03/09/2012 12:17 pm ET Updated May 09, 2012

Protecting Democracy in America Means Protecting Voting Rights and Civil Rights

Trapped on a bridge between life and death, hundreds of marchers were met with violent resistance. In 1965, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, they were beaten, bullied and terrified for their attempts to safeguard voting rights at a time when less than 2 percent of African Americans in that city (300 out of 15,000) were registered.

A 25-year-old John Lewis, who would later become a member of the U.S House of Representatives, endured a brutal beating that fractured his skull. Amelia Platts Boynton was beaten and nearly gassed to death. James Reeb, the white Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston was killed.

Those marchers set a precedent for protecting voting rights and civil rights in the face of racist rhetoric, vicious physical attacks and inhumane intimidation. They also showed the world how to achieve justice and human dignity.

As thousands gather to commemorate the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March this week, it is imperative that we not only understand the fight against restrictive voter ID laws , but that we also acknowledge that racist, anti-immigration laws, like Alabama's HB56, is an assault on the very values that civil rights marchers stood for nearly 50 years ago.

It's clear: Alabama state legislators are trying to turn back time.

HB 56 has legalized racial profiling, terrorized persons of color regardless of their legal status, frightened children, entrapped foreigners and harmed the state's economy.

The "show me your papers" law, passed in June 2011, encourages an atmosphere of fear and hate and has resulted in terrible consequences. During a recent CNN interview, Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, explained that a family was denied water for their home for 40 days because "their papers weren't in order." Latino students are being bullied and harassed off school property if they show up at all. The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed more than 5,000 complaints and inquiries.

A new report out of the University of Alabama shows that HB 56 could cost the state's economy between $2.3 billion and $10.8 billion. The report also shows the state could lose $264.5 million in tax revenue and job losses could total between 70,000 and 140,000.

During these tough economic times, people want to see our legislators working on creating good jobs, not taking away civil rights and keeping hardworking families from making a living.

For Alabama's working families, and the 99 percent of us who work hard every day to provide for our loved ones and give our children a better future, economic security is in the balance and racial justice is on the line.

Yet, we are in the midst of a shameless season of intolerance against voting rights, women's rights, workers' rights and the civil and human rights of people who want to contribute to our communities and secure the Dream for their families.

These tactics have nothing to do with job creation or finding solutions to income inequality and unemployment.

While extremist, right-wing conservatives attack core values rooted in the American Dream--the sacred right to vote and the basic freedom to pursue happiness -- Latino and African American members with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and from all over the country, are marching to galvanize a movement across racial barriers.

Beware. The new Jim Crow is disguised as fair-minded voter protection laws and common-sense immigration legislation sewn into the quilt of continued attacks on the 99 percent. These kinds of assaults actually hurt all workers and all communities. Instead of turning our backs on those who are suffering, let's help pave the way for the American Dream.

It's been 47 years since Lewis, Boynton and Reeb, took their first courageous steps onto that Alabama bridge. Let's honor their actions and continue to make America better by protecting our democracy and doing what's right to help the country move forward. This is 2012, not 1864 and not 1965.