MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Thousands re-tracing the steps of those who made the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. ended their five-day journey by converging this weekend on the Alabama state capital here.
Their message was that they were there not just to commemorate the past but to shine a spotlight on present-day injustices. They marched again in 2012, they said, to demand an end to Republican-led attacks in Alabama and around the country on voting rights, workers rights and immigrant rights.
After the cross-country marchers jammed the area around the capital they were joined by still additional thousands, among them students streaming off local college campuses. Students paraded arm in arm through the streets on their way to the rallying marchers who greeted them with cheers as they joined the event at the capital.
"These laws in Alabama aren't immigration laws. They're Jim Crow laws," declared the Rev. Al Sharpton, a leader of the march. His words fired up the crowds.
Among the powerful speakers at the event was the actor Tyrese Gibson who had joined the march a day late. He rented a car to catch up with the others who had already completed 12 miles and he marched with them for the rest of the way.
When he rose to speak at the rally he put forward what he called a "challenge" to "every performer and entertainer watching this today from home." He said it was incumbent upon each of them to exercise "all the power you have to register people to vote in the 2012 elections."
The marchers actually grew in numbers as the days went by.
In the beginning, a majority were union members and their friends and allies but members of Alabama's immigrant communities joined in along the way. Many said they joined the marchers after hearing about the event on Latino radio stations.
"I got to see how different organizations can get together and unite for a cause,", Marisol Lara, an immigrant student from the University of Idaho, told a reporter for the AFL-CIO's news website.
The big dagger aimed at Alabama's immigrants is H.B. 56, the cruelest immigration law in the nation and a law that is wreaking havoc on the state's economy.
Estimates are that the state is losing $1 million in revenue every day that the law is enforced.
"It's time for the Christian right to be right Christians," said Sharpton. "The Good Samaritan didn't ask for papers or green cards before offering his help."
"Together we are one. Together we will make change," declared AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker. Holt Baker had marched the entire route from Selma to Montgomery. She told people at the capital that they were witnessing not just the end of a march but "the beginning of a renewed, bigger and stronger movement."
Photo: Creative Commons 3.0 Some of the participants in the 2012 re-enactment of the march from Selma to Montgomery in front of the sign on the Robert Gardner property along U.S. Highway 80 eastbound. Arlene Holt Baker is wearing a cream-colored jacket.