Saturday, March 7.

“In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war, the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow, the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – all that history met on this bridge,” Obama said.

Recognizing the political, economic, and social power of the 1965 march, he said “the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities, from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office.”

Obama also referenced the modern-day attacks on voting rights and a recent Department ofJustice report that found unconstitutional abuse of Blacks by Ferguson police.

“This nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us,” he said.

Obama spoke directly to the young people who were present to witness the historic event, including four students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center in Oakland who accompanied Congresswoman Barbara Lee for an impressionable experience.

“It is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow,” he said.

Speaking on the weekend’s commemoration event, Congresswoman Lee said, “We must rededicate ourselves to persistently working for progress, equality and justice.”

Sharing the same sentiment on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Obama said, “If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.”

Activism

COMMENTARY: The Big Truth: The Big Problem is the Big Lie

Many if not most Republican officials know that Trump’s Big Lie is not true. But they are cynical and corrupt enough to use it to justify new voter suppression laws and other schemes to overturn the will of the voters. Far-right activists have harassed and threatened election officials across the country. And they are trying to get elected to state and local positions that will give them the power to oversee future elections.

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By Ben Jealous, President of People For the American Way

It’s been a year since a mob of Trumpists violently attacked the U.S. Capitol. They wanted to stop Congress from affirming President Joe Biden’s victory. Some of them were out for blood. All of them were motivated by the former president’s Big Lie that he won the election but that his victory was stolen from him and his supporters.

That lie has been debunked by journalists and election officials — both Republicans and Democrats. It has been rejected by courts. But it has never been abandoned by Trump or his right-wing allies. And so, one year after it fueled an attack on Congress and the Constitution, the Big Lie is still a big threat to our democracy.

The Big Lie causes big harms in lots of ways by fueling anger and mistrust about our elections among Trump’s base.

Many if not most Republican officials know that Trump’s Big Lie is not true. But they are cynical and corrupt enough to use it to justify new voter suppression laws and other schemes to overturn the will of the voters.

Far-right activists have harassed and threatened election officials across the country. And they are trying to get elected to state and local positions that will give them the power to oversee future elections.

Donald Trump would love to go into the 2024 elections knowing that he has loyal Trumpists in place to reject or “find” as many votes as he needs to declare victory. That’s why Trump has endorsed the effort by Rep. Jody Hice to replace Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Raffensperger refused to embrace the Big Lie, stood up to Trump’s bullying, and respected the will of the voters. Hice has promoted the Big Lie. That’s the kind of guy Trump wants deciding which votes to count — and not count — in 2024.

Trump has endorsed other secretary of state candidates, and his political henchman Steve Bannon in encouraging Trumpists to try to replace election officials at the local level.

Meanwhile, state legislators are making it easier for partisan Republicans in state legislatures to mess with vote counting by taking control from local officials — and even to simply override the will of the voters.

That is why we urgently need new federal voting rights legislation — and why we need senators and President Biden to work together to overcome “states’ rights” Republicans and their use of filibuster rules to block the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Both pieces of legislation take on both voter suppression and election subversion. The John Lewis Act would make it illegal for a public official to “willfully fail or refuse to certify” an election victory by the candidate who gets the most votes.

The Freedom to Vote Act only allows local election administrators to be removed by the state if they have a legitimate cause to do so.

As Sen. Raphael Warnock said on Jan. 4, “Our democracy is in peril and time is running out.”

“This is a moral moment,” Sen. Warnock said. Indeed, it is.

There’s also another moral duty facing our elected leaders. And that’s finding out the truth about the Capitol insurrection and those who incited it, planned it, facilitated it, and have since tried to downplay or cover-up that assault on our democracy.

Criminals need to be held accountable for their crimes — and not just those who smashed windows and attacked Capitol police.

Republicans love to talk tough about the rule of law, but now many of them are resisting the rule of law by trying to undermine and obstruct the House committee investigating the insurrection. And they’re trying to rewrite history, downplaying the violence and portraying its perpetrators as patriots.

The problem for them is that the violent reality of that day has been well documented. The same is true for other casualties of the Big Lie, including harassment and threats against election officials.

The Big Lie and all those who have spread it have created a dangerous reality in which millions of Americans falsely believe that President Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate and that Donald Trump should still be our president.

And that makes them more willing to determine the outcome of elections through violence or the raw exercise of power.

In the year ahead, we need to defend democracy by answering the Big Lie with the truth, and by acting to defend our democracy at the ballot box.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of Practice in the Africana Studies Department at the University of Pennsylvania where he teaches leadership.

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Activism

Beautiful Bus Tour of Atlanta Neighborhoods Ends at National Center for Civil and Human Rights

I got to experience what it would have been like sitting at a lunch counter as a Black person and enduring racial slurs just because I asked to be served a cup of coffee. Even though I knew what to expect by sitting at this faux diner counter with headphones on, it was dehumanizing and frightening, to say the least.

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Mural inside the entrance to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Photo by Navdeep K. Jassal.
Mural inside the entrance to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Photo by Navdeep K. Jassal.

By Navdeep K. Jassal, Post News Group Ambassador

In my first week in Atlanta, I took a city bus tour to get better acquainted with the city.

I really noticed how green it is with large trees growing abundantly everywhere.

Besides ‘Sweet Auburn’ Avenue, tour highlights included riding through the Buckhead neighborhood and to see Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s mansion. As many know, Kemp is a Republican who opposes mask mandates and getting vaccinated.

The beauty of this was seeing another mansion across the street with a gigantic mask in the yard, encouraging responsible mask-wearing to protect oneself and their fellow Americans noting it’s patriotic. It was a glorious sight for my eyes and gave me a good chuckle, too!

We drove around Centennial Olympic Park, a 22-acre greenspace that serves as Georgia’s legacy of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Next to the park is the incredible National Center for Civil and Human Rights which is a museum and cultural institution that connects the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to human rights challenges today.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.

There, I got to experience what it would have been like sitting at a lunch counter as a Black person and enduring racial slurs just because I asked to be served a cup of coffee. Even though I knew what to expect by sitting at this faux diner counter with headphones on, it was dehumanizing and frightening, to say the least.

My co-volunteer at the Food Ministry at First Presbyterian of Oakland and co-Publisher of the Oakland Post, Mrs. Gay Plair Cobb, had shared stories with me about travelling to Atlanta during that era in the 1960s and sitting at these counters, trying to get served and being completely ignored.

In one of the magnificent displays, I read personal stories from some of the original Freedom Riders. I imagined the bravery and courage these college-aged African Americans had to challenge segregation on bus terminals and buses that travelled interstate. This was such a powerful moment in history, that there were buses being set on fire to stop integration from happening!

I perused the personal papers and items of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This collection represents much of Morehouse alumnus Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and work spanning from 1944 to 1968. There was a remarkable multi-media display on his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech made during a rally for Memphis sanitation workers who were striking for better pay. It was one of his most powerful speeches and alluded to the numerous threats on his life and eerily forecasting his death, which occurred the next day.

Prior to visiting Atlanta, I spoke with Mr. Paul Cobb, co-Publisher of the Oakland Post, and he told me about how close he had come to getting a ride from Mrs. Viola Liuzzo one night to get a hot shower and food.

Liuzzo, a white housewife and mother of five from Detroit, felt compelled to take action during these demonstrations and drove down to help in Selma. A few nights later, as she was driving with Leroy Moton, a Black teenager, she was murdered by members of the KKK. Astonishingly, Moton survived because he pretended to be dead when the Klansmen looked into the vehicle. There was a posterboard dedicated to her courage on the walls of the museum.

There was an outstanding temporary exhibit on the Rosenwald schools. Mr. Julius Rosenwald and Mr. Booker T. Washington forged one of the earliest collaborations between Jews and African Americans to create schools throughout the nation for Black children who had no access to publicly funded education.

From 1912 to 1937, the Rosenwald schools program built 4,978 schools for African American children across 15 Southern and border states. Hundreds of thousands of students walked through these doorways. I am one of the many interfaith lay people who believe in the inherent worth and dignity for all. This exhibit made my eyes well up with how great humanity that collaborates for what is right can look.

The museum also covers contemporary issues such as white supremacy, international human trafficking, and LGBTQI policies.

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Chicago Students Return to School After Union Dispute Over COVID Safety Protocol

Chicago teachers had taken a work action, electing to temporarily teach remotely from home, due to concerns over lack of PPE, a regular testing and vaccination program for students, and related concerns. Rather than allow students to receive instruction remotely, however, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS administration cancelled school entirely starting last Thursday. Students return to classrooms in-person on Wednesday.

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Despite a return to in-person instruction, some CPS parents say they will continue to keep their kids home from school during the surge due to COVID fears.
Despite a return to in-person instruction, some CPS parents say they will continue to keep their kids home from school during the surge due to COVID fears.

By Brandon Patterson

Chicago Public School students will return to in-person learning on Wednesday following five days of cancelled classes after the CPS administration and the teachers’ union reached a deal on COVID safety precautions in schools.

Chicago teachers had taken a work action, electing to temporarily teach remotely from home, due to concerns over lack of PPE, a regular testing and vaccination program for students, and related concerns. Rather than allow students to receive instruction remotely, however, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS administration cancelled school entirely starting last Thursday. Students return to classrooms in-person on Wednesday.

The latest work action marked the second since Lightfoot took office in 2019, when the Chicago Teachers’ Union, which has earned a reputation for using its power to bargain for improved conditions for CPS students, went on strike for school improvements, including putting a nurse in every school, more social workers, and reduced class sizes, as well as increased pay.

This time, CTU members were fighting to push the city to address what it considered inadequate COVID safety protocol amid the post-holiday COVID surge.

Among the chief demands, teachers wanted N-95 masks distributed to all students, not just teachers, and an opt-out COVID testing program, rather than a test-in program, as proposed by CPS administration, meaning that all CPS students would be tested for COVID 19 by default unless their parents opted them out of the program, and an in-school contract tracing system.

CTU had wanted schools to be remote for the first two weeks of January while the district set up the protocol, but Lightfoot and CPS administration insisted on an immediate return to in-person, even other cities, including Los Angeles, have gone remote to start the year off.

Chicago teachers cited the greater vulnerability of CPS students and families to COVID-19 as cause for their call. About 90% of CPS students are Black or Latinx – populations that are twice and three times as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white people – and most are low-income.

Vaccination rates among students at some of the city’s public schools on the South and West sides are also incredibly low. For example, at Manley Career Academy High School on the West Side, just 10% of students are fully vaccinated, compared to 83% of students at Lane Tech High School on the North Side, according to local news outlet Block Club Chicago.

Many CPS students also live in multi-generational households, CTU President Jesse Sharkey noted in an interview on CNN on Monday, and risk taking the virus home to older relatives. And despite a return to in-person instruction, some CPS parents say they will continue to keep their kids home from school during the surge due to COVID fears.

“The fact that the majority of our Black and Latinx students have seen relatives and neighbors die from COVID at two and three times the rates, respectively, of white families is nothing short of a national tragedy,” said Chicago teacher Jackson Potter in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun Times last week. “In order to create the infrastructure and mitigation necessary to curb the spread of COVID in CPS, we need clear and appropriate measures.”

This story was written using reporting from Block Club Chicago and the Chicago Sun Times.

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