It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.
Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear. They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:
No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.
Then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, a book on government – all you need for a night behind bars – John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.
President Bush and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Members of Congress, Mayor Evans, Reverend Strong, friends and fellow Americans:
There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.
Selma is such a place.
In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – met on this bridge.
It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America.
And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.
As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.
We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.
They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came – black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.
In time, their chorus would reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, echoing their call for the nation and the world to hear:
“We shall overcome.”
What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God – but also faith in America.
The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.
What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.
As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism was challenged.
And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?
What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course?
What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?
That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:
“We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all our citizens in this work. That’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.
The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.
It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.
That’s what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.
They saw that idea made real in Selma, Alabama. They saw it made real in America.
Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political, economic, and social barriers came down, and the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office.
Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.
What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.
What a solemn debt we owe.
Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?
First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done – the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.
Selma teaches us, too, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.
Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. I understand the question, for the report’s narrative was woefully familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.
We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress – our progress – would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character – requires admitting as much.
“We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”
This is work for all Americans, and not just some. Not just whites. Not just blacks. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.
With such effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on – the idea that police officers are members of the communities they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland just want the same thing young people here marched for – the protection of the law. Together, we can address unfair sentencing, and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and workers, and neighbors.
With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity, and if we really mean it, if we’re willing to sacrifice for it, then we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts their sights and gives them skills. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.
And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge – and that is the right to vote. Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, stands weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor.
How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.
Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or the President alone. If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we’d still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life. What is our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?
Fellow marchers, so much has changed in fifty years. We’ve endured war, and fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship, that willingness of a 26 year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five, to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.
That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.
For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.
We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea – pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit.
We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That’s our character.
We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free – Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life. That’s how we came to be.
We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.
We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied. We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.
We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.
We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.
We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.
We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”
We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”
That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march.
And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day. You are America. Unconstrained by habits and convention. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.
Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.
Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.
Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished. But we are getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding, our union is not yet perfect. But we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.”
We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.
May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.
Breaking down the six amendments on Alabama’s November ballot
What do the six proposed amendments on Alabama’s November ballot do? We answer your questions here.
Alabama voters in the Nov. 3 election will have to decide on whether to add six constitutional amendments to what is already believed to be the longest constitution in the world.
If approved, three of the amendments won’t actually make substantive changes to state law, however.
To be added to the constitution, the amendments must receive support from a majority of voters.
Amendment 1 — sponsored by State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston — would “grant the right to vote to ‘only’ those U.S. citizens who meet the requirements.”
If approved, the change in the state’s constitution would be to replace wording that the constitution grants the right to vote for “every” U.S. citizen who meets the requirements, to it grants the right to vote for “only” those U.S. citizens who meet the requirements.
The amendment makes no changes to state voting requirements, and it’s already a federal requirement to be a U.S. citizen to vote. Marsh told WBRC that the amendment “sends a message to Washington.” Opponents to Amendment 1 say it could make it easier for the GOP-controlled Legislature to restrict voting rights.
Amendment 2 processes numerous changes to the state’s judicial system, including a change that would allow Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the Chief Justice, to appoint the Administrative Director of Courts.
The amendment would also increase the Judicial Inquiry Commission from nine members to 11 and would allow Governor, rather than the Lieutenant Governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary.
If approved, it would also prevent automatic disqualification from holding public offices for a judge solely because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission. Additionally, it would provide that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.
Amendment 3 would extend the time appointed district and circuit court judges serve. State law now mandates appointed judges serve one year, or until the end of the term of the judge whom they were appointed to replace, whichever is longer.
The amendment would allow the appointed judge to serve two years before running to keep their judgeship in an election.
Amendment 4 would allow “a rearranged version of the state constitution” to be drafted to “remove racist language,” “remove language that is repeated or no longer applies,” “combine language related to economic development” and “combine language that relates to the same county.”
The rearranged version of the state constitution would have to be drafted by the state Legislature in 2022, according to the amendment, and the new draft wouldn’t become law until approved by a majority of voters.
Amendments 5 and 6
Amendments 5 and 6 relate to Franklin and Lauderdale counties only, and if approved, would add to the state constitution that “a person is not liable for using deadly physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on the premises of a church under certain conditions” in both of those counties.
Alabama already has a “stand your ground” that applies to the use of deadly force in churches, however.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a Jan. 2 statement, following the West Freeway Church of Christ shooting in White Settlement, Texas, wrote that Alabama law “does not impose a duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present.”
Opinion | Gov. Kay Ivey didn’t cave
Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order.
Gov. Kay Ivey extended the statewide mandatory mask ordinance on Wednesday despite pressure from her party’s right-wing. Nationally and here in Alabama, many Republicans have complained that any restrictions on their behavior during the COVID-19 outbreak is a violation of their individual liberty.
Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order. For most of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the state, Ivey has followed health experts’ advice rather than politicos. Standing up to the Republican Party’s right-wing is not an easy task even in the best of times, but these days, with the party more radicalized than ever, Ivey is taking a huge political risk.
But like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, she hasn’t bowed, she hasn’t bent, and she hasn’t burned.
These are divisive times when even the best of people seem to be at war over the nation’s direction.
“Give me liberty or give me death” may have been a great rallying cry in 1776; it’s less persuasive as a public health policy.
Lately, some Alabama conservatives sound more like the John Birch Society members than the Republican Party of just a few years ago.
“In the name of fighting the coronavirus, more and more state governors are ruling by decree, curtailing freedoms and ordering residents to stay at home,” says the Birch website.
The Republican Party in the 1960s deemed Birchers dangerous and severed ties with the group. But like 60s racism, Red-baiting and a fear that socialist are lurking behind every corner, all that’s old is new again.
Not surprisingly, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is one of the leading voices in the fight to discredit the Ivey administration’s COVID orders.
Senate President Pro Tem Republican Del Marsh is part of the anti-masker movement and has suggested he’d like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus.
Marsh is certainly not alone; there is a motivated mop of miscreants who sees any restriction as an affront to them doing anything they please. Perhaps they can refuse to wear a seatbelt or maybe light up a cigar the next time they are dinning at the county club and show some real radical resistance.
The truth is many of those who condemn masks as an intrusion on personal freedom would happily compel their fellow citizens to pray at school and stand for the national anthem. They are more than willing to regulate liberties when it contradicts their opinion of what is good and wholesome. But heaven forbid they wear a mask to protect others—that is one regulation too far.
Like a pubescent boy, they live in a fantasy world; without consequences.
Anti-maskers are given to a form of herd mentality, which is part of a broader movement to discredit science for political purposes.
Perhaps the most critical job of a governor or lawmaker is the heath and safety of the public.
Masks protect others more than the wearer, and where the “Golden rule” should apply, it is trampled on just like Jesus’ admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But I suspect that many of those who continuously espouse conspiracies, apocalyptic nightmares, and end time prophecies actually don’t like themselves very much and therefore don’t really care about the shared responsibilities we have toward others.
Writing for Business Insider, George Pearkes explains the four different types of liberty, according to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed to explain mandatory mask orders.
“Efforts to require masks are a straightforward expression of ordered liberty,” writes Pearkes. “The concept of ordered liberty argues that without structure and a set of rules which are enforced for the common good, society would devolve into chaos.” He further concludes that “Mask orders are quite literally saving society from itself, so that we can be more free than we would if COVID spread even further and faster.”
Ordered liberty can be seen at the heart of Ivey’s policies during the coronavirus plague.
But for anti-maskers, “Live Free or Die” means they are free to do what they want, even if it kills you.
Ivey is putting people ahead of politics. We should wish more would follow her example.
Black Voters Matter isn’t giving up on Black voters in Alabama
“When you don’t vote, you give away your power,” said Arnee Odoms, Alabama state coordinator for Black Voters Matter.
The Black Voters Matter Fund isn’t giving up on Black voters having their say in the November election in Alabama. In fact, the group is working to ensure that Black voters can and do turn out to vote in greater numbers than ever before in the 2020 general election.
“When you don’t vote, you give away your power,” said Arnee Odoms, Alabama state coordinator for Black Voters Matter. “And your vote is a sense of agency. You’re giving someone agency over your everyday life.”
This month, the group launched radio advertisements and voter outreach caravans to engage Black voters and drive voter turnout. The ads will air across multiple states through Nov. 2, the group says, and will encourage Black voters to “reclaim your power, use your voice, and vote … because we matter.”
The outreach effort is taking place across a dozen states, including Alabama, and the group is leading a van caravan that will stop in Alabama and a number of other Southern states as part of the organization’s ”We Got The Power” campaign. It will come through several cities in the Black Belt, leading an in-person absentee voting parade to increase registration and voter turnout.
Half of voters already believe it will be difficult to vote in this year’s election, and voter I.D. laws, strategic closing of polling locations in predominantly Black communities, disenfranchisement of those with felony convictions among other voting restrictions in a post-Shelby Co. v. Holder election landscape add little confidence.
Alabama — described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a microcosm of the multi-pronged assault on the right to vote in this country” — was recently sued by civil liberties groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU over a “de facto ban” of curbside voting and photo ID and witness requirements for absentee ballots, requirements that disproportionately affect older voters, voters with disabilities and Black voters.
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, ordering Alabama to make changes to its strict voter requirements ahead of the election because of COVID-19 concerns.
One of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit is Black Voters Matter, a nonprofit created by two Alabama natives, political strategist Cliff Albright and community organizer LaTosha Brown. The fund’s most significant work deals directly with voter disfranchisement in predominately Black communities in Alabama’s Black Belt.
“Black Voters Matter was created to fund grassroots organizations, mostly Black, who would not normally receive funding to address issues of voting and other things in their own community,” Odoms said. “We do a lot of work around just organizing everyone and anything: COVID-19 responses, disaster relief in Mobile. It’s really a multi-faceted fund.”
Black Voters Matter operates in 10 states throughout the country, including Alabama and neighboring Georgia and Florida. Hundreds of thousands of grant dollars go to smaller local non-profits and grassroots organizations in Black communities in Alabama, primarily in the Black Belt, that lack the funding to continue their work.
“They are not equipped with the resources to complete the strenuous process of a grant,” Odom said. “We try and make the process as simple as possible for them, so we can get the funds out to them, and they can do work in their community.”
A city that Black Voters Matter impacted during the last election cycle is Tuskegee, where Black Voters Matter has been present on the ground for two election cycles.
“[During] the last election cycle they were very helpful in terms of getting financial resources to us,“ said Norma Jackson, councilwoman-elect in Tuskegee’s 1st district and a spokeswoman for the fund. “So that we could put young people on the ground to do door-to-door canvassing and voter registration.”
Black Voters Matter continues to help turnout efforts in Tuskegee, providing funds that directly aid canvassing, phone banking and voter registration in the Black community even amid COVID-19.“ We realize it is COVID-19 season, [and we] can’t do things in the traditional way that we’ve done them, but they will be knocking on doors with their masks and gloves and finding out who needs to get registered,” Jackson said.
Jackson also pointed to the social media visibility of Black Voters Matter, which has helped connect younger voters in the community.
“The [Black Voters Matter] T-shirts and armbands — those kinds of visibility have been impactful especially with younger voters,” Jackson said. “Having the volunteers wear those shirts when they go out into the community to canvass has been helpful.”
Although much of its work revolves around funding organizations that mobilize voters, Black Voters Matter emphatically denies solely being an electoral organization.
“We are first and foremost a power building organization,” reads a statement from their website. “And while we firmly believe that voting and electoral organizing is one way to build power, it is by no means the only way.”
One of the multiple organizations that Black Voters Matter financially partners with is The Ordinary People Society, whose work ranges from incarcerated voter registration to operating a soup kitchen and halfway home in Dothan.
“In the South particularly, the funding apparatus is very difficult because a lot of philanthropists don’t like to fund the South,” said Rodreshia Russaw, executive director of The Ordinary People Society. “We have funding gaps —anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 that [we] need to mobilize the community.”
Black Voters Matter grants help TOPS employ poll watchers, afford gas and support for transportation to the polls. Along with being a first round winner of the $500,000 SPLC “Vote Your Voice” grant, Black Voters Matter works in conjunction with other partners like the ACLU to support election protection work across the state.
“Black Voters Matter has been effective in their role of building, elevating, and funding grassroots organizing initiatives to build power in the South, particularly in historically disenfranchised Black communities,” said JaTaune Bosby, executive director of the Alabama ACLU.
“It is their work that allows organizations like the ACLU to make strategic decisions on programmatic work to help advocate for better access for voters and build support for election protection across the state,” Bosby said.
State is prepared for heavy increase in mail-in absentee ballots, Merrill says
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the state is on track to far exceed its record for highest number of absentee ballots in an election, but he’s confident that his office is prepared for it.
“There’s no reason to be worried about it because, see, I don’t wait ‘til the last minute to make sure that we’re prepared,” Merrill said.
As of Tuesday, there were 101,092 absentee ballots requested. Of those, 35,184 have been successfully returned. The final tally of absentee ballots returned is expected to be between 150,000 and 175,000, Merrill said.
The highest number on record was roughly 89,000 in the 2012 general election, when President Barack Obama was re-elected. The second-highest was about 88,000 in 2016, when President Donald Trump was elected.
Additional election workers have been hired and more are available should they be needed, Merrill said. His office has provided extra ballot tabulators to ensure that the state’s 68 jurisdictions are able to do a full count on Election Day. Merrill said that all ballots in the state’s possession on Nov. 3 will be counted that day.
He didn’t say whether there are indications that slowdowns in the operations of the United States Postal Service might affect voters, but he encouraged anyone planning to vote absentee to request their ballot as soon as possible to avoid last-minute problems.
Voters who plan to cast absentee ballots or who have started that process can check the status of their ballot online.
“Through using our online portal, Alabama voters can check when their absentee ballot was sent out by the county, when their absentee ballot was returned to the county, and whether the ballot was accepted or rejected,” Merrill said.
He stressed that his office is the only authoritative source for accurate and current information about the election. His office has identified issues with mailers from both conservative and liberal groups that include information about voting by mail, Merrill said. In the case of one distributed by the national Democratic Party, he said his office reached out to the Alabama Democratic Party to address erroneous information it had on it.
All voters should be cautious about third-party information, he said, and carefully follow instructions issued by his office. For those voting absentee, it’s especially important that they check the boxes on both the ballot application and the ballot that indicates they are voting by mail because they are “ill or inform” and can’t make it to their polling place. That option is available to anyone who wants to vote absentee due to concerns about COVID-19.