Foot Soldiers for Justice

Beginning with the gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v Holder in 2013, there has been a dramatic rollback of voter rights and voter access all across the US. This is voter suppression. If you don’t know the tactics used to suppress the vote, they include: voter ID laws; purging roles of qualified voters; the elimination of early voting, same-day registration, and out-of-precinct voting; reduction of polling places; dividing minority districts, and prohibiting registration drives by organizations – to name just a few. This aggressive suppression of our access and right to vote is cause for great alarm.

That’s why in early 2015 I went to Selma, Alabama for the Commemoration of Bloody Sunday and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. I hoped to find a way to be part of the movements addressing voter suppression, as well as other movements against growing social and economic injustices. It was after Ferguson, and before Baltimore and Charlotte, and the nation was again being made aware of our ongoing and deadly history of racial violence. A trip to Washington D.C. followed, later in 2015, when I joined the last legs of America’s Journey for Justice, and also lobbied Congress with the NAACP, to propose Congressional bills about these and other issues. My intent was and is to contribute as a Foot Soldier, and to be part of the movements for social justice as an Artist Activist. As a White woman, my hope is to develop anti-racist art and to help expose and eradicate the racial-class system in the US that is deadly to so many.

The Project

The Project – Foot Soldiers for Justice received two Puffin Foundation Ltd. awards. In addition, the US Department of the Interior National Historic Selma to Montgomery Trail Museum, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, archived the entire photo collection for future generations. The photos are home.

A middle-aged black man, in Selma, who was standing by an old sedan with T-shirts spread across the hood, inspired the emphasis on the Foot Soldier. Hoping to sell the shirts, he held one up. It read, “Foot Soldiers Never Die. The 50th Anniversary. They marched for me and they didn’t even know my name.” Seeing this, I got to thinking about all the ordinary people who, generation after generation, have motivated and inspired the great civil rights leaders; people who have struggled to make this country a better place – the Foot Soldiers. Think of those who worked for the abolition of slavery, marched for women’s suffrage, stood up for the 40 hr. week, and got arrested for civil disobedience over voting rights. Or of the millions who have changed our national discourse in the last few years, with Occupy, #Blacklivesmatter, the Dreamers, and the Fight for $15. And, yes, Foot Soldiers do march for us, as the T-shirt said, even though they don’t know our names. So this project is meant to celebrate the everyday person who, with moral indignation, grief, and rage is the Foot Soldier.

Images photographed on March 7, in Selma, are street portraits of those, who like me, gathered to be part of President Obama’s visit for the 50th Anniversary events. More than 50,000 were there to see him – our first Black President of the United States – whose election is, in part, a testament to the success of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The images from March 8, were taken when over 80,000 of us crossed the bridge ourselves to commemorate “Bloody Sunday,” the day, in ’65, when leaders and Foot Soldiers were brutally attacked as they marched to end racial violence and demand the right to vote. The photos from Washington D.C., were taken September 15 and 16, 2015, during rallies at the Lincoln Memorial and on the Senate Lawn, with America’s Journey for Justice.

The aims of the project are many. First, to honor the Foot Soldiers from “in the day” and those of today. My hope is also that the images serve to archive both the 50th Anniversary and the Journey for Justice. These were two peaceful, historic moments amidst the racial violence and turmoil that marked 2015 in the US. I am particularly interested in using the images to support persons, organizations, and movements promoting social justice, and especially those involved with voting issues. Finally, the divisions amongst Americans that have been inflamed since the 2016 elections reveal how urgent it is that Foot Soldiers continue on their path to overcome the racial-class structures of America. May the project inspire activism. Lives are at stake, as is our democracy.