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Pamela H. Long

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Alabama: Stuck in Reverse

Posted: 04/21/2012 12:29 pm

If you visit the State Capitol building in Montgomery, you'll be shown the brass star where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy.

Less than the length of a football field away (this is the truest form of measurement in my state), you can stand on the porch of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church -- the church that Martin Luther King was preaching in during the Civil Rights Era, the same church where the bus boycott was organized in its basement.

The irony of the proximity of those two landmarks is not lost on most of us.

But now I'm wondering if that 100 yards is ever going to be far enough.

This week, the House of Representatives of the state assembly considered -- considered -- dismantling a vicious anti-immigrant law that has divided this state once again. But instead of embracing tolerance and human rights, we once again slinked back into the bog of bigotry.

And I'm bracing now for the onslaught of "How Ignorant Is Alabama" jokes.

I'm used to it. I don't like it. Nobody likes to hear their home town or their home state made a laughingstock. But I'm afraid my home state has once again lived up to our reputation as ignorant, intolerant, racist and xenophobic.

And it pains me deeply.

Throughout all my growing up years, while my father was in the military, I lived outside the South, and defended it as the home of Helen Keller, Harper Lee, G.W. Carver, and later, Condoleeza Rice. Great minds that came from a great home state. "Why is your state so stupid?" they'd ask. "Why do you hate people?" I had no reply -- I just told them about the great people -- sportsmen, thinkers, politicians -- who came from my state that defied the stereotype.

But instead of the wheels of time grinding forward, it looks like the majority of our leaders are stuck in reverse.

The new bill, HB 658, known as the "tweak" bill and advertised as a series of minor adjustments that would make the law more enforceable, was passed in the House of Representative Thursday. The "tweak" is more like a ratchet, cranking up the level of intolerance. We're waiting to see when the state senate will vote on it, or if new amendments will be made.

Despite our politicians' pandering to the basest instincts in certain pockets of the population, there are hundreds of thousands of good citizens in Alabama who have organized, rallied, prayed, telephoned and written in the past 12 months, begging for tolerance and understanding, and the rule of Constitutional Law.

So we do have one very positive outcome from this law -- people of faith and believers in justice are exponentially better organized, informed and connected in April 2012 than they were in April 2011. Faith groups and community action groups have catalyzed a movement that has no name but many leaders. At last, Black, White, Latino, Christian, Jew, Muslim, are all on the same page to defend the human rights of all.

The Bus Boycott did not end segregation in Alabama. Neither did Brown vs. The Board of Education. It took decades before real change was seen. Let's all work, pray, commit to significant change, so that Alabama will no longer be a laughingstock, but a model.

 
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