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Josh Moon

Opinion | John Lewis, the giant

Josh Moon

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U.S. Rep. John Lewis. (LORI SHAULL)

“I thought you would be taller.” Those words, embarrassingly enough, were the first I said to Rep. John Lewis. This was five years ago, inside the Selma Interpretive Center, for an interview as part of coverage of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery march. 

Despite meeting and interviewing — and becoming friends with — many of the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement while living and working in Montgomery, I had never met Lewis. But I knew the man. And I knew the stories. 

The stories of this man who stood up to troopers and deputies on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that day in 1965. The stories of the man who was beaten countless times while participating in the Freedom Riders and at various sit-ins. The stories of the man who went on to become one of the most respected Congressmen serving this country, and a lifelong voice for equality and justice. 

I expected a giant. 

Instead, standing before me was just a regular man. A soft-spoken, gentle man who was both gracious and funny. And nice. 

I have never met a nicer person than John Lewis. And that was something that I simply could not wrap my head around. 

Because just a few months earlier, the United States Supreme Court, in one of its worst decisions ever, had gutted the Voting Rights Act — the bill for which Lewis had fought and been beaten and been imprisoned and nearly died for. All across the South, states were lining up to take advantage of the new rules and march quickly towards disenfranchising black voters. 

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In Alabama, where we sat that day, a new voter ID law had been implemented. It has never saved this state from a single instance of voter fraud. It has cost thousands the right to cast a ballot in Alabama. 

John Lewis knew all of this. Had been fighting for months over it in Congress, listening to brain-dead conservative Republicans spew their hateful rhetoric and barely disguise their racism. He knew that this effort was simply a shined up version of the poll taxes and bullying he and other black citizens faced back in the Jim Crow era. 

And yet, John Lewis had hope. 

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“All you can do is keep fighting, focus on what’s right,” Lewis said that day. “Anger has rarely solved anything.”

When I pressed him on it, and pointed out the changes that were already occurring, Lewis eventually said he was “concerned” that some people might want to “return us to a different time.” But just as quickly, he expressed optimism that good people would find a way to do the right thing, that evil cannot outlast goodness. 

When I expressed some skepticism, he set about trying to convince me, and he told me this story. 

In 1961, as part of the Freedom Riders, Lewis and a white man stepped off a bus together at the Greyhound Bus station in Rock Hill, S.C., and entered the station. As they did so, a group of white men attacked them and beat them unmercifully. Which was easy to do, since Lewis and his companion didn’t fight back. 

A police officer later asked Lewis if he would like to press charges for the assault. Not that it would have done any good, with Jim Crow laws and all-white juries ruling the day, but Lewis declined. 

“We come in peace. We come with love,” Lewis said he told the officer. 

Fast-forward to 2009. Lewis is a long-serving Congressman from Georgia, and there is a visitor to his office — a man named Elwin Wilson. He is a former member of the KKK, and was one of the men who beat Lewis in South Carolina in 1961. And he has come to apologize. 

“Of course I accepted his apology,” Lewis said. “He was crying. I was crying. His son was crying.” 

The moral of the story, Lewis told me, was that you have to believe in goodness and in doing the right things and in being kind to each other. Eventually, even if it takes 48 years, love wins out.  

And that was perhaps the greatest lesson of John Lewis. That it doesn’t matter your physical size or your situation. What matters is your determination and your decency and your love. 

And by those measures, John Lewis was a giant.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | The nothingness of Tommy Tuberville

There is no reason to vote for Tuberville for anything, much less for one of Alabama’s two Senate seats. There never has been, and through two years of campaigning, he’s never given you a reason. Because Tommy Tuberville has never truly said anything at all.

Josh Moon

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U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville. (VIA TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

There is no reason to vote for Tommy Tuberville. This is not partisan rhetoric. This is not even an opinion. It’s a fact. Through more than a year of campaigning and barbecue lunches and meet-and-greets and Sunrise Club breakfasts and ALFA dinners, Tommy Tuberville has never — not one single time — provided you with his solution to anything. 

I know this because I’ve listened to the recordings, read the stories, talked to the people who were there. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. On any issue facing Alabama currently. There’s a reason for that: Because Tommy Tuberville has nothing to say. He has no deeply held beliefs. He has no ironclad positions. He has no previous knowledge or experience that would make him a candidate for this job. 

So, everything that comes out of his mouth is regurgitated garbage that he thinks you want to hear. And if a bunch of you tell him that you don’t like what he said, then he happily and without an ounce of shame starts saying the opposite. 

Because at the end of the day, Tommy Tuberville doesn’t give a damn about you or this state — hell, he just moved here 10 minutes ago. He has no idea what problems are facing Alabama, much less how to solve them, and he hasn’t spent an hour trying to figure them out. 

He just wants this job as a senator — just for the prestige and the power. 

That’s how you wind up with a U.S. Senate candidate whose plan to solve the education woes of a state with one of the worst-rated education outcomes is this steaming pile of nothing: “The best and most viable solutions come from the local level where parents, students, and local administrators can collaborate and work towards success together. And I believe that school choice, charter schools, and improving our existing public schools are all things that need to be a part of the education mix for Alabama children.”

Read that again. The man could write anything he wants on his website with unlimited space and no editing. And his stated education plan is improving public education by “improving public education.” Inspiring! 

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But wait, you haven’t heard his ideas for fixing health care — the single biggest issue weighing on Alabamians, according to several voter polls. Our health care system in this state stinks, and we routinely rank at the bottom in the country for health and wellness. Alabama had more than 300,000 people without health insurance prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have thousands more now. 

Here is Tuberville’s plan for these issues: “Obamacare must go. This failed experiment has led to higher costs, less quality care, and a system that hurts patients and doctors more than it helps. I believe that we need a return to the free-market where companies compete for your business while ensuring that pre-existing conditions are not a deterrent to obtaining quality insurance and care.”

Now, I could write a series of columns on the stupidity contained within these three sentences, but let’s just hit the most obvious. There is NO plan here from Tuberville. There’s no anything. Just buzzwords and the obligatory shot at Obamacare. And the weird promise to take away people’s health care in the middle of a pandemic while offering zero alternatives. 

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Yeah, sure, tens of thousands of people would die, but all of those words were popular with the consultants who wrote them. 

Look, there are real-life consequences for placing unprepared, unqualified people in positions of power and importance. No people should know and understand this better than the people of Alabama. Yet, somehow, we don’t. Somehow, election after election, we get suckered into voting for fools because those fools paid their qualifying money to the most popular political party at the time. 

Which is exactly the way we have, as a finalist for U.S. Senate from Alabama, a man who has admitted on air that he “wouldn’t have a clue” how to address the current pandemic, called the stimulus bill that likely saved America from a deep depression “just absolutely criminal” and recently told people that $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits was just “too much.” 

And he said all of those dumb things because he thought that’s what you wanted to hear. Heck, he even said them with an aw-shucks, gal-darnit routine and complained about them rascals up yonder in Wash-uh-tun. 

Because after all, he’s just like “y’all” — if “y’all” own a house, a lake house, a beach house, several cars and a few boats. 

There is no reason to vote for Tuberville for anything, much less for one of Alabama’s two Senate seats. There never has been, and through two years of campaigning, he’s never given you a reason. Because Tommy Tuberville has never truly said anything at all.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Humane Alabama prisons would be a real surprise

Just some Christlike compassion and decent management. Getting either in Alabama’s prisons would be a huge surprise.

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Nearly every day, there is a notification on my phone announcing that APR reporter Eddie Burkhalter has submitted yet another story on some new horror that has occurred within Alabama’s God-awful prison system. 

A beating. A death. A suicide. Guards arrested. Guards accused of essentially murder. The Alabama Department of Corrections offering a lame-ass excuse for this death or that “suicide” or this drug overdose or that outright murder. 

Every single day. 

How he deals with it — listening to the pain and anguish of the prisoners and their family members — is simply unimaginable to me. 

But because of his stories, and the work done by the ACLU’s Beth Shelburne, I know — and the readers of APR know — all too well of the violence and all around horrors that exist daily within Alabama’s prison system. 

So, it was quite absurd to hear a few days ago that both the Alabama Department of Corrections and Attorney General Steve Marshall were “surprised” by a Department of Justice report that found the state’s prisons to be an absolute horror show, where beatings, suicides, murders and drug use are rampant. 

The only people in those positions who would be “surprised” by such a report are idiots and liars. Marshall and Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn can decide where they fall. 

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The report from the Donald Trump DOJ, which is led by Bill Barr, was produced following a near-four year investigation into the prison system in the state, and it came on the heels of other federal reports that found similar issues. 

The state is currently tied up in federal litigation over ADOC’s lack of health care and mental health care for prisoners. Testimony in that trial, highlighted by media, has brought damning details of the state’s prisons and the cruel and unusual punishment doled out within their walls. 

At this point, the only people who don’t know that Alabama’s prisons are dark holes where violence, death and disease run rampant are those who don’t want to know. 

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You would think that such despicable stories of death and misery, in a state where Christian values reign and we profess a deep and unbreakable respect for the sanctity of life, would prompt public outrage. You would think our prisons would be governed by the Christian ideals of forgiveness and salvation. 

You would be wrong. 

Now, we could get into the many reasons — or, really, the one reason — why that is, but let’s not get bogged down in race or in why Christian repentance seems far less available the darker your skin. 

Just know the prisons are awful and that their awfulness has never been a secret to anyone with a working brain and the ability to read. 

That didn’t stop Marshall from grandstanding, however. 

In a ridiculous press release, he declared that the state would not “be bullied” by the federal government into entering into a consent decree. 

(I’d like to take a moment here to give proper respect to the federal bullying of Alabama over the years. Without it, we’d still have slavery, Jim Crow and Roy Moore-approved same-sex marriage laws.)

Marshall also, for some weird reason, tied the release of the report to the 2020 election, saying the state won’t be pressured into an agreement “conspicuously, 53 days before a presidential election.”

Yes, how dare the feds force us to treat humans like humans just 53 days before … other humans … go vote? 

Hard to believe these guys aren’t getting the job done, isn’t it?

And they’re not. It doesn’t matter what happens — bad press, lawsuits, DOJ reports, threats from federal agencies — Alabama officials are NOT going to clean up our prisons. They’re not going to reduce overcrowding or provide proper care or hire and properly train enough corrections officers. 

Not unless Alabama citizens hold them accountable. 

And you should. Because the environment of any prison or detention center is set by the people who run it, not the inmates within it. 

Instead of cesspools of violence and death, the prisons could be models of reform and humanity — where men and women are rehabilitated and provided life skills that reduce recidivism rates. 

Isn’t it weird how such goals are not part of a $2 billion plan to build new prisons? 

Over the weekend, a group of activists rallied in front of the governor’s mansion in Montgomery to protest that new prison plan. The Alabamians Who Care group wants massive reforms and a plan for better prisons that treat people more humanely. 

That’s not impossible. Other countries and other states have done it. And it didn’t cost them $2 billion and federal intervention. 

Just some Christlike compassion and decent management. 

Getting either in Alabama’s prisons would be a huge surprise.

 

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Opinion | Parents are being asked to gamble their family’s safety over reopening schools. Don’t.

The only reason we’re in this boat is because weak politicians, bowing to the ignorance of selfish people over the expertise and knowledge of doctors and scientists, refused to take hard, necessary steps for the proper lengths of time.

Josh Moon

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Alabama parents, do what you think is best. Do not apologize for it. Over the last several weeks, there has been an ongoing pressure campaign around the country, and particularly in Alabama, to get kids back into school buildings. The president has pushed it. Republicans in Congress have pushed it. Even local politicians are pushing it. 

On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told parents that missing school would potentially put Alabama school kids further behind. She encouraged them to get their kids back in school as soon as possible, because “it’s really important.” 

Um, yeah. Do you think there are parents out there who don’t know that? 

Furthermore, do people think there are parents who are gleeful about keeping their kids home from school? Who are keeping them out simply to be arbitrarily defiant? Who are being flippant about this decision in any way? 

If you do, allow me to set you straight: We’re not. 

Keeping children out of school, or even out of daycare in my case, is an incredibly hard decision and an even harder life adjustment. Because it disrupts EVERYTHING. 

My wife and I are extremely fortunate to work for companies that are understanding and willing to work around our childcare situations. And even so, it has been a major adjustment. 

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We try to alternate and coordinate the best we can. We’ve hired people to help at times. And we’ve made the call to grandparents for assistance. 

And still, there are days when we cannot get things done, when we’re both frazzled and frustrated. 

We’re not doing any of that because it’s fun. Or because we’re giving Trump the middle finger. 

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We’re doing it because there is no good, safe — or even just saf-ER — option. 

And I’m not necessarily talking about the danger for only our daughter, because she’s healthy and strong and would likely be just fine even if she happened to contract COVID-19.

But when could I safely let our child see her grandparents again? Her aunts and uncles and extended family members? What about the family members and friends who have underlying conditions? 

And then there are larger questions. Like, are we helping to extend a pandemic by participating in what will inevitably lead to more virus spread? 

Because that’s going to happen. There’s no way around it. If you put millions of children and adults in enclosed buildings all over the country, you’re going to spread this virus. Just like those schools spread the flu, colds and everything else. 

Kids are going to take that virus home, just like they take home all those Fall colds and flu. And they’re going to infect others. 

And the spread will come at the height of flu season, and at a time when ICU beds are already full. 

That seems like a recipe for death and disaster. 

And it shouldn’t be on parents. This decision shouldn’t be laid at our feet. In fact, there shouldn’t even be a decision for us to make. 

The only reason we’re in this boat is because weak politicians, bowing to the ignorance of selfish people over the expertise and knowledge of doctors and scientists, refused to take hard, necessary steps for the proper lengths of time, and then compounded the problems by refusing to offer the necessary financial support to overcome those mistakes. 

We could have implemented mask orders earlier, kept bars and nightclubs closed, restricted large gatherings more stringently and been serious about fines for dangerous behaviors — all the things that have worked so well in other countries. 

At the same time, instead of forking over billions to companies that don’t need the money, we could have instead paid for a system that protected working parents’ jobs and their salaries. 

But we didn’t. It was more important to “reopen” the economy for the big Memorial Day boom and to make sure the corporate pals got fatter. 

And so now, here they are, asking parents to place the safety and health of their children, and, really, their entire families, on the line because they need to pretend that there’s some normalcy out there. 

Don’t listen to them. 

Get good, reliable facts from good, reliable sources. Do your research. Talk to your kids’ teachers and principals and superintendent. Weigh the options and the risks for yourself. And then you do what’s right for your family. 

And don’t apologize for it.

 

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Opinion | Why should Will Dismukes resign?

Will Dismukes and his love for all things confederacy aren’t an outlier in the Alabama Republican Party. The party has sought those voters. It has encouraged those views. It has backed legislation supporting those insane beliefs.

Josh Moon

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Rep. Will Dismukes is facing criticism for attending and speaking at a birthday celebration for the first Ku Klux Klan grand wizard. (WSFA)

There is no reason for state Rep. Will Dismukes to resign. Not as far as the Alabama Republican Party is concerned. 

Oh, sure, a few members of ALGOP have made splashy headlines over the last two days, as they’ve called for Dismukes to resign or generally berated the young Republican for his decision to post about attending the birthday party for the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. 

But really, what right do Alabama Republicans have to call for Dismukes to resign? 

This is the sort of behavior, the sort of people — the hate and ignorance and callousness and racism — that ALGOP has been embracing for years. The party has pandered to it, encouraged it, raised money off of it and never — not even a little bit — felt bad about it until the day it might cost them votes. 

I mean, stop it with the “this is not my party” nonsense. 

What are you talking about this isn’t your party? Have you been living under a rock? 

Let us review, please. 

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You are the party that a few years ago passed the most racist immigration law in America, correct? 

You are the party that repeatedly pushed for and eventually passed a law to protect confederate monuments, correct? (It’s also worth noting that the original version of this law would have allowed for removal of Civil Rights Movement monuments.)

You are the party that had a member — a member who is still serving — pass around an email during a legislative session about training monkeys, a thinly-veiled, racist reference to black Democrats, right? 

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You are the party that pushed for a new voter ID law that solved zero issues with fraud and placed another roadblock between Black voters and the polls, right? 

You are the party that broke the law to pass the AAA act, which rerouted public schools’ dollars from Alabama’s poorest and Blackest schools to private schools, helping to aid white flight, right? 

You are the party that earlier this year passed a resolution calling for forcing out Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar because you believed Facebook memes, right? 

You are the party that for years has resisted criminal justice reform, to the detriment of thousands of Black Alabamians and their families, right? 

You are the party that routinely — with a wink and a nod — paints a picture of Black families on public assistance as moochers and deadbeats, slicing the benefits to the bone and requiring worthless drug tests, right? 

You are the party that has remained silent as Black Alabamians rallied for better representation, more equal justice and the removal of Civil War participation trophies, correct? 

You are the party that has repeatedly coddled the believers of the “lost cause” theories of the Civil War, told them their opinions were just as valid and went to bat for them on legislation, correct? 

You are the party that continues to protect the funding of the Confederate Memorial Park — Alabama’s most well funded park, right? 

This is who the ALGOP is. Stop pretending otherwise because Dismukes didn’t know better than to do the quiet parts in public view. 

Had this happened prior to the current reckoning taking place in America, not a peep would have been said. How do I know this? Because it’s not like Dismukes has been hiding his racism this whole time and then slipped up. 

The guy is active on social media, routinely referring to the Civil War as the “war of northern aggression.” He has attacked Black Lives Matter, said nasty things about those wanting to remove confederate statues and went on a media campaign to save the funding for Confederate Memorial Park. 

Not a single elected Alabama Republican ever uttered a word. 

Just like no one in the ALGOP ever speaks up when Mo Brooks goes on one of his weekly racist rants. Or the Trump administration does something blatantly racist. Or one of the state party members posts a racist meme on social media.

Never a peep.

These things matter. And they don’t just matter in the absolute worst cases, when voters might turn away and public sentiment is decidedly against you. 

They matter every single day to minorities in this state and around the country. Not for some petty political reason, but because these issues are a matter of fairness and decency for other human beings. 

So, sorry, but as it stands, Will Dismukes and his love for all things confederacy aren’t an outlier in the Alabama Republican Party. The party has sought those voters. It has encouraged those views. It has backed legislation supporting those insane beliefs.

You don’t get to run away from years of that deplorable behavior with a few press releases and tweets.

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