50 years ago, 600 marchers stared down a line of state troopers armed with billy clubs and tear gas as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. En route to Montgomery, the marchers gathered for the trek to the capitol in protest of segregationist tactics that denied African Americans the right to vote. The line of armed officers created an impermeable barrier and, after charging the crowd, left more than 50 people battered, bruised and in need of hospitalization. Televised and witnessed by the nation, the violence was eternalized as a cornerstone in civil rights history. Bloody Sunday made Selma the voting rights battleground of 1965. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law later that year. Today, voting rights are being targeted with more subversive mechanisms. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in North Carolina. 50 years after the historic march on Selma, North Carolina is the new epicenter of the fight to preserve democracy. Weeks after the Supreme Court gutted essential protections of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, North Carolina lawmakers presented the nation's most restrictive voter suppression legislation. Rushed through the legislature, the bill was riddled with every contemporary trick in the book to block pathways to the ballot box, especially for voters of color. Among its provisions were cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day registration, a ban on out-of-precinct provisional ballots, the end of a successful pre-registration program for 16- and 17-year-olds and a strict photo ID requirement. In a blatant attempt by politicians to manipulate the system for partisan gain, the legislature knew these changes would adversely impact voters of color. It's a practice all too reminiscent of the Jim Crow tactics used in Selma. When voters of color were blocked from the ballot box by literacy tests, poll taxes and registration restrictions 50 years ago, people united in Selma to fight back. Today people are similarly taking a stand across North Carolina, where a powerful grassroots movement is flourishing. The Forward Together Moral Movement, convened by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, had already been mobilizing its members across the state since 2007, working together to advance a progressive, multi-issue public policy agenda that encompassed the state's civil rights, faith-based, labor, student, LGBT and immigrant justice communities. In 2013, when the legislature passed its monster voter suppression bill -- one piece of a drastic agenda that also included slashing public education funding, eliminating emergency unemployment benefits and rejecting federal dollars to expand Medicaid -- this broad coalition was prepared to resist. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians -- black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American; Democrat, Republican and independent; people of faith and nonbelievers; gay and straight; students, parents and retirees -- have united in the long tradition of nonviolent direct action to hold lawmakers accountable to governing for the good of the people. In 2013, more than 900 of them were arrested and jailed for engaging in civil disobedience during weekly "Moral Monday" protests, convening inside the statehouse to give testimony on the violations of their rights. In 2014, an estimated 80,000 people flocked to Raleigh to march against the state's attacks on justice and democracy, marking the biggest demonstration in a southern state since the Selma to Montgomery marches. This summer, the movement will march forward once again, this time to the courts, when the North Carolina NAACP's lawsuit against the state's discriminatory voting law goes to trial. The result will determine whether countless North Carolinians are granted equal access to the ballot box and an equal voice in their government's future policymaking. Just as the marchers from Selma to Montgomery applied pivotal pressure on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the people most impacted by North Carolina's voter suppression law are fighting to make sure their voices are heard -- simultaneously in the legislature, the courts and the streets. This year, the voting rights battle in North Carolina will mark a new milestone in the modern-day struggle to ensure that America's elections are free, fair and accessible for all. On this 50-year anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the fight for a more just democracy rages on. This piece originally appeared on MSNBC.com on March 5, 2015.

I have just read a fascinating old biography of John Nance Garner, who was FDR's vice president from 1933 into 1941. (Garner of Texas, Bascom Timmons, Harper Bros. 1948) Garner had been a key Democrat in the House of Representatives for 30 years before Roosevelt chose him as a running mate and Timmons, a newspaper man and fellow Texan, had been his confident for decades.
Garner had many friends in both "great parties," but he was a Democrat to his core. He had carried water --- characteristically without fanfare --- for Woodrow Wilson, lining up support to reduce tariffs and create the Federal Reserve. He favored a stiff inheritance tax and opposed sales taxes that hit middle and low income people. When the Ku Klux Klan tried to oust Garner from his seat, he beat them.
Garner and many other southern Democrats after FDRs election in 1932 supported almost all of the New Deal economic measures. Most backed the Emergency Banking Act, the National Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, TVA, relief bills, public works, stock market regulation, abrogation of the gold standard, the Reciprocal Trade acts, Social Security, the Wagner Labor Relations Act (collective bargaining), and more.
Garner was a died-in-the-wool progressive, but not by today's definition. He believed with great conviction in balancing the budget. He backed Herbert Hoover's efforts to do so from 1929 through 1932, and he praised Roosevelt's promises to outdo Hoover in this regard. Ideas can be supremely powerful even when reality contradicts them and the idea of a balanced budget is such an idea.
The Congress almost unanimously agreed with Garner, Hoover and Roosevelt that balancing the budget would promote economic recovery even though repeated efforts to do so by slashing spending and raising taxes suggested the opposite. Economists of the conservative Chicago School in 1932 tried to convince Hoover and Republican politicians that government deficits were appropriate when private spending and investment collapsed, but they failed. Keynesian economists a few years later had more success with Democrats, but never with old-school Jeffersonians like Garner.
FDR and Garner gradually grew apart after 1936, but it was not over economic issues or race. Garner advised FDR not to try to enlarge the Supreme Court because it would split the party: Most old-school Democrats opposed it. Loyalty to FDR for them was secondary to this issue of principle. Garner also argued with FDR against trying to purge Democratic senators and house members deemed insufficiently loyal although many of them had supported the economic New Deal. Roosevelt did not take his Vice President's advice and failed in both efforts as Garner predicted he would. FDR then broke his pledge not to seek a third term despite the two-term precedent going back 140 years, further disappointing Garner.
Reading about Roosevelt and the New Deal as Garner saw them made me think. Garner was a man of the legislature. He believed legislative government could work. He respected those in both parties who had faced voters, made hard political choices and compromises, and stood by their convictions, principles and commitments. Such respect for politics and politicians is not much evident these days. Maybe it should be.

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