Springingtiger's Blog


Selma and Scotland

Recently I went to the cinema to see ‘Selma’ the story of the 1965 campaign to allow African Americans to register to vote in the State of Georgia and of the march from Selma to Montgomery. This was not a campaign for the legal right to vote, Black people had already won that, but to prevent African Americans from unfairly being prevented from registering to vote. Some people today belittle the vote, however without being registered to vote one cannot be empannelled on a jury and so, in the courtrooms of the American South, Blacks were denied a jury of their peers because only Whites could sit on a jury, there being few registered Black voters. As we have seen in this country on women’s rights legislation is one thing, enforcement another.

Watching the discussion of the obstacles that local authorities placed in the way of Black voter registration showed how easily people of ill will can frustrate justice. The scene where Oprah Winfrey’s character was prevented ,yet again, from registering reminded me of the pettiness and maliciousness of the DWP and ATOS staff who enact Con/Dem coalition policies that target the poor and disabled, imposing sanctions and driving people to depend on foodbanks or resort to suicide. In LB Johnson we saw how politicians can frustrate progress from a desire not to upset voters, and in George Wallace, chillingly portrayed by Tim Roth, we saw the deliberate manipulation of legal loopholes to further personal prejudice. I found the scene in which J Edgar Hoover proposed to LBJ that they could kill Martin Luther King before they decided instead to try and destroy his marriage morally abhorrent. The Kings were subject for years to surveillance and harassment and then to cap it all Coretta Scott King was sent tapes of her husbands affairs. Perhaps my favourite moment of the film was when despite the despicable activities of the FBI she chose to forgive King and stand beside him in his hour of need, a more appropriate film for Valentine’s Day than ’50 Shades of Grey’!

In Selma people were prepared to be beaten and jailed for the right to vote, people were killed by racists both before and after the march to Montgomery, people put the right to be fully human before the right merely to survive. I remember after Nelson Mandela’s release when Black South Africans were allowed to vote for the first time watching old people, some in their nineties, queing for days to cast their vote for the first time. It is less than a century since we won universal suffrage in the United Kingdom and people struggled, fought and died for the vote, in the Twentieth Century women were beaten, jailed, force fed, and even killed campaigning for the right to vote. Our vote allows us to be fully members of our society. To people like Russell Brand, who belittle the vote, I say, “How dare you, people died for this vote? People suffered, people without your comfortable wealth suffered and fought for this vote. People struggled so that in 1945, just seventy years ago, the working people of Britain could return a government that established the welfare state and the NHS. It is by voting that we can hope to return a government that will prevent the destruction of the Welfare state and inaugurate a fairer electoral system, although that will entail ensuring the alliance of SNP, PC and Greens hold the balance of power in Westminster. It should also be remembered that the alternative to reform won peacefully through the ballot box is revolution.Your right to vote matters, your vote matters, don’t piss away what has been so dearly won, vote in May!

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