I tried! In my capacity as a member of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Board of Directors (CCR), I traveled to Selma on Friday to attend the induction of Arthur Kinoy and William Kunstler, two of the founding lawyers of CCR, into the Selma National Voting Rights Museum. And even though I knew that I would have to endure Obama’s presence in Selma on Saturday, my plan was to stay in Selma until Sunday to catch up with friends and participate in the peoples’ crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
But I never saw the sun come up in Selma. Before Air Force One ever entered Alabama airspace, Obama’s presence overshadowed the commemoration. In conversations on Friday, I heard over and over again about how Obama was coming to town to symbolically “close the circle” on the struggle for voting rights. And though it shouldn’t have, I could not shake the deep sadness that I felt every time I heard this and similar comments from so many of my people who still had so much invested in this cheap pro-imperialist hustler that after the induction on Friday I found myself on Highway 80 heading out of Selma toward Montgomery.
I made the right decision.
Obama’s presence on Saturday severely crippled most of the people-centered discussions and activities that were scheduled for that day. And as the master propagandist that he is, he gave a magnificent performance blending themes of “American exceptionalism” with the black middle-class version of black history and black struggle to give an emotionally charged twist to an otherwise trite and familiar narrative of racial uplift and progress toward a more perfect union.
In fact his performance was so effective that very few seemed to remember that just two days before the Selma speech his Department of Justice announced that it would not indict the Ferguson killer-cop Darren Wilson.