The true importance of the celebrations in Selma is that they demonstrate something we forget when we live in the news cycle: that the broad trajectory of this nation in the last 50 years has been positive; that there may be a distance yet to travel and obstacles along the way, but the direction is right; and that this moment reminds us that the debate about what it should mean when we say “all men are created equal” should never be allowed to end.
As to the speeches, the photo-ops, the President’s posturing and George Bush’s alleged exclusion, it is all so much ado about nothing, and it all distracts from the real meaning of the day. Instead, we must think of Selma in the way Abraham Lincoln spoke about another important battlefield in that struggle:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
We must ever remember that the rights of the individual depend on the rights of all. To accept less is to leave the door open to institutionalized prejudice, systemic hatred, and eventual tyranny.