Special to the Democrat by John Zippert, Co-Publisher
More than 300 community leaders from across Alabama gathered Saturday at the Ralph David Abernathy Auditorium on the campus of Alabama State University in Montgomery to discuss the problems facing people in Alabama, the possible solutions to those problems and ways to mobilize people to respond to the situation.
The Summit, initiated by Senator Hank Sanders and the Alabama New South Coalition, was supported by a diverse group of 20 progressive organizations in the state in response to the efforts of the Governor and the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature to move the state backwards. Dr. Roberta Watts, President of the Alabama New South Coalition, chaired the committee organizing this Summit.
In opening remarks at the Summit, Sanders cited the following as evidence that Alabama was moving in the wrong direction: diminished voting rights, racial attacks, attacks on Hispanic through immigration measures such as HB56, few Black voting registrars appointed, attacks on AEA, ASEA and other worker organizations, limited jobs, attacks on the poor, Tea Party plans ‘to take our country back’, demonizing President Obama, diminished trial by jury and many other steps.
The Summit heard from three panels on the problems, solutions and mobilization of people needed to respond to these attacks. Then all the attendees participated in small groups to discuss these issues and develop recommendations. The results of the small groups were reported back to the general session and plans were made for future steps, meetings and work in communities around the state.
The group agreed to develop a “Truth and Justice Campaign” around the slogan “Stand Up! Vote Strong! and Fight Back!” which will continue to work to mobilize people on the problems facing Alabama and fight-back against regressive legislation and actions.
The group agreed to set up an information clearinghouse to exchange information on upcoming campaigns and events based on a list serve to be compiled from the e-mails of participants and others who are interested. Over time the clearinghouse will be expanded to be a “think-tank” for progressive ideas to solve Alabama’s problems and a website to serve these goals.
The group agreed to meet again in six months, tentatively on April 28, 2012, for another summit to review progress and impact the 2012 political process. The Summit agreed to actively participate in the Selma Jubilee and March Reenactment, the first weekend in March to bring forward many of the demands of the Summit including the repeal of anti- immigrant legislation (HB56), counteracting voter ID and other law to repress voting rights, fair taxes in Alabama, more jobs and a secure safety net for workers, veterans and seniors.
The Three Panels
In the initial panel on the problems facing Alabama, Representative John Knight cited the need for great support of public education in the state, removing the sales tax on groceries, and making the state’s income tax more equitable and fair for all people. Isabel Rubio of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama thanked the Alabama Black Legislative Caucus for standing with the Hispanic community in opposing HB56 as the nation’s worst anti-immigrant law and urged people to stand for the repeal of the law because “ immigrants will not deport themselves”.
Alphonozo Morton, III speaking on behalf of the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement urged the Summit to support young leaders and provide the technology needed to make all of our schools effective and challenging for students.
John Zippert of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and Co-Publisher of the Greene County Democrat spoke to the continuing legacy of poverty and racism in Alabama. “ 17.5% of all families in Alabama with 25.8% of all the children in the state are living in poverty ($22,500 for a family of 4); 45% of the households in the 7th Congressional District, which includes most of the Black Belt counties report food hardship every month; many rural counties in the Alabama Black Belt have been persistently poor for more than five decades,” said Zippert.
Joe Reed, head of the Alabama Democratic Conference said, “the government must be an element for good. The Republican controlled legislature has passed Voter-ID bills, restrictions on political fundraising and attacks on the Alabama Education Association to discourage us from voting and to undermine and dilute the strength of our votes.”
The second panel dealt more with solutions to these pressing problems. Jim Carnes of Alabama Arise pointed out that in the upcoming session the Alabama Legislature must take state steps to implement the Affordable Care Act but is instead fighting “Obamacare” in court despite its growing efforts to serve people who need health care. “The Republican majority in the Legislature is using lies and fear against this law which is needed to cover 80,000 more poor and near poor children,” said Carnes.
Al Henley, President of the State AFL-CIO said unions have a plan to restore jobs including investment in improving infrastructure, stop export of jobs, direct investment in jobs by targeting depressed communities, extend unemployment benefits and reform Wall Street. Allison Neal, a lawyer with the ACLU called for the building a movement around the removal of the anti-immigrant law – HB56.
Faya Rose Toure spoke about the need for direct action and civil disobedience to restore voting rights, fight for immigration reform and save public education. She told stories of efforts to have an African-American appointed to the Dallas County Voter Registration Board, getting rid of Joe Smitherman, as the long time Mayor of Selma and efforts to block ‘tracking’ in the schools. She invited everyone to the Jubilee in Selma in March 2012.
In introducing the third panel on solutions, State Senator Bobby Singleton said, “ we must be mindful that today we can reach 3,000 people in 30 seconds using twitter, Facebook and other social media, where in the past it used to take us 30 days to reach the same number of people with our message.”
Zayne Smith with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice pointed out the need for community education, leadership training, ally building, grassroots organizing, communications, legal support and other skills and services needed to serve the immigrant communities and the campaign to real HB56.
Travis Smith, President of the SGA at Alabama State University said he had a thousand followers on twitter and that was a way to reach young people. He urged the Summit to involve students from every college in Alabama especially the HBCU’s and student organizations on campus like the fraternities and sororities. He said that students were looking for volunteer opportunities and that they often received credit for community involvement activities, which many of the sponsoring organizations of the Summit could provide.
Steve Martin of the Alabama Education Association said, “ we owe alot to the Alabama Legislature. We in the AEA were idlying and relaxing. They have shocked us by their actions and forced us to move into high gear to counteract their bad laws and policies.” He suggested that we needed to talk to people more and encourage them to vote and take other action.
Scott Douglas of the Greater Birmingham Ministries in Birmingham said, “ we must do better and we must do more. to have a successful movement, we must have a vision that is – indigenous, inclusive, instructive and inspired – and then work to make it effective.” He pointed out that we will have three elections in the upcoming year – the March primary, primary run-off, and municipal elections in August – to prepare and allow us to practice for the major Presidential contest in November 2012.
Thoughts by Participants
At the end of the Summit, Senator Bobby Singleton of Greensboro said, “This conference has proven that the people of Alabama are concerned about issues that affect their quality of life. While my Republican colleagues in the Legislature had their ‘handshake with Alabama,’ it is obvious they did not shake hands with the vast majority of people in our state. Today we heard from people of all races, ages, gender and socioeconomic status. They are ordinary working people who see that jobs and justice are declining in Alabama, and they want to reverse that trend.”
Dr. Sophia Bracy Harris of FOCAL (Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama) said, “I am inspired by the broad diversity of people from all backgrounds coming together today out of concern for what they see happening. Their commitment to working together to improve Alabama unites them. Sometimes standing up and speaking out can be uncomfortable, but there comes a time in life when you must.”
Senator Hank Sanders of Selma said, “This Leadership Summit was a powerful moment. So many people came together. So many organizations came together. So much spirit was present. So much determination manifested itself. The people at the Summit wanted to understand what is really happening in Alabama, and they are committed to forging solutions and mobilizing people to truly change things in Alabama. This is the beginning of a movement.”
Groups participating include: AFL-CIO, Alabama ACLU, Alabama Appleseed, Alabama Arise, Alabama Education Association, Legislative Black Caucus, Alabama Democratic Conference, Alabama New South Coalition, Alabama Organizing Project, Bethesda Life Center, Alabama Black Mayors Association, FOCAL (Federal of Child Care Centers of Alabama), Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Ministerial Alliance, Alabama NAACP, Madison County NAACP, Montgomery County Democratic Conference, Occupy Birmingham, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Southern Poverty Law Center, and 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement.
Weather for Eutaw, Ala. Saturday Sunday MondayThunderstorm90/70Partly Cloudy86/70Partly Cloudy91/68
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