On March 7, many in the United States will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma for voting rights. President Obama, Congressman John Lewis, and 95 members of Congress will join community and faith leaders and ordinary citizens to march through Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, and Marion. Recently, however, it was reported that another individual would join the stage in Selma with President Obama: George W. Bush.
To commemorate Selma is to honor all those who were beaten and terrorized by the police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on "Bloody Sunday." It is to appreciate those individuals, many of whom remain nameless and faceless, who sacrificed their careers, freedom, bodies, and indeed their lives, so that African Americans could cast their ballots free from discrimination or exclusionary measures. We commemorate Selma to celebrate the work of these activists and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But in 2005, President George W. Bush nominated John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court. Six years later, the "Bush" Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the Voting Rights Act, paving the way for mostly southern states to establish measures that all but ensured a rise in black disenfranchisement. "Our country has changed," Roberts argued. The Chief Justice maintained that there was no longer a need for southern states to have to seek federal permission to alter their voting laws. Since that decision, we have seen a number of states including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mississippi enact a bevy of laws clearly aimed at the black community and making it much more difficult to vote.
In addition to Bush's picks for the U.S. Supreme Court, the former president's economic policies had devastating effects on the black community. As a result of Bush's refusal to break from trickle-down economics, deregulation, and privatization, we entered the "Great Recession." Moreover, Bush never believed in affirmative action, calling it "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Throughout his presidency, Bush claimed fighting poverty was at the top of his list, while only putting more African American children under the poverty line. The unemployment rate for African Americans reached over 10 percent during his tenure. And to pay for two wars, a prescription drug program for seniors, and massive tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent, Bush consistently proposed cutting numerous social programs that largely benefitted the black community.
Those who defend Bush's record on race often point to his policies in Africa, which even win praise from progressives. However, one can argue that before the man-made Suez Canal, the Middle East was also part of Africa. How many lives were lost in Iraq? How many tortured? Did Bush's polices, not at least in part, create the environment that gave rise to terrorist groups that commit daily atrocities in various parts of Africa today?
This August will mark the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Almost ten years has passed since Katrina killed nearly 2,000 mostly poor African Americans. And as much as Bush has tried to explain away his decisions, we still remember that as Katrina blew two giant holes in the Superdome, pouring rain on thousands of individuals, George W. Bush flew to Arizona to have birthday cake with Senator John McCain. While Kanye West has since backtracked, I would argue he was right, when, in 2005 he announced, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
So as we get ready to commemorate Dr. King and so many others who marched to Selma, I would argue that George W. Bush has forfeited the right to march. He does not get to partake in such a solemn and sacred time in our history that moved us forward as a nation when all he did was set us back. We must never forget Selma. But we must also never forget Hurricane Katrina and the eight years of the Bush presidency.