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Opinion | A shameful vote cast by an Alabama congressman

Lisa Davis

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On October 29, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in overwhelming, bipartisan fashion to formally recognize and condemn the Armenian Genocide.  The House resolution was carried by 405 to 11 votes, with three other Representatives voting “present” in apparent protest of the topic.

Alabamians may not care about this resolution or (understandably) even be able to find the modern nation of Armenia on a world map, but they should.  Armenia is part of their heritage and has long been a foreshadowing for tragedies that have faced the entire world and continue to face many today.  For starters, Armenia was arguably the world’s first Christian nation, adopting that faith as a national religion in 301 AD, long before any European nation did so. Even today, Armenia remains a Christian island in a sea of Islam in the Middle East, with approximately 95 percent of its citizens professing Christianity.

Though long suffering for their faith, Armenians endured perhaps their worst historical episode during the period 1915-1923, when Turks slaughtered upwards of 1.5 million Armenians in an effort to ethnically cleanse the Ottoman Empire of a Christian minority within its borders.  For decades, a consensus  of scholars around the world has overwhelming described this tragedy as a genocide, some even referring to it as the “Armenian Holocaust.”  Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to support a view that Adolf Hitler used the example of the Armenian Genocide to calm German reservations over his plans to carry out his wholesale extermination of peoples, noting in a speech before his brutal invasion of Poland the following: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? (a quote that is inscribed today on the walls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.)

A relatively small percentage of Armenians managed to barely escape the genocide of the early 20th century.  My grandparents were among those fortunate few.  Successful merchants in their native Armenia, they lost virtually all of their assets while fleeing their homeland to avoid certain death.  Fleeing first across the deserts of Syria, they finally made their way to the United States and started their lives all over again.  They, their children, and their grandchildren would go on to show their gratitude to their adopted nation by serving as educators, soldiers, sailors, farmers, veterinarians, business people, and a host of other noble professions.  Not one of them would go on public assistance or ever forsake their new home. They remain some of the most patriotic people of faith you will ever meet.

Over the past decades, nations around the world have formally recognized and condemned the Armenian Genocide.  Today, Turkey and its close ally Azerbaijan are the only nations that directly deny the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide.Though I have long been proud to be called an Alabamian, I was especially gratified earlier this year when Governor Kay Ivey signed a proclamation formally recognizing and condemning the Armenia Genocide, making Alabama the 49th state to do so.  (Mississippi remains the lone hold-out.)

The October 29 landslide vote by the U.S. House was yet another welcome recognition of a historical tragedy on a massive scale.  In the current climate of partisan bickering, it was refreshing to see such a bipartisan resolution  come to fruition with such overwhelming results.  It was also refreshing to see that none of the Alabama delegation voted against the resolution . . . with one glaring exception:  Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Anniston, joined the very small minority of Representatives who either voted “no” or “present” on the resolution.  In doing so, Rogers inexplicably joined four Congressmen from his home state of Indiana and—wait for it—the infamous Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.  Omar was quite vocal in her opposition to the resolution, saying it was important first to condemn American mass human rights abuses such as the “mass slaughter [of] hundreds of millions of indigenous peopleand the “transatlantic slave trade (both of which, by the way, have been acknowledged with great contrition by Americans). Omar, in a statement attempting to explain her vote under intense condemnation, also seemed to disgracefully suggest that the mass killings of Armenians by the Turks may not have occurred at all. 

Representative Rogers’ vote on October 29 uncomfortably places him among a very small group of questionable company, including perhaps the most radical member of Congress in Ilhan Omar.  Whatever his strange motivations, there is ultimately only one way to describe his mystifying vote given the context of history:  It is simply shameful.

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Lisa Davis is a retired U.S. Navy officer, former teacher, and recent cancer survivor who lives and works in Montgomery.

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Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

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On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

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Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt

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Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

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In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.

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Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

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Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

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We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.

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Opinion | This Labor Day let’s honor Alabama’s workers

Bren Riley

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In July, the Southwest Alabama Labor Council made the tough decision to cancel what was going to be our 75th annual Labor Day Parade in Mobile in order to ensure the safety of our affiliates, members, and the general public.

Needless to say, I’m crushed. Each year, there’s nothing I look forward to more than gathering with union members far and wide to celebrate Alabama’s union members. After all we have been through in 2020, no one deserves a day of love and celebration more than our workers.

For many of us, Labor Day represents a day off to enjoy our last day of summer. But Labor Labor Day is so much more than just picnics and gearing up to go back to school—it is a day to honor America’s working people. In the face of this unprecedented pandemic, it’s important now more than ever to support Alabama’s workers first.

Unfortunately, Alabama was ranked the worst state in the country to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I first read this, I was heartbroken. Then I got angry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted challenges that have always faced Alabama’s working people. Inequality. Poor working conditions. No mandated sick or family leave. For decades, Alabama’s labor movement has fought tooth and nail for these sorts of protections, only to be pushed back by members in Congress who want nothing more than to destroy unions at the expense of our working people.

In Steve Flowers’ Sept. 3 column, Flowers points out how different things were in Alabama not too long ago. From 1946-66, “Alabama was the most unionized state in the South by far. In fact, every major employer in the State of Alabama was a union shop.”

Ordinarily, I’d feel crushed reading such a statement. But like my anger mentioned earlier, this time around, I’m determined.

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This Labor Day, we have a chance to build back the power of the labor movement in our state by gearing up for what could be the most important elections in Alabama’s modern history.

At the forefront, we have the opportunity to elect Joe Biden as the President of the United States, thereby ending the most virulently anti-labor administration we have seen in the last century.

And here in Alabama, we all-in for the fight to re-elect Senator Doug Jones. Sen. Jones has been nothing but an ally to our working people, especially in pushing his Senate colleagues to take up HEROES Act — a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill currently sitting untouched in Mitch McConnell’s lap.

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In total, the Alabama AFL-CIO has endorsed ten candidates running for office in 2020. By electing politicians who will fight for America’s working class and uplift the labor movement, we can keep making real progress in the fight for a fair economy and a just society.

This Labor Day, whether it’s time to head in after a socially-distanced gathering with loved ones or a Zoom call with friends, take the time to reflect on why we get to celebrate this holiday.  Labor unions bring the freedom to balance life and work — the freedom in knowing that one job is enough, that you can be with a sick child or parent without losing your job, that you can report hazards without being fired. This Labor Day, let’s get fired up for a better Alabama.

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