Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma

Dr. Zekeh Gbotokuma,
Assoc. Prof. of Philosophy,
Morgan State University

ON MAY 17, 1957, OR THREE YEARS AFTER THE BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION decision, Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. showed his commitment to and advocacy for the civil rights in the United States through his “Give Us the Ballot” speech. The occasion was the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom gathering at the iconic Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. 66 years after that speech, we are still dealing with some state bills using, among others, “the purity of ballot” code phrase intended to suppress blacks’ votes in Texas and elsewhere. 247 years after the Declaration of Independence, the self-evident truth about all humans’ fundamental equality and basic rights is still questioned by ethnocentric and supremacist behaviors displayed by some brothers and sisters in the United States and elsewhere. 

On March 7 1965, civil rights movement and freedom fighters marched peacefully from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to demand the right to be treated as humans created in the image of God and as full citizens of the USA, with all the rights and duties thereto appertaining, including but not limited to the voting rights. They were led by King’s SCLC colleague Hosea Williams and SNCC leader John Lewis (RIP!). They were beaten and teargassed to the point where Lewis almost lost his life. Their pains were followed by some meaningful gains such as the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Consistent with the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the 15th Amendment stipulates that, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Prior to the 15th Amendment, the 19th Amendment (1920) stipulates, “The right of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” These Amendments recognize and legitimize the right of all American citizens regardless of their ethnicity and gender to not only vote but also run for public office. This progress in the U.S. legal system has led to such progress as the election of the First Black President Barack Obama as well as the relative but important ethnic and gender diversity in the U.S. Congress, especially in the 116th Congress and thereafter.

Regrettably, the more things change, the more some of them remain the same, or even worse, they find some ways of moving backwards. This is exactly what has happened, especially after President Trump’s misfortune in the Decision 2020. The twice impeached, defeated, and election denying 45th POTUS used his psychological lying to incite to insurrection on January 6th, 2021. Unfortunately, his “Trumperies” (Gbotokuma 2020) or big lies have also led to the proliferation of voter suppression laws a.k.a. “Jim Crow 2.0 Laws” in many states. 

This year’s 58th commemoration of Bloody Sunday must be another opportunity to keep fighting for and defend democracy in the United States of America, a.k.a. “the Cradle of modern democracy.” It is an understatement to say and repeat that democracy is under existential threat. This threat is real and becomes even greater and much scarier than ever before with the ‘Election Denier-in-Chief’ running for President again in 2024 despite and/or maybe because of the likelihood of his indictment for his role in the insurrection and other crimes. It is unfortunate that this year’s commemoration of Bloody Sunday took place without action by the U.S. Senate to pass bills such as “For the People Act” of 2021 (H.R.1). This Act is intended to “expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, ban partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders”(Wikipedia). “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” is another bill that is stalled in the Senate despite the Black Lives Matters’ global attention and legitimacy following George Floyd’s brutal murder. It is fair to say that the failure to pass “John Lewis Voting Rights Act” a.k.a. H.R.4 is a slap in the face of the iconic civil rights icon from Georgia and all the March 7, 1965, freedom fighters who participated in the painful march from Selma to Montgomery. This is why, in agreement with Biden – the third sitting POTUS to participate in the commemoration of Blood Sunday from Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge – this year’s event is another opportunity to say no to ‘the violence of silence’ and “say something if you see something;” no to hate and ‘MAGA extremism and hate;’ no to trickle-down economics;  no to tax unfairness, and no to “the injustice of the knee on the neck.” This is the time to say again, like Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. did 66 years ago, “Give Us the Ballot.” This request is fiercely urgent because, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “As of January 25, 2023, state lawmakers in at least 32 states pre-filed or introduced 150 restrictive voting bills. In the first weeks of 2023, at least 27 election interference bills have been pre-filed or introduced in 10 states. At the same time, lawmakers in at least 34 states have pre-filed or introduced at least 274 bills that would expand voting access – . , restrictive legislation often disproportionately impacts voters of color” (Voting Laws Roundup: February 2023).

That is why President Biden is right in saying that now is the time to “finish the job” and march to “redeem the soul of America.” More importantly, this year’s commemoration must be our time to move from talking the talk to walking the walk, not only across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but also across thousands of other bridges in the USA. This means and requires that ‘We The People’ show our relentless commitment to “Democracy and Demographics in the USA” (Gbotokuma 2020). To this end, it is imperative to take the warnings about the virulence of ‘Jim Crow 2.0’ laws seriously and keep voting like our democracy depends on it.

About the Author

Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma is the founder of Polyglots in Action for Diversity, Inc. (PAD), Associate Professor of Philosophy, Morgan State University, and one of “the Key Figures in the African Intellectual Revolution” (QUORA). He is the author of numerous publications, including but not limited to Democracy and Demographics in the USA (2020) https://amzn.to/2KbcOUV eBook: https://amzn.to/35BsCbN) and OBAMANOMICS AND FRANCISCONOMICS: A Call for Poverty Alleviation, Fairness, and Welfare (Europe Books 2022), 2nd Place Winner, Milano International Literary Awards 2022 https://www.europebookstore.com/products/obamanomics-and-francisconomics-dr-zekeh-s-gbotokuma/ 

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