I vividly remember the times over the years when my parents told me of their work for civil rights. Working to desegregate movie theaters. Marching for rights. I was particularly enthralled by the stories my dad told me of his work in southern Virginia in June 1963 as a young lawyer fresh out of Georgetown Law School.
My dad accompanied his law professor Chester "Chet" Antieau to assist local black lawyers in Danville representing hundreds of blacks on trial for violating laws designed to keep blacks and others from protesting. Demonstrators that were beaten, then put on trial in front of a judge alleged by many to carry a pistol on his side in the courtroom. My dad told of how all of this was taking place a week after Medgar Evers was killed in Mississippi- and a few months before a bomb in Birmingham would kill four girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was a scary time to be on the front lines working for justice.
Four years ago, I accompanied my parents to do some get out the vote work in Virginia. I wondered what it felt like for my dad to be back doing civic engagement work in Virginia 45 years later. I wondered what it felt like for him and others that worked to desegregate Virginia when they heard that an African-American man had carried the state of Virginia in the Presidential race. An African-American Democrat no less, the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since Lyndon Johnson did it in 1964. The same Virginia that implemented "massive resistance" and provided tuition grants to white students to attend private schools. The same Virginia whose flagship University of Virginia (my alma mater) didn't admit its first African-American undergraduate students until 1955. I could only imagine the feelings my parents had when they saw the progress made in the nation during their lifetime.
Now in 2012, I will once again travel the roads of Virginia encouraging people to vote. While I will be working for President Obama, what's most critical is that people simply exercise their right to vote. It is critical because it was not so long ago that Virginia fought to deny certain Americans that looked like me basic rights. It is critical because in 2012 after the Republican National Convention news outlets reported about the empty chair hanging from a rope on a tree in Centreville, Virginia.
The clear reference to the lynching of President Obama in the aftermath of Clint Eastwood's empty chair dialogue with an imagined President at the Republican National Convention is a reminder that despite all of the progress made, there is still hate and ignorance that exists in our Country. From the small town hate in Centreville of a man "lynching" the President to the board room ignorance of Donald Trump still demanding to see the President's "papers", there is still work to do in our beloved country. The Justice Department's battles with a number of states trying to suppress voter participation this year is also a reminder that progress made doesn't equal being where we need to be, and that constant vigilance is needed to ensure that the rights of all people are protected.
My Dad is older now. It has been fifty years since he first took risks to ensure that all Americans shared in the experience that is America. Fifty years since he was in a court in Virginia helping a team that was suing a town and a judge known to pack heat. Dear ole Dad wont be riding the back roads of Virginia this year. I'll do that. While the risks and dangers I face will be nothing compared to what my Dad and others faced, the stakes are still urgently high. The least I can do is get off the couch, put on my walking shoes, gas up the car and put in some work.
David Bowers is a native Washingtonian and ordained minister that works in the affordable housing industry.