(CNN) — President Joe Biden made a fresh call Sunday for new voting protections in remarks in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 58th anniversary of the landmark “Bloody Sunday” march, which galvanized the civil rights movement and helped lead to an expansion of voting rights.
“The right to vote, to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty,” Biden said near the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where on March 7, 1965, a group of civil rights marchers were beaten by White state troopers as they attempted to cross.
“This fundamental right remains under assault. Conservative Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act over the years. Since the 2020 election, a wave of states (has passed) dozens, dozens of anti-voting laws fueled by the big lie,” he added, referring to the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.
Biden’s stop in Selma came as he and fellow Democrats have struggled to pass their own sweeping voting rights measures, with dim prospects of passage in a newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“We know that we must get the votes in Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act,” the president said, referring in part to a measure named after the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon. “I’ve made it clear: I will not let a filibuster obstruct the sacred right to vote.”
Bloody Sunday commemorates the day when 600 people began a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, demanding an end to discrimination in voter registration. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state and local lawmen attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. Seventeen people were hospitalized, and dozens more were injured by police. The events sparked outrage across the country and helped rally support behind the Voting Rights Act. Lewis was among the protesters beaten that day.
Civil rights leaders and politicians were among those joining Biden in Selma on Sunday, including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell, who represents Selma.
Amid expectations that Biden will announce a reelection bid this year, his remarks in Selma had the flavor of a campaign speech, as he ticked through what he saw as his administration’s accomplishments and concluded with what many consider to be a potential 2024 slogan: “Let’s finish the job.”
“My message to you is this: We see you. We’re fighting to make sure no one’s left behind. This is a time of choosing and we need everybody engaged,” Biden said. “So let’s pray, but let’s not rest. Let’s keep marching. Let’s keep the faith. But most of all, let’s remember who we are. We’re the United States of America, and there’s nothing, nothing, beyond our capacity when we act together.”
The president later participated in the annual walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the Bloody Sunday events.
‘There’s work to do’
Aside from its place in history, Selma is still recovering from disastrous tornadoes that struck two months ago.
“We know there’s work to do, especially as you recover from this devastating tornado and the storms that hit in January,” Biden said in his speech, pointing to the major disaster declaration he issued.
This was not Biden’s first time attending the anniversary events in Selma; in 2020, during his run for the presidency, he spoke at historic Brown Chapel AME Church as he worked to court Black voters ahead of Super Tuesday.
“We’ve been dragged backward and we’ve lost ground. We’ve seen all too clearly that if you give hate any breathing room it comes back,” he said in his speech then.
Biden would go on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency, due in large part to his support from Black voters.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who represented the administration at the anniversary event last year, said in a statement Sunday that “America has seen a new assault on the freedom to vote.”
“Extremists have worked to dismantle the voting protections that generations of civil rights leaders and advocates fought tirelessly to win. They have purged voters from the rolls. They have closed polling places. They have made it a crime to give water to people standing in line,” she said.
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