I guess I’m an outside agitator.
Alabama politicians love to throw that phrase around. Seems like anytime somebody disagrees with one of Alabama’s horrible laws or policies or acts, the politicos throw out that line, or something like it.
In defending his law to prohibit removing monuments more than 40 years old, state Sen. Gerald Allen blamed “politically-correct, out-of-state pundits.” Outside agitators, in other words.
But let’s be honest, here. The law, proudly signed by Gov. Kay Ivey and which she currently touts as often as an Alexander Shunnarah commercial on TV, is intended to protect monuments to Confederate “heroes,” but traitors to the United States actually. These are men who proudly and violently defended slavery.
During discussions a few years ago over Alabama’s terrible law aimed at expelling immigrants from the state, politicians and others, including then GOP Chairman Bill Armistead, pulled forms of the worn-out “outside agitator” phrase from their equally worn-out playbooks.
These “outside agitators” have done “terrible” deeds in Alabama: Forcing us to treat our prison population humanely; to properly investigate child abuse and neglect; to respect the separation of church and state; to acknowledge and sanction equality in the LGBTQ community; to allow women to determine what is best for their own bodies; and, of course, to stop Alabama from requiring African-American citizens to use separate bathrooms, lunch counters, hotel rooms, water fountains, and public schools.
These “outside agitators” are horrible, I tell you, just horrible.
Alabama has a mean streak.
Too often, the federal courts have to tell Alabama to do right, even though we know we should be doing right already. The federal courts will get another shot on a recently passed Ten Commandments law. Yes, those federal judges are “outside agitators,” even if the decision starts with federal judges from Alabama.
Our state has some of the best welcome centers of any state. As you enter Alabama from Mississippi or Georgia or Florida or Tennessee, there are welcome stations that give the state a great first impression. They also have monuments that declare: “We Dare Defend Our Rights.”
If only that were so. In Alabama, we dare defend our wrongs. And we do it proudly, insanely so.
No telling how much of this poor state’s tax dollars have gone to defend our wrongs. This money could have been used to improve our marginal public school systems, or our practically non-existent mental health system, or our flawed Medicaid system, or our stretched-thin state police system, or programs to help the poor and homeless.
Instead, we go to court, and we lose.
And again. And again.
And we will again.
All because of those damned “outside agitators.”
In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., addressed the accusation that even he was an “outside agitator.” King, after all, had strong roots in Alabama, yet when he came to Birmingham for the civil rights marches in the spring of 1963, he was called an “outsider.”
King writes: “I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of ‘outsiders coming in’ … I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.”
Yet, our own political leaders and others love to bludgeon Alabama citizens with that “outside agitator” club, like it somehow provides forgiveness for them and our state when we’re acting badly.
Ivy and Allen would proudly defend a commemorative statue to Bull Connor, if there were one.
So, yes, I’m an “outside agitator.” I’ve lived all of my adult life, except for three years, in this great state. I married an Alabama girl, and I’m still married to her. My college degrees come from an Alabama university. And my politics and advocacy are informed by watching this great state take not-so-great actions.
Like King, who was proud to be called an “extremist,” because, as he writes, Jesus Christ himself was an extremist, I’m proud to be an “outside agitator.”
Even from the inside.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].