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Jacobin - September 8, 2020

"But Oprah visits, Obama speaks, and Biden preaches about the importance of Selma in 1965 and then they pack up, cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to get out of town and nothing seems to change."

The annual pilgrimage to Selma grows bigger each year.

For top Democrats, it’s an opportunity to take a victory lap in a symbolic capital of the Civil Rights Movement and pander to key African-American voters during campaign season.

Two days before Super Tuesday, nearly every presidential candidate on the ticket — from Joe Biden to Mike Bloomberg — converged on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the fifty-fifth anniversary of Bloody Sunday. The event attracted such a crush of onlookers that the national politicians couldn’t walk arm-in-arm per usual; settling instead for a single file stroll through the gathered masses.

Many dignitaries returned again last month as part of the funeral ceremonies for the late US Rep. John Lewis. The civil rights leader’s body was placed in a horse-drawn carriage and led over the infamous bridge where he was beaten by Alabama state troopers in 1965.

To watch black marchers like Lewis abused live on television “scorched our soul,” Joe Biden told the congregation at Selma’s Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in March. In the same speech, the presidential nominee framed the upcoming November election in biblical terms: as a fight against the great evil of white supremacy embodied by Donald Trump and “a battle for the soul of this country.”

What Biden and others miss in their typically soaring spiritual-inflected rhetoric is the material world, specifically the health of the body politic as it exists now in this struggling Alabama town. For Democrats, the narrative of these visits is about a historic triumph over racism, a triumph now threatened by a white supremacist holding the presidency.

But in Selma, the devil is in the details. ...
Read full report at Jacobin