Current political commentary leads us to believe that the voters in Alabama will overwhelmingly support Roy Moore in the special Senate election on Tuesday. Every day the people of Alabama are pathologized on social media, and national media outlets descend on the state with cameras, treating Alabama voters like a case study for dysfunction.
But the national narrative does not capture the whole story. When national outlets question why Alabama’s electorate looks the way it does, we need to demand context. The 18% turnout in this year’s Senate primary is not without history. From the end of the Reconstruction Era right up until yesterday, the forces of white supremacy, corporate interests, and the wealthy have conspired to prevent black, brown, and poor people from voting in Alabama. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and education requirements stopped black people at the door, while grandfather clauses allowed white people who would otherwise be ineligible to vote to march right in. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave us the right to vote in theory, but corrupt government officials determined to preserve an abusive power dynamic in Alabama have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent the marginalized from exercising that right ever since.
From the end of the Reconstruction Era right up until yesterday, the forces of white supremacy, corporate interests, and the wealthy have conspired to prevent black, brown, and poor people from voting in Alabama.
An unabashed assault on the Voting Rights Act occurred in Shelby County v. Holder, a US Supreme Court decision that removed provisions in the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of disenfranchising voters to submit changes to their voter laws to the federal government to be approved. Former Governor Robert Bentley hailed the decision as the “most significant ruling in [his] lifetime,” and then proudly used the ruling as a defense when the Alabama legislature decided that every voter needed to have a photo ID to be allowed to vote. In the 2014 general election after the Voter ID law went into effect, only 41 percent of eligible voters turned out to the polls, the lowest showing in 28 years for midterm elections. As recently as 2015, the Alabama Law Enforcement agency shuttered 31 driver’s license offices in largely rural and poor areas, preventing residents from getting the IDs they needed to exercise their right to vote. As if by design, every single county where black people made up the majority of the electorate had their driver’s license office closed. Imagine, a state with a violent history of suppressing the vote repeats that same behavior when the federal government turns a blind eye.
When the government can’t constitutionally sustain a policy to keep us from the polls, they gaslight us and claim we were never disenfranchised in the first place.
Even in moments of progress, the state still seeks to silence the voices of the marginalized. In May of 2017, Governor Kay Ivey signed the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, restoring the right to vote for thousands of people with felony convictions who had previously lost the right to vote. The decision to allow people labeled felons to vote was certainly a legislative victory, but Secretary of State John Merrill has already made it clear that he is “not going to spend state resources dedicating to notifying a small percentage of individuals who at some point in the past may have believed for whatever reason they were disenfranchised.” Thousands of potential voters is no small number, especially not when Fox and Friends believe that felons asserting their right to vote are a weapon guided by “Democratic operatives” to defeat Roy Moore. When the government can’t constitutionally sustain a policy to keep us from the polls, they gaslight us and claim we were never disenfranchised in the first place.
Despite efforts to diminish our voices, there have always been people working to combat voter disenfranchisement in Alabama. We remember the activists like Amelia Boynton who worked tirelessly as early as the 30s to make sure thousands of eligible black people were registered to vote. We remember the marchers singing “We Shall Overcome” from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. We remember the activists who cried out against the discriminatory voter ID laws in 2014. News outlets don’t tell these historic stories, and instead choose to push a narrative that leads the nation to believe that Roy Moore is our candidate. We admire the truth tellers like the folks at Reckon and writers like Josh Moon and Vann Newkirk II. The mainstream media wants us to forget that Alabama has historically been a space of liberation and activism. It is our duty with Foreword South to uplift the people continuing that legacy today by telling their stories and preserving the roots of where the work began.
The mainstream media wants us to forget that Alabama has historically been a space of liberation and activism.
Roy Moore’s Alabama is not ours. Roy Moore’s Alabama is built on heterosexism, transphobia, misogyny, racism, and predation of minors. His Alabama is built on a Christianity absent of Christ, repeated ethical violations, and a defiant refusal to comply with the expectations of the state jobs he has been given.
Our Alabama is people who choose to resist in a state where systems are fractured and resources are few. Our Alabama is working to raise consciousness among people who have been disenfranchised by a government who denies them their civil right to vote time and time again. Our Alabama is the Reverend Kenny Glasgow, leading the charge to ensure that people with felonies have their voting rights restored. Our Alabama is the ACLU, Faith in Action, Organize AL, and Indivisible Alabama, spreading voter information and rallying citizens in the state. Our Alabama is Hometown Action, organizing with rural voters whose unique concerns and needs are often neglected in discussions about thriving communities. Our Alabama is Rollin’ to the Polls, making sure everyone who needs a ride to vote gets one. The Alabama I know is unaffiliated but civic-minded citizens canvassing in the cold, phone banking all hours of the day, and writing postcards across the state to push back on a narrative that insists that you and I deserve someone like Roy Moore.
Despite claims to the contrary, the people of Alabama do not overwhelmingly support Roy Moore.
In 1965, we fought to exercise our right to vote for our best interests and won.
Despite voter suppression, disenfranchisement, and every barrier that the government puts in our way, we continue the fight.
On December 12, 2017, we dare defend our rights.
- A. E.
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