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Joey Kennedy

Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

Joey Kennedy

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The second best news for me this week is that the Alabama Legislature isn’t going to do the knee-jerk thing of passing a law that’ll allow teachers to carry guns into the classroom, as a deterrent to some lunatic who might attack a school to massacre students.

The protection of our students from a mad gunman isn’t a teacher’s responsibility; it’s law enforcement’s – those trained to do that. I don’t want a school resource officer teaching the writing process or Robert Frost; the parents of my students don’t want me packing heat on the chance some nut is going to barge into my classroom shooting.

Besides, I have wasp spray.

The news that, at least for this year, the Legislature has some sanity on the arming-teachers-issue couldn’t come at a better time for the outstanding young people organizing and planning Saturday’s March for Our Lives events across the nation.

That’s the best news this week.

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This movement started fewer than six weeks ago, after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers were killed and others injured.

The impressive students at Douglas High said: “Enough! Never Again!”

Sadly, since that tragic day Feb. 14, there have been other school shootings, including one right here in Birmingham, at Huffman High School, where a young woman who wanted to be a nurse died when a gun went off at the school.

Just this week, a Maryland high school was the scene of another shooting, where two students were injured and the shooter killed.

Will it ever be “Never Again”?

Probably not. But that doesn’t mean something can’t be done to lower the risk of this all-too-common devastation on our nation.

Saturday in Birmingham, we’ll have a March for Our Lives event that is expected to attract between 3,000 to 5,000 people. There will be a rally starting at 2 p.m. at Railroad Park, followed by the march. This is in conjunction with the national March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., and more than 725 marches across the nation and another 80-plus marches around the world in solidarity with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who ignited this movement.

#NeverAgain. #MSDStrong. #BanAssaultRifles

Those hashtags have been trending. They remain popular. And these young people are not going away. They’re scaring the National Rifle Association-owned politicians who want to be re-elected. Many of these “kids” will be voting this year, and that doesn’t bode well for the NRA politicians’ careers.

Still, those politicians are so afraid of the NRA they have done very little to ban all-access to military style weapons or bump stocks or huge ammunition magazines or even to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence as the serious health issue it is.

These politicians and the NRA have blood on their hands. The blood of our children. The blood of our teachers.

Blood.

So Saturday, in Washington, D.C., and in Birmingham, Alabama, and in other cities in Alabama and in cities and towns across the nation and world, the children will march.

Ashley Causey, a senior at Helena High School, has been instrumental in organizing Birmingham’s march. No doubt, these teens will be happy they won’t have to worry about their teachers being armed, at least for the next year.

Teachers with dry-erase markers and a Glock .45? Please.

“No, definitely not,” said Causey this week. “We’re strongly against teachers having guns.”

This teacher is against teachers having guns, too. C’mon, we have papers to grade.

Causey and her peers, in less than six weeks, have organized a march, gathered people to offer voter registration and other services, raised nearly $10,000, and can’t wait for Saturday’s event.

Get there early; it’s going to be crowded.

But it’s not just the size of a crowd. Causey said there are events that have 30 or fewer people involved.

“Even the smallest group of people, if you are impassioned enough and determined, can make a difference,” Causey said. She and her peers certainly have.

Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Birmingham will start with a rally. Speakers include both students and adults – law enforcement, involved teens, teachers, kids with gun-violence experience, involved teens, and, of course, involved teens. This is mainly a student-led movement.

The primary purpose is to advocate for responsible gun restrictions, but Causey is clear:

“We’re open to anybody who wants any type of reform,” she said. Security will be tight at the event, but it’s open to all who want to see the gun culture in this state and country change, those who want to help ensure kids can go to school, and anybody can go to the movies, or to a nightclub, or to church, or to a music festival, without a serious threat of being killed by a shooter.

And here’s what matters most:

“You would have thought with Newtown (Conn., Sandy Hook), that would have been the breaking point,” Causey said. But, “I think this (Parkland, Fla.) has affected a group of people who are not going to stand down. We’re not going to let this get lost in the news. I don’t think that’s going to happen any more.

“We want to be sure we have a lasting effect,” Causey said.

Spring Break might have just ended; Saturday’s marches are just the beginning.

The NRA, many conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists, gun nuts, and others, have already underestimated these amazing Millennials.

Well, they do so at their own risk.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | The most important election ever

Joey Kennedy

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Is this the country we want to be? Is this the state we love.

I truly wonder.

We always say there is never an election more important than the one at hand. It’s become a cliché.

But, folks, there’s never been a more important election than the mid-term election this  November. It may be cliché, but it’s absolutely true.

If you are eligible to vote but not registered, get registered now. Don’t keep putting it off.

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In the recent Republican and Democratic primaries in Alabama, only 26 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

That means 74 percent of registered voters stayed at home. Even that isn’t a true reflection of voter apathy in Alabama. Many more people in Alabama are eligible to vote, but simply don’t bother to register. Considering eligible voters, Alabama’s turnout is likely well below 25 percent.

Imagine fewer than 25 percent of eligible voters deciding who is going to head their parties’ tickets come November. In the few primary runoffs in July, the turnout likely will be single digits.

There’s no more crucial time for eligible voters to cast their ballots than this year.

Just look at the ongoing horror on our nation’s borders with Mexico. President Trump signed an executive order this week to prevent immigrant families from being split apart, but there’s debate over whether that means a whole lot. Trump only signed the order after tear-inducing descriptions and photos showed the terrible conditions that immigrant children were being housed in. So-called “tender age shelters,” little more than internment camps or prisons for toddlers and babies, was the last straw. Even tough-man Donald Trump couldn’t stand the backlash, so after saying he didn’t have the authority to keep families from being separated, he then signed an executive order ending his own policy of separating families.

Trump folded completely, but he folded on a terrible crisis of his own making.

Trump’s disgusting immigration decisions aren’t his only horrible policies. The assault on health insurance coverage, trade wars with our closest allies, destruction of the Environmental Protection Agency – the list goes on and on.

And on.

The bigger picture, though, is that voters allowed this to happen. More precisely, eligible voters who didn’t bother to register or vote allowed this to happen.

That’s why the cliché is true: There’s never been a more important election than this November’s midterms.

We’re not voting on a president, true, but we are selecting U.S. House members. Sure, Alabama polls overwhelmingly in support of Trump, but that’s not unusual in a state where voters so often go against their own interests.

Let’s not do that this time.

There are many more Democrats than usual running for office in Alabama this year. Get to know them. Learn what they stand for.

There are good Republicans, too, especially in local races.

On the statewide level, not so much, though, especially when compared to their Democratic Party opponents.

At the top, Tuscaloosa Mayor and Democrat Walt Maddox is eminently more qualified than Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who supported a child molester for the U.S. Senate simply because he was a Republican, and who has refused to debate her opponents.

Go down the list. Remember that the party in charge in Alabama (and in Congress) is a party that wants to keep voter turnout as low as possible. It’s the only way they stay in control.

But to vote, you must be registered. And if you’re registered, you must travel to a polling place to cast your ballot.

Never, ever vote straight ticket. Vote a smart ticket.

Especially this year.

Because there’s never been a more important election.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | We’re perfecting the “art” of being mean

Joey Kennedy

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My mother, Patricia Ann Harper Kennedy, has been dead more than 21 years now. She died young, in 1997. She had cancer. She did not have health insurance.

Mom couldn’t get health insurance because she had a “pre-existing,” non-malignant tumor a decade before her fatal cancer. She wanted insurance. She could have paid for insurance. But she couldn’t get it. The insurance industry wouldn’t let her have it.

Despite the promises of the Affordable Care Act, we’re moving right back to that horror again today.

Under the ACA, or Obamacare, as Obama-haters like to call it, people couldn’t be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Nor was there a limit on how much an insurance company was obligated to pay for a health issue. Our kids can remain on our own insurance until they’re 26.

We’re the only First-World nation in the world that doesn’t view health care as a right. We don’t mind if sick people shoot up schools, clubs, churches, or concerts with their Second Amendment rights, but we won’t promote the general welfare by making sure sick people can see a doctor in a timely manner.

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The Donald Trump administration’s Justice Department, under the leadership now of our former and long-terrible U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is doing all it can to destroy the ACA. And, like so many progressive, successful, and humane programs started during Barack Obama’s eight years in office, Trump and Sessions are doing a great job tearing those programs down.

America – and Alabama, too – are becoming more mean every day. Sessions is mean, and that is reflected in his Justice Department’s policies.

So the Justice Department will no longer defend certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The decisions Sessions and his mean colleagues are making will lead to even higher health insurance premiums. Even more mommas dying without insurance.

But the meanness isn’t simply reflected in damage to the ACA.

Sessions no longer will allow citizens of countries that basically condone gender abuse to get asylum in the United States. Go ahead and beat those women to death; that’s not our problem.

Home of the brave.

Compassion? Trump and Sessions likely can’t even spell the word, much less define it. It is not “covfefe.”

A “true” state’s righter, Sessions demands that the federal government enforce laws against recreational marijuana use in the states that have already approved it. Hypocrisy is a Republican value.

Temporary refugees from so-called (by this administration) “sh—hole” countries are finding they’re losing their protection. Go home. Leave us alone. Be murdered.

A woman’s right to manage her own body is under unprecedented assault. By men.

The LGBTQ community, which only recently won the right of marriage, finds itself the target of “legal” discrimination under this administration. Our transgender and gay members of the military are now at risk.

Children and parents trying to get asylum in the “land of the free” are being brutally separated. Many hundreds of those children are now, literally, “lost.”

We’re friends with North Korea’s brutal dictator, but are confrontational with the leaders of our strongest allies, including Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, France, and Germany.

We’ve got a mean streak that was suppressed by better angels in previous administrations, but has now been unleashed by Trump and his hate-filled minions, including Sessions.

Sadly, in our state, many politicians (all Republicans) tout this hateful Trumpism as a reason to vote for them in their TV commercials. Too many hateful voters feel enabled by that. So we get people like child molester Roy Moore running for the U.S. Senate, and supported by Alabama’s first woman governor since Lurleen Wallace.

We let our worse demons loose to kill our better angels.

We’re killing angels.

We want to make Medicaid practically impossible for our poorest to get. And we’re a very poor state. We want to deny food aid to children. We want to privatize public education and prisons, so private corporations can make more money.

We celebrate being mean. We monetize being mean.

Angels are dying.

My mother was too young two decades ago when she died of cancer. She was helped along to her early death by the highly profitable health insurance industry. The one we are bringing back.

Today, I don’t have health insurance. I cannot afford it. I haven’t been to a doctor in 18 months. My hope depends on living until I’m 65 and can get Medicare, which I’ve paid into my entire professional career. That is, If Medicare as we know it still exists in 2021. These Trump Republicans want to get rid of that, too.

I am 62 years old. Next year, I’ll be my mother’s age when she died. So little has changed.

Well, except we’re even more mean.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | The devastating loss of Judge Sandra Storm

Joey Kennedy

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This is a big political week, and normally I’d comment about that. But there’s plenty of commentary on the Democratic and Republican Party primaries.

I’d like to write about a loss for Alabama that not many people are writing about because of all the election noise.

On Monday, retired Jefferson County Family Court presiding Judge Sandra Ross Storm died. She suffered a massive stroke on Sunday while traveling to Chicago with a friend. She died Monday after her family decided to take her off life support. She was 72.

There was no chance of a recovery for Judge Storm. She would not have wanted her family to do anything but what they did. That’s what I’d want, too.

This is a hard loss for her family, the nation, Alabama, Jefferson County, and for me personally. I’ve known Judge Storm practically her entire career and my Birmingham journalism career. I covered Family Court for decades as an opinion writer. I watched the important changes Judge Storm made at Jefferson County Family Court, including the introduction of a well-respected gun court and drug court. Dozens of programs have Judge Storm to thank for their existence.

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My wife, Veronica, and I were longtime, volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates, representing abused and neglected children at Family Court. I’ve had a few cases before Judge Storm, and she always handled them as good judges do. She also freely offered advice when we asked for it.

During the 1990s, The Birmingham News did an editorial page series on juvenile justice in Alabama, and Judge Storm was a key source for that series. She gave the editorial writers at The News practically unfettered access to Family Court and the cases there.

Judge Storm was also a key member of the group that helped pass Children First in Alabama.

But Judge Storm didn’t quit after she retired in 2005. She stayed involved in judging, child advocacy, and advocacy for women, especially abused women.

Judge Storm never quit, not until this very sad week.

I knew Judge Storm in her other roles as well, as a leader at First Presbyterian Church, as an animal advocate. Most important, I knew her as a friend.

Judge Storm worked closely with Birmingham’s Hand-in-Paw Animal Assisted Therapy organization. She was a nationally renowned judge, yes, but she never shied from doing the heavy lifting in her volunteer or professional work.

In 2015, one of our pugs, Veronica Pearl, a tiny, crippled girl who had to use a cart to get around, painted for Hand-in-Paw’s Picasso Pets event. The animals’ paws are dipped in paint and they run around on a canvas. Skilled artists finish these paintings. The paintings are then auctioned off to help raise money for Hand-in-Paw’s important work.

Pearl painted in her wheelchair, and acclaimed artist Traci Noles Ross finished her painting, naming it “Pearl’s Roses.” It’s beautiful, and meaningful.

But on the day Pearl painted at Hand-in-Paw, Judge Storm was there, too, waiting to wash the paint from Pearl’s paws and cart after she painted.

Pearl died the week before her painting was to be auctioned at the annual Picasso Pets event. A group of people – we never learned who participated – purchased Pearl’s (and Traci’s) artwork and presented it to my wife and me. It was an emotional moment.

I’m not sure, of course, but I’ll bet Judge Storm was part of that group that made sure we had this lasting memory of our Pearl to hang on our wall.

The honors Judge Storm earned over her life are many, and well-earned.

The legacy she leaves is deep and lasting.

Still, Judge Storm left us all too soon. She was a good and faithful servant.

She will be mourned. She will be missed. But she cannot be replaced.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

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