SEIU Minnesota’s Rafael Morataya helped mark a new chapter in civil rights history

African-American and Latino civil rights leaders and advocates for the rights of women and workers, including SEIU Minnesota Local 26, joined forces early in March at the annual Selma-to-Montgomery march.

SEIU members and leaders from across the country, like Rafael Morataya, a union organizer with Local 26 in Minnesota, joined thousands of marchers in demanding voting rights and repeal of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law. They walked across 53 miles of rolling hills from Selma to the state Capitol in Montgomery, echoing the footsteps of the “Bloody Sunday” marches that began on March 7, 1965.

On that day 47 years ago, African American citizens seeking civil rights were assaulted by state troopers and local sheriff’s deputies after crossing Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.

During a rally at the foot of the Pettus Bridge on Sunday, SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina lauded the perseverance of the marchers nearly a half Century ago that led to civil rights victories. Still, the struggle continues, Medina said.

“As our nation becomes more diverse, new obstacles are being erected to keep us from voting. Laws like Alabama’s are being enacted to drive out immigrants and legitimize racial profiling,” Medina said. “But like those who marched before us, we will never give up; we will never give up our fight for civil rights and justice for immigrants, voters and workers.”

Morataya said, “To remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled those same roads 47 years ago was really an energizing experience for me as well as a great honor for me to make the same commitment to an ongoing struggle that we have in this country.” Morataya said that the experience has given him a renewed sense of purpose in his work with SEIU Minnesota. “Definitely the march marked a new direction in my life,” he added.

SEIU Minnesota is joining forces with others in Minnesota fighting against a proposed state constitutional Voter ID amendment requiring law-abiding citizens to present a state-approved and overly-restrictive picture ID before casting their ballots. Not even military IDs and passports would be allowed under this proposal resulting in the denial of our troops’ rights to vote. The proposal also would unfairly burden the elderly, disabled and African Americans who fall into categories of persons who lack the kind of photo IDs this proposal would require.

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