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In Selma, Kamala Harris says personal freedoms are under attack

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In Selma, Kamala Harris says personal freedoms are under attack

Mar 03, 2024 | 8:00 pm ET
By Alander Rocha
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In Selma, Kamala Harris says personal freedoms are under attack
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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 59th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., Sunday, March 3, 2024. Harris condemned efforts to limit access to voting and reproductive health services. (Will McLelland/Alabama Reflector)

Vice President Kamala Harris called for new efforts to protect voting and reproductive rights and drew parallels between the Civil Rights Movement of 60 years ago and the current political climate in a speech in Selma on Sunday.

Harris invoked, speaking during commemorations of the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, an attack on civil rights protestors, compared efforts to suppress civil rights to efforts that she said threaten various freedoms, such as the right to vote; the right to live free of gun violence and the right to make one’s own reproductive health choices.

“In this moment, we are witnessing a full-on attack on our hard-fought, hard-won freedoms,” Harris said before the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where a posse of law enforcement officers attacked voting rights marchers on March 7, 1965.

People holding signs urging people to vote
Marchers gather and hold signs on the 59th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Will McLelland/Alabama Reflector)

She pointed to efforts to restrict voting rights, such as laws restricting absentee voting, and cited Georgia’s law that prohibits people from passing out water to those waiting in line to vote. These attacks on elections, she said, are giving rise to violence, including a rise in poll worker intimidation.

“Whatever happened to love thy neighbor? The hypocrisy abounds,” she said.

Harris said she and President Biden will continue to push for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act “on the face of these assaults on the freedom to vote” and in honor of those who cross the bridge.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would, among items, restore federal review of voting laws in states with histories of discrimination, including Alabama. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the measure in 2013.

Lewis, later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, and regularly attended commemorations of the event in Selma until his death in 2020.

Harris also criticized the Alabama Supreme Court IVF ruling, in which the all-Republican court ruled that frozen embryos have the same rights as unborn children. The decision effectively stopped IVF programs in the state.  The Republican-controlled state Legislature is pushing through legislation aimed at restarting IVF treatments.

“Consider the irony – on one hand these extremists tell women they do not have the freedom to end an unwanted pregnancy. On the other hand, these extremists tell these women they don’t have the freedom to start a family,” she said.

Harris also addressed the war in Gaza at the top of her speech, and called for a minimum six-week cease-fire, calling it a “a humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The conditions are inhumane, and our common humanity compels us to act,” she said.

Harris noted that the Department of Defense carried out a humanitarian aid airdrop, and that President Joe Biden is committed to providing more aid to Gaza via more airdrops. The administration will work a new route by sea to deliver aid, she said.

But she said that there is a ceasefire “on the table” and that Hamas “must agree to that deal.”

“Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families, and let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza,” she said.

After the speech, a crowd chanted “ceasefire now” at the foot of the bridge.

A woman standing in front of a bridge.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 59th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama on Sunday, March 3, 2024. Harris condemned efforts to limit voting rights and access to reproductive health. (Will McLelland for Alabama Reflector)

Speaking before Harris, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, whose district includes Selma, urged those present to vote. 

“I submit to you that if your vote didn’t matter, extremists wouldn’t be trying so hard to take it away. Our vote is our voice, and when we vote, we win. And when Black people vote, we make a difference,” Sewell said.

The attack on the Edmund Pettus Bridge drew national condemnation and sparked the Selma-to-Montgomery march. It also spurred efforts to pass the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed five months after Bloody Sunday.

The annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee brings politicians and visitors from around the country, and Sunday continued that tradition.

Calandra Morrow, who was born and raised in Selma, said that even after moving to Montgomery, she still makes it a point to come home for the celebration each year. She said it started as a family tradition when she was 16 years old, to honor an uncle who had participated in the march.

“It’s very impactful to honor him and his late passing, and to just re-embrace the moments of what they went through 59 years ago,” she said.

Gabriella Banks came to Selma from California, because, she said, she feels that it’s important for people across the nation to see what’s going on in other parts of the country, especially the South. She said that while visiting Selma increased her awareness for voting rights, particularly different legislative efforts to restrict voting access, abortion is on top of her mind.

“It’s always good to have an option about what you’re going to do with your body, because you never know when you’re going to have to make certain decisions,” she said.

A teen girl poses for a photo in front of a crowd
Jayde Robinson traveled with her family to listen to Vice President Kamala Harris’ remarks in Selma on Mar. 3, 2024. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

Jalen Parker, 18, said reproductive rights is something that he is concerned about, along with access to voting and fair representation. 

“I want to see what the vice president and other government officials have to say to invest in our community,” he said.

Jayde Robinson, a 15-year-old from Mobile, said she came to experience the culture and think about what her ancestors had to endure.

“It’s really important that we understand history so that we don’t let it repeat itself,” she said.

She said she was excited to hear the vice president. Robinson said that as a Black woman, Harris had “hard times to come through” to be able to show her competence.

“I’m really excited for her to show that it’s okay and we can build ourselves up from scratch and that no matter what, you can still keep going and persevere for that top spot,” Robinson said.

In closing her speech, Harris said that the challenges today “are not unlike the challenges faced by those 100 brave souls 59 years ago” and that today’s generation must continue the work of past generations. 

“History is a relay race. Generations before us carried the baton, and now they have passed it to us,” Harris said.