Bay Area All of Us or None (AOUON) members drove across the country this past weekend to Selma, Alabama, to attend the 50th anniversary commemoration of Bloody Sunday, which included a speech by President Obama and a reenactment of the historical march. They went to speak out about voting rights for formerly incarcerated people as well as the need for an executive order to Ban the Box for federal contractors.
We hope you will be inspired by this collection of statements about the event from AOUON members given as they are driving back across the country.
This was an absolutely amazing trip and a chance to engage with people from all over the country about the civil and human rights of formerly incarcerated people. The 50th anniversary march – 80,000 people – waited while formerly incarcerated people and our allies did a Backward March from the Montgomery side of the Edmond Pettus Bridge to the Selma side.
The Backward March has been organized for the past seven years by Rev. Kenny Glasgow, founder of The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS) working on rights and reentry support for formerly incarcerated people in Dothan, Alabama. It is a symbolic return to the Civil Rights movement, and saying that we need to get it right, we need to be included in this movement now. I was asking people, “Can you share your civil rights with a brother like me? I’ve been convicted of a felony!”
The event organizers included the Backward March on Bloody Sunday, instead of its usual time slot of the week before – a strong acknowledgement of the importance of our struggle. We walked over the bridge chanting “From the Back of the Bus to the Front of the Prison,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “I Can’t Breathe.” We also chanted “All of Us … Or None!” Once at the other side of the bridge, we fell just behind the front lines and marched over the bridge in the direction of Montgomery with everyone else. Our banner was one of the lead banners.
I am grateful to my All of Us or None family who drove over 2,400 miles both ways in search of our rights, dignity and the chance to speak in our own voices. We stood in the middle of the bridge barking like street corner ministers about our rights as thousands of people marched on the bridge towards Montgomery. Hundreds of people took photos of our banner as we engaged them with our rhetoric. It was a good day!
I liked seeing a whole bunch of folks in one area for a common purpose, to commemorate the 50 years since the original march – every political perspective imaginable was there. Our message of inclusion was well received. We gathered quite a few signatures on our Ban the Box for federal contractors petition, and made a lot of contacts with people nationally who had heard of us and our work.
It was a monumental experience just being there with so many formerly incarcerated people and their family members. Doing the Backwards March over the Pettus Bridge gave me chills. I was crying because I was so happy and so moved at the opportunity to be there with thousands of people. We had a place there, and we were able to speak in our own voice about how they have taken away our rights.
All of Us or None led the Backward March. We were there to say that we do not accept being left behind, and we do not accept slavery in the prisons, disenfranchisement or our voices being taken away.
The day held a very powerful sense of unity and a strong understanding that we were there not just to commemorate that struggle but to continue it. We’re still fighting for our rights. The voting rights act really needs to be ratified once and for all.
For me, this was a once in a lifetime experience. I have never seen so many Black people in one place! There were reported to be 120,000 people there on Saturday, double that the next day. Everyone was really in harmony and unity with each other and wanted to be a part of making history.
Being in Selma was surreal. There were huge numbers of people and it was really diverse and friendly. We were all there for the same reason. I liked it there; I wanted them to leave me behind! I didn’t experience as much racism as I thought I would.
They want us to come back. It’s a poor town, and having so many people come there was good for the local economy. The whole event rejuvenated me and reaffirmed my purpose as an organizer. We can grow. All of Us or None will get big eventually. After all, the Civil Rights Movement started small.
A lot of work has been done in California, and I think it’s important to support our brothers and sisters in other parts of the country who are also fighting for their rights. It’s also so important to support our youth. I met 10-year-old kids there who knew more about what was going on than I do! We need to support their leadership and critical consciousness so that they are ready to step up and take our places to carry on the struggle, when that time comes.
Manuel La Fontaine
What was so important to me was seeing the level of Black and Brown unity that was there. Also the fact that we connected with local people from Selma who were grateful we drove all that way to be part of such a historical event. We did not go there as tourists, we went there to build solidarity. It was a melting pot of ideas – from the most revolutionary to the people who were just grateful to be there.
All of Us or None is a national organizing initiative started by formerly incarcerated people to fight against discrimination faced after release and to fight for the human rights of prisoners. They can be reached at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, 1540 Market St., Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 255-7036, www.prisonerswithchildren.org, firstname.lastname@example.org.