Protesters sitting together from the Selma to Montgomery marches

Wandering in the Desert (Airport), Searching for the Promised Land (Selma)

On March 7, 1965, civil rights leaders led 600 peaceful marchers from Selma towards Montgomery, AL in pursuit of voting rights, but were stopped after just six blocks. The marchers were brutally attacked by police as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Images of the confrontation were televised across the country and the world, horrifying citizens and rousing much-needed, broad public support for voting rights. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday” and helped lead to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act later that year.

As longtime advocates of voting rights and civil rights, this is an important moment for the Reform Movement not only to commemorate this incredible milestone in our nation’s journey for justice, but also to recognize the work that remains to be done. For the current RAC LAs, we feel like inheritors of this tradition and believe firmly in the need for all people, of all backgrounds, to join together in the fight for justice.

But, just minutes after arriving at the Washington, D.C. airport on Thursday night, my fellow travelers and I received a call from US Airways informing us that our flight to Birmingham was cancelled. Though we had expected this news all day while we watched 4-8 inches of snow fall in D.C., it was still heartbreaking. Our trip had been planned for months and we had long been looking forward to commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.

The airline offered to re-book us on a flight that would take off two days later, but we were determined not to miss out on so much of this important weekend. We tried to get a ticket to any and every city in the South (seriously—Huntsville, Tupelo, Starksville, you name it). We looked into taking an Amtrak (for the record, a train from DC to Alabama costs hundreds of dollars and takes 18 hours). We contemplated renting a car and driving to Alabama, though with the combination of the dangerous, icy roads and two drivers from Florida that didn’t seem like a very good idea. I was seriously starting to doubt if we would ever make it.

Fortunately, right about that time, our hours of wandering in the desert started to come to an end and we caught sight of the Promised Land. The following few hours were filled with an extraordinary amount of human kindness from both friends and strangers. My fellow legislative assistant, Liya Rechtman, befriended a Delta employee who informed us that there were ample empty seats on a late night flight to Atlanta, and worked diligently with us to make sure we could all get seats.

We received kindness from an old professor of mine, who, after already offering us his lake house for the weekend, stuck with us throughout the night, brainstorming safe ways for us to make it down South. We saw kindness from our friends as we scrambled to contact everyone we know in Atlanta, asking if they would take in a group of idealistic young professionals for the night, and overwhelmingly were told yes, despite the fact that we would not even land until midnight. While we strategized and coordinated anxiously in the airport, we also watched email, tweets, e-cards and texts of encouragement flood in from fellow RAC staffers and former RAC legislative assistants rooting for us and offering their assistance.

As I sit on the plane and reflect on the past few hours, I am filled with hope. Despite the challenges to our travel plans, my fellow travelers and I remained steadfast in our determination to make it to Selma. We believe that this weekend is an incredibly important moment to both honor the sacrifices of so many who risked and gave their lives to create a more just society, and to recognize the injustices that persist today and redouble our efforts to fighting them.

This weekend, we have the unique opportunity to stand together with 50,000 other people who join in the hope of creating a more just world where everybody has the right to an education, access to healthcare and equal treatment in our justice system. Our nation’s civil rights leaders wisely recognized that voting is the key to providing these rights and more and this weekend we come together in Selma to remind our nation of the importance of a free and fair democracy.

The human kindness we received in our journey feels like an endorsement of this vision of justice, a way for everyone to contribute to this cause in their own way. Today proved to me that something magical can happen when we come together and are a part of something larger than ourselves, and I look forward to seeing that magic continue to grow throughout the weekend.

Learn more about the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, access more RAC resources and watch our webinar featuring many civil rights leaders of the 1960s and of today. If you are able to, please consider joining us in Selma on Sunday as we hear from an inspiring group of speakers and march together in the annual reenactment on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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About Claire Shimberg

Claire Shimberg is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania and is originally from Tampa, FL where she is a member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek.


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