Marchers stand for voting rights
Local residents took a page from the 1960s Sunday, taking to downtown streets for a silent march to protest measures being considered by the state legislature that could deny minorities their right to vote.
Hundreds of marchers gathered at the Forsyth County Government Center, home of the county’s Board of Elections. They armed themselves with signs carrying slogans like “Save Same Day Registration” and “We Stand Against Voter Suppression before beginning their trek to the corner of Fourth and Liberty streets, the area of downtown where in the 1960s a successful sit-in movement was launched.
“The silence has been broken,” Democracy N.C.’s Linda Sutton told marchers once they reached their destination.
“We shall be heard. Let our voices be heard from Winston-Salem to Raleigh.”
Voting rights and civil rights groups are sounding the alarm over several pieces of legislation being touted by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. In the weeks to come, lawmakers are expected to pass a voter identification law and a measure that will curtail early voting. Critics say the measures are nothing more than tactics to keep minorities – the Democrats’ most loyal bloc – from casting votes.
“Don’t be fooled by the artful language … it is absolutely an attempt to suppress the vote in North Carolina and in this country,” said State Rep. Ed Hanes, who represents District 72. “This is not about simply having an ID. It’s simply about standing strong for the things that we marched for, that we bled for and that we died for, and that is our Constitutional rights.”
March organizers linked Sunday’s event to the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a name given to a 1965 march for voting rights that was set to start in Selma, Ala. and end in Montgomery, Ala. Marchers were halted along the way by law enforcement officers who unleashed dogs, bullwhips and tear gas on them. The bloody demonstration helped to catapult the issue of voting rights onto the national stage.
Though black voters no longer have to fear for their lives when they go to the polls, a danger is still there, according to State Sen. Earline Parmon, who said “white majority Republican power-wielding, evil-talking, backwards-thinking legislators” want to undo what blacks fought and died for.
“What we’ve fought for all those years, we’re losing those rights,” Parmon said. “We must fight today. We must go back into our communities – the march must not end here. We must educate and we must communicate. Let’s educate, organize, act up, speak up and stand up.”
Emmanuel Baptist Church’s Social Action Ministry was among the groups that lent their support to the march. Dr. John Mendez, Emmanuel’s pastor, said legislators are spending too much time pushing measures to disinfranchise voters and not enough time on healthcare, jobs and other pressing issues. He urged the crowd to make their voices heard at the polls during the 2014 midterm elections.
“They do not control our destiny, we control our own destiny,” he said. “We’ve got to stand up now. Our future is tied to what we do today. If we remain silent, we will get nothing, but if we determine to stop them now, our children will have a future.”
Emmanuel members John Raye and Rose Smith attended college with John Lewis, one of the leaders of the original Bloody Sunday march, at Southern
University in Baton Rouge, La. The Kernersville residents said they were energized by the march.
“You don’t need a million people to get something started,” John Raye said. “We need just a handful of committed people like what we’ve got here today and we can turn this thing around.”