The historic march at Selma in 1965 and the current battle over school choice in Florida have a lot in common, writes Florida civil rights icon H.K. Matthews in an op-ed in today’s Fort Myers News Press.
Matthews participated in the Selma march, which is again the focus of national discussion thanks to a powerful new movie. He also helped lead the 2010 march on Tallahassee that drew nearly 6,000 people in support of tax credit scholarships for low-income children.
Watching the movie revived painful memories, Matthews writes. But it wasn’t the first time he had flashbacks to that pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, pointing specifically to the 2010 rally in Florida.
“Incredibly, nearly 6,000 people showed up — that’s roughly 10 times the number who marched across that Selma bridge,” he writes. “Over 1,000 people slept on buses overnight to be there. They came to celebrate their own empowerment — the ability to choose the best school for their children.”
The 2010 march preceded passage of a bill, later signed by then Gov. Charlie Crist, that expanded the scholarship program. Last August, the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other groups filed suit to end the program, which is administered by nonprofits such as Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. A key hearing in the case is set for Feb. 9.
“When I heard about the lawsuit, I had another flashback to the old movement,” Matthews writes in the op-ed. “The parallels were striking to me. Here were citizens demanding empowerment. A march symbolized that demand. And here were powerful groups trying to deny it.
“I suppose that this lawsuit will eventually end up in the Florida Supreme Court. One thing I’m fairly sure of: If nearly 6,000 people showed up just to demonstrate that they supported the program, how many will come if the most important thing to them — their right to choose the best school for their children — is threatened to be taken away?”
Read the full op-ed here.