A rally for rights: Sussex County residents participate in New York event

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:50

They came from all over the tri-state area and beyond. They came to protest against stricter voting laws that have been adopted or proposed in the United States. The Stand For Freedom march and rally took place in New York City on Saturday, Dec. 10. It reached across racial, religious and class grounds. The starting point was on Madison Avenue in front of the Koch Industries offices in Manhattan. The end point was at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations headquarters. Initiated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the march and rally included civil rights leaders, union members and many others. The attendees were voicing their opposition to what they feel is an attack on their right to vote. New rules include requiring photo IDs at the ballot box and restricting voting by ex-felons. Those rules sound fine until you scratch the surface and find the gray area. For instance, prior to World War II, birth certificates were not automatic, especially in rural or poor areas. Often times a baptismal record was the only proof a child was born. Every town did not have a hospital or clinic nearby, and many Americans were born at home. In some states, if you don’t have an official U.S. birth certificate you can’t vote. Even if you have been voting for years without a birth certificate and have all other legal documents including military discharge documents, you are effectively shut out of the political process under the new rules. I was one of many who attended the Stand For Freedom, which was held in conjunction with the United Nations Human Rights Day. I’m not a member of any organized group but felt the urge to get an up close look at the matter. Growing up as a child in the 1970s and 1980s in a suburb of Morris County, I never became involved in social activism. The only civics activity I’ve participated in has been voting. My Stand for Freedom journey began in the wee hours of Saturday morning on a chartered bus from Morristown. I sat reading a newspaper, while others talked about why they were going. By the time we arrived, the bus was filled with people from Sussex, Morris, Warren and Essex counties and beyond. It was a peaceful but vocal throng observed by curious passersby and the media. Along the way I snapped photographs and spoke to a few of the marchers. One of the people I spoke to was Oveston Cox, president of the Warren/Sussex County branch of the NAACP. Cox is also the superintendent for the Department of Juvenile Justice for the state of New Jersey. “Any time you get together with others to fight for civil rights I am moved by it. But I am concerned that we are out here fighting for some of the same rights all these years later that our predecessors fought for during the Civil Rights era and one of those rights is the right to vote. This day reminds us about the sacrifices made by others for our right to vote and be heard.” Other marchers echoed Cox’s sentiment. I was amazed at the sheer volume of marchers moving along the route. The line went on for blocks. Demonstrations are often shown on television but to see it in person is totally different. Participants chanted and waved flags and signs. Some demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street movement also joined in. Whether you agree with the protestors or not, it is a part of the political process. For me, this issue isn’t black or white, rich or poor. This is an American issue that affects us all — and as a citizen I will be watching developments very closely. George Leroy Hunter is a freelancer writer/photographer for Straus News. You can see his photos of the rally at www.advertiser-news.com.