MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Leaders of the march from Selma protesting voter ID laws that they claim suppress votes say they won't let their demonstration die in Montgomery — they're planning to go to other states that require citizens to prove their identity at the polls.
Demonstrators rallied at the foot of the Alabama state Capitol on Friday afternoon, spilling out onto nearby streets. Earlier in the day, hundreds completed the final leg of the 54-mile, week-long march between Selma and Montgomery. They sang spirituals, waved flags and carried signs calling for everything from solidarity among workers to the re-election of Pres. Barack Obama.
Marchers protested Alabama's toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, workers' rights issues and laws in 31 states requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network helped organize the march, said his group plans on protesting in other states with voter ID laws.
"You aren't trying to stop voter fraud, you are identifying who you want to vote," Sharpton said. "This (march) is not a celebration of the past, it's a continuation of right now."
Sharpton's sentiments were shared by many in the crowd.
Retired Selma autoworker John Rankin, 65, walked in the original Selma to Montgomery march that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, barring discrimination at the polls. He marched again from Selma to Montgomery over the past week, saying he was still fighting for those same things.
"It's not really different," Rankin said. "Look around — it shouldn't be this way still."
The modern march was just the beginning of the movement for increasing voters' rights, Rankin said.
"I see it (the march) as an extension of 1965. We're just getting stronger," he said.
The Friday rally was the first day of protest for 64-year-old retired Atlanta utility worker Sam Hicks. He said he felt coming to Montgomery to show his support was the right thing to do.
"Republicans are trying to go back to the 1960s with their crazy laws blocking voter rights," Hicks said. "I want to see changes. I want to see the people who made these laws get voted out of office. I want to see them go back where they belong — in a museum."
Hicks was in high school during the original march, but he said he expects the modern movement to mushroom, just like the 1965 march did.
Alabama's voter ID law requires citizens to show some form of identification — from a photo ID to a utility bill with the voter's name and address on it. Starting in 2014, the state will require photo identification in order to vote.
The law's supporters say it is designed to cut down on fraudulent voting.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke to an energized crowd outside of the Capitol, said the next step is to organize a mass, targeted voter registration drive in Southern states.
"Right now, there are 300,000 Alabamians who are not registered to vote," Jackson said. "There are 400,000 in South Carolina; 600,000 in Georgia."Comment on this story
Sharpton said his group would visit churches in Southern states to help voters who don't have photo ID obtain it. In addition to marching in states with voter ID laws, he said the National Action Network will also campaign against state legislators who helped pass those laws.
Sharpton said his group's general counsel and legal defense fund will also mount a challenge against state voter ID laws in federal court.
"We want to thank the older guard that was here for us 47 years ago, but this is for those of us on the ground now," Sharpton said. "They're here to remember what happened; we're here to say, 'This is what is going to happen now.'"