Tag Archives: Alabama

Poor People’s Campaign

Dr. William Barber is the impressive and impassioned clergyman who began the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina–a movement that has since spread to other states. I regretted missing his speech when he came to Indiana recently, and was interested to see this article about the lessons of Martin Luther King day in The Nation.

After quoting King’s admonition that we either go up together or go down together, Barber summed up America’s current situation:

King did not live to see another 24 hours of that pivotal year in American history, but 50 years later we face a similar collective crisis as we begin 2018. Extremists who’ve hijacked the Republican Party worked in concert with a charlatan to deconstruct the federal government, but a resistance made itself public in 2017, making clear that we are still the majority in this nation. Congress and many of our state legislatures refuse to represent the will of the majority. In the face of this basic subversion of democracy, we do well to remember that “either we go up together, or we go down together.” King’s assessment is more crucial than ever: Nothing would be more tragic than to turn back now.

Fifty years after Dr. King and many others launched a Poor People’s Campaign to demand a Marshall Plan for America’s poor, inequality in our nation has reached extremes we have not seen since the Gilded Age. As the Dow climbs and the wealthiest Americans get a massive tax break, 15 million more Americans are poor today than in 1968. In the same time period, the rate of extreme poverty has nearly doubled. Because of the systemic racism of voter suppression, which has been implemented in 23 of the nation’s poorest states since 2010, our political system is held captive by extremists who deny workers health care and a living wage, undermine the equal-protection clause of the constitution, attack public education, and encourage poor white people to blame people of color and immigrants for their problems. All the while, more and more of our collective resources are dedicated to a war without end.

Barber writes that a Presidency as flawed and unpopular as Trump’s will not last long, but he acknowledges the immense amount of harm being done in the meantime–especially in the nation’s courts, where lifetime appointments are being made at a pace far exceeding that of preceding administrations.

Barber details the numerous voter suppression tactics of a GOP that “cheats when it can’t win in a fair fight.” And he has nothing but scorn for the white Evangelicals who have traded integrity for power:

So-called “white evangelicals” and their Christian nationalism have become the apologists and enablers of political extremism. Their voices are so loud when joining the course of those who hate gay people, women, and brown and black-skinned immigrants, but so quiet on issues of poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, and the war economy. This is a form of modern heresy and theological malpractice, taught all over the country.

He also has a lot to say about the recent tax “reform” bill, the efforts to further erode America’s already inadequate social welfare network, and about the importance of building multi-racial, multi-ethnic coalitions. But his most important message is one that should resonate with all of us: this is no time to quit. It’s no time to stop resisting.

I have dedicated myself to a new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival that is going deep into Southern communities and reclaiming the moral narrative that was bought by the religious right in the 20th century.

In 2018, we are determined to see the South rise again—not in the redemption that white supremacists have long awaited with Confederate flags, but in the future that George White, the last African-American representative to Congress during Reconstruction, foresaw when he said, “This may be the Negro’s farewell to Congress, but Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again.”…

And when we change the South, we will shift the power balance in this nation.

In Alabama, African-American turnout defeated Roy Moore. If anyone can move the South, it’s William Barber, with his eloquence, his passion, his organizing genius –and his repeated insistence that we should never give up.

 

 

 

Senator Jones

The next Senator from Alabama is Democrat Doug Jones. Who’d have thunk it?

There are a number of ways to “slice and dice” Jones’ victory in the Alabama special election. Gratifying as that win was–and it really, really was!–Roy Moore was a uniquely flawed candidate, and Alabama still came uncomfortably close to preferring a bigoted child molester and scofflaw to a principled and attractive Democrat.

On the other hand, a Democrat won a statewide race in Alabama–by several metrics, the Reddest state in the country.

There were dozens of excellent columns and opinion pieces yesterday morning parsing the implications of Jones’ victory. One of those, a column by David Von Drehle in the Washington Post, included a couple of important observations. Von Drehle noted that Jones had run a  campaign that honored the old adage “When your opponent is digging his own grave, don’t grab the shovel.”

What really caught my eye, however, was this:

The Jones victory is about a rising tide of Americans who won’t swallow the bilge President Trump is pushing. Make no mistake: If Trump and his would-be Pygmalion, Stephen K. Bannon, can’t sell their mix of cultural resentment and paranoia in Alabama, they will be hard-pressed to sell it anywhere.

In my opinion, that is one of two important “take aways” from Tuesday’s election.

Yes, Moore was an unusually revolting candidate, even for today’s GOP. Yes, a majority of white voters–primarily but not exclusively rural–stuck with him anyway. (Had it not been for the African-American voters who turned out despite the numerous voter suppression tactics aimed at keeping them home, Roy Moore would be a United States Senator.)

But this is Alabama, and context is important. Although Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 points, exit polling showed his favorable rating at 47%–and his unfavorable rating at 48%. Radio ads for Moore in the final days of the campaign were unabashedly racist and anti-Semitic (Jones and George Soros are trying to start a race war…)–were appeals to what Von Drehle politely calls “cultural resentment.” Yet even in dark-red Alabama, where the urban/rural divide is deep and racism institutionalized, Trump, Bannon and the politics of white nationalism weren’t enough to drag Moore across the finish line.

So, “take away” number one: hatred as a political strategy has a limited shelf life.

However, in my opinion, take away number two is the most important. This election reaffirmed a reality to which all politicians give lip service, but too few make the focus of their campaign efforts: turnout is critical. 

Republicans haven’t won elections by winning the hearts and minds of voters; they’ve won by suppressing Democratic turnout–by gerrymandering, passing ridiculous Voter ID laws, limiting polling places and hours, and similar tactics. (In Alabama, after passing a stringent Voter ID law necessitating trips to the state’s BMV branches, they closed the branches in black neighborhoods.) Those tactics lead voters to believe the results of elections are foreordained–a conclusion that further suppresses the vote.

What I read over and over as I followed the Jones-Moore contest was that Democrats were excited–if astonished– because they saw that winning was possible. My vote could actually count!! That excitement prompted previously apathetic Democrats to turn out; it also prompted efforts by the NAACP and other organizations to overcome the structural barriers erected to discourage African-American participation.

Unusually high Democratic turnout can overcome gerrymandering in districts drawn to be safe for Republicans, because those district lines are based on turnout estimates and those turnout estimates are based upon prior voting patterns.

Of course, it helps a lot when non-crazy reliable Republican voters are faced with a choice between a whack-job child molester and a good guy…Even in Alabama.

 

 

Shoot Me Now–Pun Intended

File under: Parishioners packing heat.

A church in Alabama has opened a gun range. Right behind the church.

According to the pastor,

“We had quite a number of church members, some elderly ladies, for example, and some not so elderly women that had purchased guns, but didn’t know how to use them,” Guin told WIAT-TV.

He said the safety classes evolved into a ministry, the Rocky Mount Hunt and Gun Club.

“This is an opportunity for us to reach out in the name of Jesus Christ in a setting that is completely unique. Even odd by some people’s standards. But who’s to say that church can’t happen right here,” Guin said…..

“Really, the whole purpose of this range is to provide recreational and gun safety in a warm, loving, Christian environment,” Guin said. “We wanted to come up with some different ideas to help our church grow, and we thought this would be a unique ministry to offer to the community.”

Evidently, in Alabama, the way to grow a congregation is to offer a “gun ministry.” The NRA will be so proud….

(It’s probably unfair, but when I read this, I immediately recalled an old Second City comedy routine from Cold War days, in which the repeated exhortation was to “kill a Commie for Christ.”)

I don’t pretend to understand the theology involved, but I’m worried that I do understand the marketing approach….

Alabama: Why Judges Shouldn’t Be Elected

He’s baaack!

Roy Moore, the infamous “Ten Commandments” theocrat, is serving a second stint as Alabama’s chief justice. Moore was first elected to that position in 2000, but was removed after refusing to move a Ten Commandments monument he had installed at the entrance to the courthouse. Carved into a five ton boulder. In a July 2003 ruling, the appeals court compared Moore’s actions to the

“position taken by those southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders during an earlier era,” citing the actions of former governors Ross Barnett of Mississippi and George C. Wallace of Alabama in trying to block campus integration and protest marches during the height of the civil rights movement.

“Any notion of high government officials being above the law did not save those governors from having to obey federal court orders, and it will not save this chief justice from having to comply with the court order in this case,” the appeals court wrote.

In November 2003, the state ethics panel unanimously voted to remove Moore from the bench. He was reelected in 2012, narrowly defeating a candidate who didn’t join the race until August after Democrats disqualified their original candidate. (What was that old saying?–you can’t beat something with nothing.) When it became apparent that he’d won, he told supporters

“Go home with the knowledge that we are going to stand for the acknowledgment of God.”

Now, Moore has told the state’s probate judges–who evidently issue marriage licenses in Alabama– to ignore a federal judge’s ruling that same-sex marriages could proceed, and a majority of them have been complying.

Interestingly, Alabama does not require probate judges to have any sort of legal education. It’s also one of thirteen states where probate judges are elected in partisan primaries and general elections.

The U.S. Constitution made federal judges independent precisely in order to avoid this sort of assault on the rule of law. Congress and the Executive Branch are supposed to answer to the voters; courts of law are supposed to answer to the Constitution.

In best-case scenarios, judicial elections give rise to the appearance of impropriety– did campaign contributions influence the administration of justice? In the worst-case scenarios, judicial elections give you a Roy Moore.

Politics at the Bed and Breakfast

We took our grandchildren to Williamsburg and Jamestown (where they were fascinated by the muskets), then came to Washington, D.C. so that they could experience the nation’s capital. Yesterday was the Museum of the American Indian (pricey buffalo-burgers in the cafeteria!) and the Air and Space Museum with a planetarium show narrated by Whoopie Goldberg.

We are staying in a Bed and Breakfast, the Aaron Shipman house, located in the Logan Circle area. It’s a lovely residential neighborhood,with excellent public transportation. (I’ve been VERY  jealous of the transportation on this trip! It makes any place more livable and civilized. Too bad the Indiana legislature doesn’t consider livability important…)

There are seven bedrooms rooms in this house, and we met the other travelers at breakfast yesterday. We went around the table making introductions. Five were traveling together from Alabama, and after the (wonderful!) breakfast, we were making small talk. One woman, a retired second-grade teacher, said “You teach law. How can Roy Moore be considered eligible to run again for the Alabama Supreme Court? Didn’t his previous behavior and contempt for Separation of Church and State disqualify him?” Roy Moore, you may recall, was the zealot who had the Ten Commandments carved on a five-ton stone and placed at the entrance to the Alabama Supreme Court. Apparently, his opponent is genuinely mentally ill, so voters have no reasonable choice in this election, and she was agitated.

“Everyone will look at Alabama and think we actually wanted this creep! We don’t!”

That led to a more general discussion of the political environment and the extremism of today’s GOP. The owner of the B and B opined that Republican Senators and Representatives who had opted to put politics before the national interest and simply say NO to anything and everything that might make Obama look good should be expelled from office. The rest of the short discussion was similar. (And for the record, I didn’t start it!)

I’m hesitant to draw large conclusions from this anecdote: I remember a friend from law school who was absolutely certain McGovern was going to win the election that year because everyone in his neighborhood was a McGovern supporter. He lived in Greenwich Village. But it was interesting to see a group from Huntsville, Alabama–hardly a “blue” location–so utterly disgusted with the radicalism that characterizes today’s GOP.

I believe the acronym young people use these days is FWIW–for what it’s worth.