Power to the people.

That refrain, a longtime mantra for many social justice movements, was on display Saturday in downtown Selma — just as it has been in Fresno, Kingsburg and thousands of other cities large and small in America the past few weeks since George Floyd died under the knee of a Minnesota policeman.

We the people, dozens of us, gathered on Rose Avenue near Lincoln Park on Saturday. We marched, we chanted, we carried signs, we returned to the park and listened to speeches denouncing racism and injustice. It was a peaceful rally (yes, those are possible in America) in the name of unity — a concept that has become more difficult to grasp in our politically fractured country ravaged by a viral pandemic and racial tension.

 The post-march rally speakers, including Selma Mayor Louis Franco and Police Chief Joe Gomez, addressed a mixed-ethnic group appropriate for a small Valley town that values our diversity.

Ever since the Boston Tea Party birthed the American Revolution, we the people have taken to the streets to express our claim to the rights of citizenship. 

No mater what you think of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is currently America’s most compelling political action symbol. Some Americans would remind us that white, Latino, Muslim, Punjabi, LGBTQ —and police — lives also matter. But that is not the sentiment of this moment in history.

Black Lives Matters reminds us of one of our greatest rights — equal protection for all, no matter of skin color, socioeconomic status, faith or sexual orientation. 

If you pay much attention to social media, you’ll notice that some Americans may be growing weary of hearing that Black Lives Matter, just as many have become tired of sheltering in place and being told to wear masks to stop the spread of a virus.

But COVID-19 pandemic is very real. So are racism and injustice. Illness and prejudice have been around as long as man has been on the planet, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept them sitting down.

So we wore masks and walked, following the lead of Rev. Guadalupe Rios from Selma’s St. Joseph Catholic Church, who reminded us that we were on “a march to the promised land of justice and equality.” The chants “No justice, no peace”and “United we stand” gave the gathering the vibe of a 1960s Civil Rights march. 

In the rally that followed, the organizers read the names of victims of racial injustice as the audience kneeled for eight minutes, 46 seconds — the length of time that Minnesota policeman kneeled with on George Floyd’s throat.

The faith-infused rally had the fervor of a revival at times. It came the day after Juneteenth, a holiday for African-Americans to celebrate being set free from slavery — a celebration akin to honoring the Irish (St. Patrick’s Day), Italians (Columbus Day), Mexicans (Cinco de Mayo) and Sikhs (Nagar Kirtan).

All those and others are feel-good festivities for America’s diversity. Saturday’s event added a more somber tone, but if the goal was to uplift the spirit and spur comrades to action, it did the job.

To Selma’s top cop Gomez, who said he was shocked and bothered by the death of Floyd, such rallies are useful tools for social change including police reform. “Things are changing ... because of people like you,” he told the crowd. “I’m 100 percent with you.”

Gomez hopes Saturday’s rally was the beginning of a dialogue. Police and citizens “need to not be afraid of the relationship,” he said, and actions need to back up the words.

“We want to make sure we address issues of the community,” Gomez added. “If there is no follow-up, all this is for naught.”

Longtime Selma resident Ken Robison is a retired newspaper reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. “Selma Stories” runs regularly in The Enterprise.

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