the Freedom Riders (or, Why I am a Proud Democrat)
I am often asked by my conservative friends why I would ever
want to be one of those people - a Democrat.
Usually, I respond with a chuckle or a shrug, not wanting
to bring the room down with political arguments.
While surfing some history sites, I was reminded of why I
became a Democrat in the first place. Yesterday was the fortieth
anniversary of the first ever Freedom Ride. On May 4, 1961,
the first 13 Freedom riders began their long bus trip through
the American South. A civil rights group, the Congress on
Racial Equality (CORE), started organizing Freedom Rides because
the segregation of public transportation was continuing in
much of the South, despite a Supreme Court ruling declaring
the practice unconstitutional.
After three days of training in nonviolent techniques, black
and white volunteers sat next to each other as they traveled
by bus through the Deep South. James Farmer, national director
of CORE, and his thirteen courageous volunteers left Washington
and headed for Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was destroyed, and riders on
another were attacked by men armed with clubs, bricks, iron
pipes and knives. Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent John
Seigenthaler to accompany the Freedom Riders. In Birmingham,
the passengers were greeted by members of the Ku Klux Klan,
and further acts of violence. At Montgomery, the state capital,
a white mob beat the riders with chains and ax handles. Seigenthaler
was knocked unconscious when he went to the aid of one of
The Ku Klux Klan hoped that this violent treatment would
stop other young people from taking part in freedom rides.
However, over the next six months, over a thousand people
took part in freedom rides.
With the local authorities unwilling to protect these people,
President John F. Kennedy sent Byron White and 500 federal
marshals from the North to do the job. The next time somebody
asks me why I would ever want to be a Democrat, I will tell
them the story of the Freedom Riders, and challenge them to
join me in this proud tradition, this ongoing struggle for
the soul of the nation, this all-important buffer to the crushing
weight of apathy. I will ask them to become members of the
Democratic Party of America.
As I type these words, the Republican Party - after waging
an all-too-obvious war against black voters during the election
- have managed to gain control of the White House. This, despite
losing the popular vote by more than half-a-million, and despite
the fact that more people left the voting booths in Florida
thinking they had cast their vote for the Democratic candidate
(a fact even Republicans will soon be forced to admit). They
are a majority in Congress, and hold a bare majority in the
Senate. The Supreme Court currently lists to the right, thanks
to the appointment of highly partisan, conservative-activist
judges like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - these same
judges who are now rewriting the law of the land in an attempt
to erase a century of progress. No more is the Supreme Court
the last stand for justice, dignity, fairness, and the common
good of our nation. It is now nothing more than another weapon
in the right-wing arsenal, wielded with all the obvious choreography
of pistols at dawn.
People, it hasn't been this bad since Nixon tried to make
America hate you. There is work to be done.
Donate. Volunteer. Evangelize!
Do it for yourself. Do it for your fellow citizens. Do it
because it's worth doing.