For Black Alabamians, Surviving Is Not Up for Debate

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Commentary Politics

For Black Alabamians, Surviving Is Not Up for Debate

William C. Anderson

While many of our choices to vote against potential-senator Roy Moore were not enthusiastic, many of us did so because we have to live here.

I haven’t voted in several years. I’m not a Democrat and that party offers only the illusory semblance of having my community’s best interest in mind. But when I saw that Roy Moore was potentially going to be my senator, I felt obligated to do what I could see my community needed me to do as a Black Alabamian: vote.

Since the election results came in, many liberals have mainstreamed the narrative of Black Alabamians voting to “save” Alabama, but the opposite is true. We had to vote practically in our best interests while the country is wavering under oppressive tyrannical misleadership. For many, electing a Democrat here was simply a necessary action on the long road of struggle.

It wasn’t a question for me of whether I was going to vote against Roy Moore, because I knew his politics well growing up in Alabama. And it’s knowing my adversaries and their intentions well enough that led me to make the decision to participate.

In the months leading up to the election, the media recycled old stories about Roy Moore. His remarks stating that he thinks homosexuality should be illegal, that getting rid of the amendments after the Tenth would “eliminate many problems,” or that the time when we had slavery was “great” became headlines again. The many egregious things Moore has said are things I can never forget. I knew the danger of his rhetoric since I was a child thanks to conversations with my parents.

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When Moore put the Ten Commandments up in his courtroom in 2001, it shocked people throughout the nation. Even those I knew who were religious themselves were vehemently opposed to Moore’s attempt to flaunt a Christian fundamentalist judgeship. More recently, and prior to the plethora of atrocious reasons—including alleged sexual abuse—for which he’s made the news, Moore was suspended from the Alabama Supreme Court in 2016 for instructing Alabama probate judges to defy the federal order on recognizing same-sex marriage. But even then, this was merely par for the course, and for the large conservative base in Alabama, it was an accolade he could use to promote his proud Alabamian brand of conservatism before he ran for Senate.

The empty seat of Jeff Sessions, who is now U.S. attorney general, was of the utmost importance in this special election to Democrats. Sessions, another infamously bigoted Alabama politician, has effectively worked to make the nation the United States of Alabama as far as his policies go. His work dismantling protections for transgender workers and undermining the Civil Rights Act are examples of his desire to mount conservative attacks on people’s very existence.

With Moore in his empty seat, the extreme right-wing political power in the state of Alabama would have been so strong that conditions would be made much more agonizing for the Black working class and low-income families (as well as many white people in similar class positions who would vote for Moore). Moore’s likely attempts to establish Christian fundamentalist policy would largely be met with no objection from politically dominant white conservative Alabamians. That much was unacceptable for those of us Black people who live here under the daily onslaught of white conservatism.

When Doug Jones entered the race, I was not moved by him. His brand of liberalism embodies the very reasons I don’t support or engage in party politics. When Jones became U.S. attorney in Alabama, he brought charges against two Klan members involved in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and it was a central part of his campaign message targeting Black voters in the race against Moore. The deaths of the four girls who were killed in that bombing became a commodity for the Jones campaign to use to appeal to Black Alabamians as a badge of justice and redemption. This brand of white saviorism was accompanied by numerous annoying fliers to get out the Black vote, one of which was so insulting it caused backlash.

Maybe worst of all was the fact that Jones tried to pander to both Black Alabamians and white conservatives at the same time. The pinnacle of this particular insult manifested itself in a pro-confederate campaign ad titled “Honor,” comparatively praising both the Union Army and the Confederacy. This sort of centrist compromise from Jones is a trite standard I associate with liberal politics. During the campaign, when a Vice News reporter once asked him whether Black Alabamians and white Alabamians face different issues, Jones dismissed the simple fact underlying her question as “divisive.” While Black Alabamians face some of the most devastating poverty in the country, it’s disgusting to say the least that Jones wouldn’t acknowledge the differences. His concession to white liberal colorblind racism showed me yet again who he truly is.

Recently, a United Nations official touring the Black Belt remarked he hadn’t seen this sort of poverty “in the First World.” This extreme poverty highlights the dire situation for many vulnerable Black Alabamians and why so many of us may have felt voting, even for someone as uninspiring as Doug Jones, was an action we needed to take.

No one likes being lied to by someone who claims to care for their needs, but sometimes people participate in abusive relationships because they have not yet amassed the resources to remove themselves from that relationship. This is the case for many disillusioned voters who have not felt secure enough to venture outside of the idea of the two-party system.

It’s worth noting some questions that were raised by artist and activist Bree Newsome: Who did Black voters save Alabama from? Who was putting Alabama in harm’s way to make it need saving and why? The answer is white supremacy and its benefactors, and that’s not absent from the Democratic or Republican parties, nor is it something any of us could hope to escape by voting for Doug Jones.

As a leftist, I don’t consider a blanketed dismissal of the very community that I’m a part of good practice. I used to be a liberal voter who had faith in making progress through voting. My own past lets me know that liberals can and need to be organized and encouraged to abandon the idea that this political system works. So while many of our choices to vote against potential-senator Moore were not enthusiastic, many of us did so because we have to live here. Those who don’t live here and offer outside criticism fail to recognize self-determination and the fact that Moore’s defeat represents the will of the community here to have better lives. What’s a shame is that Jones was the only choice people had to even attempt to manifest that desire.

Even though I regularly write about the emptiness of electoral politics, I live according to the principles of survival espoused by many of the great Black activists both known and unknown who have come before me. Some of the most radical and influential movements in this country’s history have come out of Alabama and they have been Black movements, so regional condescension and any assumption that Black Alabamians cannot make informed decisions for ourselves disrespects our history and insults our intelligence.

We are the people we need to have a better future. Alabama’s list of needs is vast: health care, effective sewage systems, the abolishing of cash bail, the removal of high interest predatory loan businesses that target Black communities, sanctuaries for immigrants, and much more. Jones should be held accountable and made to serve the people who elected him though he inspired little to no confidence. However, now that Jones is senator-elect, I expect him to carry out business as usual because the political system under which he operates is the problem that placed us in the predicament of having to vote for him in the first place.

The most progressive agenda we Black Alabamians can hope to mount for the betterment of our lives is one in the Black radical traditions birthed here that influenced the entire world. That tradition which hopes to end the oppression of capitalism and white supremacy will bring us closer to liberation. And while many know this deep down, it’s realizing that we’re the true representatives we need to accomplish this end that will bring about the best lives we can hope for.

As civil rights activist Ella Baker said in a 1969 speech, called “The Black Woman in the Civil Rights Struggle”: “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed …. One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.”