Over the past few days, I've had the privilege of representing Sojourners magazine at the annual Faith and Politics civil rights pilgrimage led by Congressman John Lewis. And after half of the first day, I'd already learned a valuable lesson: The best way to travel is with members of Congress -- because you get a full police motorcade.
There may have been more important things to be focusing on during our first day of the pilgrimage, such as Rep. John Lewis and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sitting at the front of the bus as we rode to National Airport. But instead, I could not stop photographing the motorcade. One by one, police officers on motorcycles were shutting down the streets of D.C. as teams of police cars led our caravan of four charter buses down Independence Avenue and toward the highway. All of this, I thought, for us?
And yet it was this frivolous obsession with the police motorcade that brought me to a realization. While walking through Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama, where memorials depict police officers unleashing dogs and fire hoses on student activists, I saw just how far America has come. Just 45 years ago police officers in Selma, Alabama, were standing on one end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge with clubs, tear gas, and whips waiting to unleash violence on the black women and men who were marching for the right to vote. Congressman Lewis was among the activists beaten on that day, known as Bloody Sunday.
Today, police officers still surround John Lewis and his fellow civil rights activists, but this time, they are not out to harm them. Instead, they protect. Motorcades follow their every move -- not to hunt, but to herald. Where 45 years ago, black voting rights activists were being hosed down on the streets of Birmingham like street debris, today they are honored as legends. This poetic irony is a true testament to the work and progress made by brave souls audacious enough to stare hateful racism in the face and respond with nonviolent protest.
Jeannie Choi is an assistant editor at Sojourners.