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Alabama march protests laws

Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen, center with microphone, speaks during a wreath laying ceremony at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and other members of Congress led the ceremony on the eve of a march marking the anniversary of the famous Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march in 1965.

Associated Press

Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen, center with microphone, speaks during a wreath laying ceremony at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and other members of Congress led the ceremony on the eve of a march marking the anniversary of the famous Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march in 1965.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — It won't just be about history when crowds cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge today and recreate the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

It will be about targeting Alabama's toughest-in-the-nation immigration laws and its new voter ID requirements.

Organizers expect thousands to participate in crossing the Selma bridge to mark the 47th anniversary of the march that helped bring about the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

They say hundreds plan to make the 50-mile march between Selma and Montgomery over the next week.

"Instead of having a ceremonial thing, we're going to have a protest," said Annie Pearl Avery, 68, who was arrested during the original crossing in 1965. "I can't do any walking anymore, but I'm going to go to Montgomery if I have to crawl there."

Events will be held daily along the way, culminating with a rally Friday at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once served.

"We want to bring attention to what's going on, especially with it being the celebration of the right to vote," said Catrina Carter, regional coordinator with the 2012 Bridge Crossing Jubilee. "We want to bring attention to the fact that in the Southern states, they are legislatively taking away those rights and putting up road blocks."

Alabama's voter ID law, which will go into effect in 2014, will require citizens to present photo identification at the polls.

The immigration law requires police to determine citizenship status during traffic stops and requires government offices to verify legal residency for everyday transactions like obtaining a car license, enrolling a child in school, getting a job or renewing a business license. Both were enacted last year.

Avery was working to register black voters in Alabama in 1965 when an Alabama state trooper shot and killed civil rights protester Jimmie Lee Jackson, prompting the first march from Selma to Montgomery.

The Voting Rights Act that came about as a result of the march outlawed discrimination at the polls. Avery said people have grown complacent since then, allowing new restrictive laws to be passed.

"This is the last part of my legacy, and we plan to go all the way to Montgomery this year to protest attacks on union rights and voting rights," she said.

The organizers of this weekend's march say voter ID laws, like those that have cropped up in 15 states requiring photo identification at polling places, could disenfranchise about 5 million voters — mostly the poor and minorities.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network is helping organize the march, called the voter ID law "a solution looking for a problem."

The Alabama law's sponsor disagreed, saying its intent is to cut down on fraudulent voting.

"I want people that go and vote to make sure they're the person they say they are," said state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville. "There's certainly been instances of voter fraud in Alabama."

Hispanic groups joining the march plan to tie Alabama's immigration law to the theme of voter suppression as they call for its repeal.

"It has deported a lot of potential voters, and we're pushing back against that," said Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama.

The Bridge Crossing Jubilee to commemorate the 1965 civil rights march has been going on since 1993.

Alabama march protests laws 03/03/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 3, 2012 8:27pm]
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