01:54 - Source: CNN
Top Dems head to Selma to mark 'Bloody Sunday' anniversary
CNN  — 

On the 54th anniversary of a famous civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama, several Democratic presidential contenders joined Hillary Clinton in saying that not enough progress has been made to end voting discrimination and racism.

“The dream is under attack. The dream is in danger,” said Democratic presidential hopeful and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

Speaking in the historic Brown Chapel AME Church, where civil rights activists once assembled before their march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Booker said, “We have become a nation that is too adjusted to injustice, too content with the suffering of our neighbors, a nation that is too divided against ourselves.” 

On March 7, 1965, the day known as “Bloody Sunday,” peaceful demonstrators demanding voting rights for black people were met by violence from police. Seventeen people were injured, including future Democratic Rep. John Lewis. The incident helped pushed support for the Voting Rights Act, which passed later that year. 

“It’s time for us to defend the dream,” Booker said. “We must dream bigger dreams again in America that we can banish bigotry and heal hate and that we will elect leaders that know the only way to unite people. That is what it takes to make America great.”

Booker said “people want to make it just about the people in the highest offices of the land, people who traffic in hatred, people in offices that can’t even condemn Nazis or white supremacists” but said racism and injustice persist not only because of the “vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and inaction of the good people.”

Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown also attended events in Selma to commemorate the historic demonstration. Sanders held his first official campaign rally on Saturday; Brown has said he is considering his own 2020 run. 

“We need to redouble our efforts for the 21st century civil rights movement,” Clinton said. “Don’t just come to Selma once a year. Don’t just walk across the bridge. Don’t just join hands and sing. We’ve got to get to work. And that means registering every person and it means persuading them, no matter how disappointed or discouraged they might be that their future depends on them showing up to vote.” 

There has been growing concern among Democrats that in many states there have been concerted efforts to make it more difficult for minorities to vote, and that the Justice Department is not aggressively challenging them. 

Clinton referenced the governor’s race in Georgia and said former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams “should be governor, leading that state right now.” Abrams, a Democrat, lost her election last year amid accusations of voter suppression of black voters in the state.  

“I was the first person who ran for President without the protection of the Voting Rights Act, and I will tell you it makes a really big difference,” Clinton said. 

Sanders said, “how sad it is that 54 years later,” after the Selma march, “we are still fighting for the right to vote.” In 1965, he said, “people were beaten and John Lewis was almost killed, to ask for what? The constitutional right to vote,” Sanders said, decrying the lack of progress. 

“It’s our turn to demand that we end all voter suppression in this country. And not only do we end voter suppression, but we make it easier for people to vote, not harder,” Sanders said. 

Clinton and Booker hugged and took a photo together at the morning event, while Clinton and Sanders, by contrast, former 2016 Democratic presidential primary rivals, briefly shook hands. Sanders did congratulate Clinton during his speech on an award she was being given later in the event.

“The President talks about being a populist, but real populism is never racist,” Brown said. “Real populism is never anti-Semitic. Real populism doesn’t divide people. Real populism doesn’t push some people down to lift others up.”

CNN’s Daniella Diaz and Rebecca Buck contributed to this report.