By Carl Carter
I’m angry. I’m frustrated. And I’m ashamed of myself.
On January 30, 2018, voters in St. Clair County had a chance to provide some desperately needed funding for the area’s schools. But the referendum was rejected, 61-39%, in a vote that brought out less than 15% of the registered voters. Only Leeds voted for the kids, passing 3 mills there.
Just a few weeks ago, the county turned out enough Doug Jones votes to have passed the school tax comfortably. But apparently, we care more about maneuverings in D.C. than about the kids with ragged school books right under our own noses.
I’ve been writing for months about the need for Democrats in Alabama to pay attention to state and local races, and to get involved at all levels. I even wrote about “what happens on December 13” (the day after we elected Doug Jones), trying desperately to remind people that changing Alabama isn’t just a one-shot deal.
So what were Democrats doing to help pass a tax to better fund the schools here in my own county? I honestly don’t know. I’m sure there were some people working hard to pass it. But somehow, as politically connected as I am, I didn’t even know about the vote until I saw it mentioned yesterday on the 5 o’clock news. Never saw a sign or got a flyer. Nobody called. I rushed down to vote yes, but I’m embarrassed that I was caught napping.
Especially when the first campaign I managed resulted in a 17-mill tax that funded two high schools, a Middle School, at least one elementary school and more.
Democrats, who care deeply about education, should have been mobilized in a big way to pass the tax in a county that hasn’t passed a school tax since the 1960s.
Well, we’ve been busy, haven’t we? We’ve had more important things to do, like engage in pissing matches over whether white liberal women are still racist. We went about the really important work of dogging our newly elected Senator over his every move and comment. We were busy parsing the words of a Democratic gubernatorial candidate to make sure he’s “pro-choice” enough for everybody’s liking.
Meanwhile, you and I did zippo to help the kids in the county where I live – the county that borders Jefferson County and includes Leeds, Moody, Pell City, Anniston, Ashville, and parts of Trussville and Leeds.
We had better things to do, I guess.
I can hear somebody saying, “there just aren’t enough Democrats in St. Clair to make a difference.” I call bullshit on that. When we were energized by the Senate race, 6,212 of us turned out to vote for Doug Jones. That would have been enough to pass the tax, which would have provided an additional $4.3 million per year for St. Clair County schools, and an additional $2 million for Pell City schools.
But we didn’t get 6,212 votes, did we? No, we got a paltry 3,348. In other words, 2,864 people who cared enough to vote for Doug Jones couldn’t muster up the energy to vote for the kids.
When we actually cared about a race, we worked hard, and gave money to the campaign. People came from all over the country to knock on doors. When there was a big race in Atlanta, people from Alabama flocked over the state line to canvass for a Democrat.
I know a county school referendum isn’t going to draw an influx of people to fight for quality schools. But where were our neighbors? I wonder if a single person in Jefferson County bothered to make a call or to help get the word out. Where were we? I know I didn’t lift a finger. Because I was preoccupied with other stuff. For that, I’m deeply ashamed.
Excuses don’t buy books or pay for teachers. Votes do.
If this is the way we follow through, God help us in November.
By Carl Carter, APR
Much as I love the Democratic Party, we’ve gotten really bad at telling people why they should vote for us.
I mean really, really bad – nationally and in our own state.
It feels like we’re getting away with it for the moment, because … well, you know. But we can’t keep defining ourselves by what we oppose, because that sets us up for future failure. Someday, we’ll have a president who isn’t Donald Trump, and if all we’ve done is say how much we hate him, we’ll end up like the Republicans did on health care, with no ideas of our own.
But we’re not really getting away with it, are we? Democrats control hardly anything. We’ve won a few special elections – including the big Senate race here in Alabama. But the Republicans still own the presidency, the Senate and the House, as well as 32 state legislatures. Here in Alabama, they have a 70-33 majority in the House, a 26-7 majority in the Senate, and all the executive officers, including governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
At every level that matters here in Alabama, the Republicans can do whatever they want, and all we can do is stand by and bitch. Our main strategy is to stoke outrage and hope that gets us enough votes to get out of the cellar.
But what’s our message, and how good are we at making it stick?
Let’s review. We got our clocks cleaned in the shutdown showdown, because all Mitch McConnell had to do was start calling Dreamers “illegal immigrants.” It was game over at that point, because we weren’t ready for it and didn’t have a plan to counter it.
Here in Alabama, even with the best candidate Democrats have fielded in decades, we still got thrown off message and could have lost when Republicans found traction just by saying that even a pedophile is better than a Democrat. In terms of branding, that’s about as bad as it gets.
Doug Jones did a great job face to face at talking about the “kitchen table issues” like jobs and health care, but we barely held our own in the media war.
Our few attempts at a cogent message have been almost tragic. The much-balleyhooed “Better Deal” that came out of Washington was full of worn-out slogans and wonky details on issues that nobody’s talking about.
The Alabama Democratic Party has a statement of principles that’s nearly 800 words of high-blown language written at a 14th grade (college sophomore) level. It reminds me of the time when, as a rookie reporter for the Birmingham News, I turned in a story that was full of fancy language showing off just how smart I was.
Legendary City Editor Clarke Stallworth wadded it up and threw it back at me and bellowed, “If I’m a steelworker in Pratt City reading the paper at the end of the day and you lay that shit on me, I’m gone to the funny papers.” Clark believed in plain talk more than anything.
I’d give my right arm to resurrect Clarke and put him in charge of teaching Democrats in Alabama how to communicate with ordinary people.
By Lindsay Fernandes
It’s never been mysterious to me that life changes in an instant.
I’ve known since earliest memory that my dad’s mom died when he was a young child. My own grandfather passed away when I was in kindergarten. A mere handful of years after that my uncle was killed in a plane crash, and that marks the first memory I have of actually hearing the words that change everything; actually watching the world as it freezes in place.
“Kathy, Bubba was on that plane.”
I was a young child, watching from the kitchen as my mother froze and my gut clenched. Terrified and wanting to fix it and knowing that there was nothing to do but clear the dinner dishes that suddenly didn’t matter.
After that I went year after blissful year of a world without hiccup or personal tragedy. We recovered from those losses in whatever way you do, and felt normal again. But I never held that innocent belief that many do. That, “it won’t happen to us” feeling. I knew it could and would and was just a matter of time.
And since that night, I’ve had many such frozen moments, heard many such freezing words. “We have to hurry, Grandaddy probably won’t make it through the day.” “I think you need to come home, Grandmom is in the hospital.” Then more recently, “Aunt Linda has cancer.” “Your cousin has breast cancer.” “Your aunt has breast cancer.” “Lindsay, my husband doesn’t love me. He says he hates us. He’s leaving.”
And more recently still, from a friend who is family, “We’re at the hospital. He’s in agony. It’s dire. Please pray.”
I feel, today, that I have spent the past several years bracing myself for wave after wave of crashing, crushing news. I feel wobbly, unsteady on my feet, all the while knowing that this news has all been periphery to my family, and I watch anxiously as I wonder when it will be our turn, when our world will come to a grinding halt.
I’m good with words, so I offer them up. I offer strength for others to borrow, all the while wondering, would I follow my own advice if it were my turn for personal tragedy? Or would I crumble?
In all honesty, I’ve been struggling. I feel, in so many ways, that the world is in shambles. Our country is in shambles. Tragedy lurks around every corner. I have friend after friend struggling with the totally unexpected, the seemingly unendurable.
I have one particular friend who was waiting through a long, impossible, hellacious night this week, and we were texting one another. I told her, in what was possibly a bland cliche, that the sun always rises, and she responded that she was watching for it out the window. Not twenty minutes later, while driving my girls to school, we watched in awe as the sky turned magenta and orange, fluorescent yellow. Stunning, unearthly colors. Too early, I might add, as the sun typically doesn’t rise until later in the morning. I took a picture and sent it to her, knowing that in Eastern time, my sun was rising earlier than hers.
“Here it comes.”
The only comfort I have to offer myself, or anyone, is that the sun does always rise again. And that no matter how unsteady we are, no matter how wobbly and broken we feel, there always seems to be a hand to hold onto. Friends that rally, neighbors that step in. A community to offer support.
The thing to remember, or so I tell myself this morning, is that the human spirit cannot be quantified or underestimated. Our capacity for love, friendship, and hope above all, will always see us through and emerge in ways that seem impossible.
There is so much darkness. It’s everywhere. It creeps in, uninvited, unexpected. We have to daily beat it back, daily rise above it, daily swallow the fear that the darkness is all there is.
We find strength in ourselves; we borrow strength from those around us; we hold hands; we cling to faith. And we watch for that sunrise.
For more than 40 years, Democrats have been whining about the power of the religious right. During that time, we’ve shrunk back and allowed Republicans to reduce the entire historic Christian faith to a couple of litmus tests. (As long as you’re against abortion and gay rights, you’re guaranteed the votes of a large majority of those who identify with fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches.) We haven’t even put up a fight.
That needs to end in 2018. In this election year, we have to remind voters that while the Bible says nothing about abortion and almost nothing about homosexuality, it says a great deal about feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, and protecting those who are weak and poor. It warns against covetousness and adultery, right there in the Ten Commandments, but we’ve never made that part of the conversation.
A lot of people tell me it’s impossible to get the “Christian” vote back, but I’m not buying it. The “Christian” vote has never been as powerful as we imagined, and now it has begun to splinter as Millennials have asserted themselves. Conditions are ideal for a counter-offensive.
The religious right was born in 1979, but its influence has ebbed and flowed. We actually held the extremists at bay during the Clinton administration, because Bill Clinton, who grew up reading his Bible and knows it better than many ministers, had the courage to talk about faith. He took much of the wind from their sails.
They returned somewhat during the first George W. Bush administration, but they played a smaller role as the neoconservatives took the lead after the 9/11 attacks.
Then came the 2004 election, and attention shifted back to religion for many voters. Once again, Democrats lost ground not on the merits, but because we flinched in the face of God-talk. John Kerry was a devout Catholic who attended Mass regularly, but he ran scared because a Catholic bishop declared that politicians who support choice should not receive communion. This finally led to the ludicrous “wafer watch” in which reporters sought to get a photo of Kerry receiving communion.
Once you show fear, you’re always on the defensive, and that’s the best way I know to lose elections.
This doesn’t mean we should all convert to fundamentalism. I for one have no intention of doing such a thing. Rather, it means we must be bold in saying who we are. Boldness commands respect, whether we are Christians, Jews, Muslims or atheists. No Democrat, from any religious background (or lack thereof), has to be afraid of these conversations.
Stepping up to this conversation allows us to remind voters of other issues that are important to fundamentalists but often forgotten. We get to remind people that democracy works both ways. It allows us to say, “When you force your religion on those of other faiths (or no faith), they will come looking for you when they achieve a majority. The way to protect fundamentalists is through the separation of church and state.”
It lets us point to the perverted logic of school prayer: Insist on a Christian prayer today and you must be willing to accept a secular meditation or Muslim prayer tomorrow.
In short, it knocks the props out from under vague assertions (such as those we heard from Roy Moore) about the United States being a Christian nation. It gives us a basis for turning back efforts to wedge religion back into schools through institutional prayer, religious pseudoscience and “abstinence only” sex education. It gives us a rational platform for keeping the Johnson Amendment, which keeps churches from endorsing candidates.
If Democrats do that, we’ll have much better results in the elections. And we’ll set the stage for more rational policy in Congress and the state legislatures.
By Lindsay Fernandes
Last night, the state of Alabama voted a Democrat into the United States Senate.
That’s a sentence I never expected to write. And yet here I sit, a jumble of emotions and thoughts, trying to make sense of it on paper. Because emotions this massive, this overwhelming, only come out of me in words and stories. I’ve been absent from the blog lately – my family moved to Georgia and life has been a wild ride, so in a way I’m a fraud on Birmingham Raw. But today, I had to let the words come.
Alabama is a state of deeply held loyalties. It’s a state of black and white. Auburn or Alabama. Republican or Democrat. It’s a state with extreme opinions on good manners. Rivalries run deep and compromise is slow. I can’t begin to explain why that is. Probably Carl Carter, with his impressive historical knowledge would know better than me. Maybe it’s the heat. But what has always confused me is that the people I know in Alabama are GOOD people. They mean well. They do kind things for one another and they love their neighbors. I have dear, blessed, kind hearted friends who Roll Tide and vote Republican and there isn’t a force on Heaven or Earth to change their minds.
Many of those friends of mine did not vote for Doug Jones because to check a box for a Democrat was simply more than they could do. And that’s okay. Because neither did they vote for Roy Moore. Nearly 23,000 Republicans in the state of Alabama chose to write in a candidate, and it amuses me that thousands of them chose Nick Saban.
And that is okay.
Because it’s enough that those good people, those decent people, those people who love one another, chose to draw a line in the sand and say ENOUGH. Whether they chose to write in or cross the aisle, the message was the same. We won’t vote for a sexual predator, or a total incompetent. Enough embarrassment. Enough stupidity. Enough incompetence.
It was torturous to me not to be an Alabama voter yesterday. Alabama has long been a source of both pride and frustration to me. It’s a difficult place for outsiders to understand. If Alabama were a person, I would roll my eyes and say, “Well – she’s complicated, bless her heart.”
But as it turns out, goodness prevailed yesterday in Alabama, and the state of my heart gave the nation a glimpse into its own heart. It may be stubborn, and loyalist, and intractable. But deep in there, deep in the deepest part of the Deepest Red South, there is goodness and love and the world saw.
And today I feel proud of my home state.
Thank you, Alabama, for giving us all just a little bit of hope.
By Carl Carter
All my life, I have gone by the name “Christian.” No more. The term has no meaning for me.
We tried to save it by using modifiers like fundamentalist and evangelical, but those have become hopelessly muddled along the way. I saw the first signs in the late 1970s, when I was one of the first reporters in the country to start writing about a budding “Christian conservative” movement – before Jerry Falwell jumped in and announced his “Moral Majority.” They weren’t content to call themselves “fundamentalists.” They claimed the whole name of Christianity for their own narrow aims. They first flexed their muscle backing Ronald Reagan (an actor who hadn’t been inside a church in decades except to look for votes) over a truly devout Sunday School teacher from rural Georgia. The same year, the “Christian” political activists at Briarwood Presbyterian, Shades Mountain Independent and other churches went all-in for a Mountain Brook insurance man to oust a second-generation Baptist minister, John Buchanan, a Republican who had long represented central Alabama well in the 6th Congressional District.
I knew all these people well. Those who stole the name “Christian” didn’t give a whit for the good people who worshipped in the black churches. They cared only about a narrow range of issues like abortion, tax cuts, and making sure gay people couldn’t have sex without getting arrested.
They never missed a chance to cite Sodom and Gomorrah in their condemnation of gay and lesbian Americans. Meanwhile, they ignored their beloved Ten Commandments completely, especially the ones about bearing false witness against others (especially Democrats and moderate Republicans), adultery (they embraced adulterors as long as they voted right) and covetousness, which they elevated to an art form, turning greed into an idol they worshipped more than God.
And all that was before Donald Trump showed up with his third wife, his boasts about pussy grabbing, his multiple charges of sexual assaults, and his flagrant worship of money. The “Christian” leaders like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Roy Moore scrambled to proclaim Trump God’s anointed.
So why not Roy Moore? Why would a little thing like forcing himself on teenage girls and raising a kid who’s been arrested nine times get in the way? After all, there’s a Methodist in the race, and these folks know Methodists aren’t real Christians. Besides, he wants to abide by the First Amendment and let people love whom they will. And he thinks being “pro-life” means taking care of children once they’re born. Such notions cannot be allowed among “Christians.”
So I’m out. I reject the label of Christian. I haven’t rejected Christ, but I want nothing to do with the hate, bigotry and perversion that word has come to define. You can call me a believer, a disciple, an Episcopalian, of any number of other things. And I know that a lot of folks will say, “He never was a Christian to begin with,” and by their definition, maybe they’re right.
I’ll sing the hymns and use the word of others, because there’s no way around it. But for me? No thanks.
By Carl Carter, APR
Let’s talk about corruption. Not the kind that involves bribery and kickbacks, but the kind that makes stuff stop working.
Remember what happened when a file in your computer got corrupted? Everything came to a halt, whether it was a document you couldn’t read, a program that wouldn’t run or (God forbid) an entire hard disk garbled.
The corruption I’m talking about is destroying our channels of communication. Public relations professionals used to refer to the “corruption of channels of communication” in our Code of Ethics, but it’s been sanitized in recent years to gentler language. I decided a few months ago to find out when and why it disappeared. I called a PR professor who teaches ethics and even the national office of the Public Relations Association of America. Nobody I talked with could remember.
Channels get corrupted in a lot of ways. Most of those ways involve lying in one form or another. And all of us learned from our mamas that if people catch you lying, they won’t believe you next time.
Our ways to communicate quit working.
Right now, the problem is much, much bigger than the lies of children. We can’t even trust communications are coming from our own friends, because phishing scams are impersonating them. As treasurer of an organization, I’ve received dozens of emails from the president, requesting that I send money to vendors. None of those actually came from her.
Our phones are inundated with junk calls from spoofed numbers that use our own area codes and exchanges, to make them appear local. Robocalls are disguised – with response programs – to appear to be real people. Facebook accounts get hijacked, and I’ve had to resort to vetting “friends” contacting me before I will communicate to them – usually asking a question only the real person could answer.
Just this week, the Washington Post nailed an attempt to trick the newspaper into running a fake story about Roy Moore. A couple of other reporters have been secretly captured on video talking loosely about their colleagues – mostly harmless stuff, but a good reminder that talking too much out of school can get you into trouble.
I had a phone conversation this week in which the organization on the other end of the phone told me they were recording the conversation to capture a voice print for use in confirming future conversations.
In that environment, who cares that the White House has become a fountain of easily documented lies? Who cares that the rules of logic are ignored? Terms are reversed and abused. Fact checkers can debunk a lie, but it doesn’t go away. Instead, the same lies can be repeated and amplified, and they work just as well. In short, we’ve developed a preference for lies over truth. This is why the labeling of legitimate media as “FAKE NEWS” is so destructive. In a society based on lies, the truth tellers must be executed.
Now, in the last two weeks of the special Senate election in Alabama, Roy Moore seems to have retaken the lead simply by repeating the words that “anything is better than a Democrat.” How did we reach a point where a public official credibly accused of attempting sex with a 14-year-old is preferable to anyone belonging to one of our two major political parties?
It only happens “when logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.” My God, I’m having to dredge up stoned-out Jefferson Airplane lyrics to make sense of it all.
I communicate for a living, and our tools for that have become so corrupted we can’t trust them any more.
Until we find a way to get them back, things will only get worse. I’m open to suggestions.
Randall Woodfin faced a hard challenge Tuesday — how to start fulfilling his promise of major changes as Birmingham mayor while showing respect for the mayor he soundly defeated. He pulled it off perfectly, praising former Mayor William Bell for his long years of service to the city. Woodfin went even further, recognizing the past contributions of past mayors Richard Arrington, Bernard Kincaid and Larry Langford. (The Langford reference felt a little weird, give that the former mayor is still in prison.)
Woodfin’s nod to the past was one of two remarkable moments. The other came when he invited the nine members of the new City Council to line up behind him and said, “The 10 of us collectively not only represent you, are not only committed to fighting for you, but wholeheartedly we believe in you. We believe in our city. We believe City Hall has something to offer you.”
That was a jarring contrast to the fighting between Mayor Bell and the last council, and even the new council has had some tense moments already. Still, we’ll hope for a honeymoon that lasts long enough to allow new relationships to form. And I’ll be watching closely to see how well Woodfin keeps his promises of a more open city government.
By Carl Carter
We should give credit where it’s due. Roy Moore has read his Bible, and his preference for teenage girls makes perfect sense for someone whose guide to the universe (and ours, if he gets his way) includes such concepts as men being able to sell their daughters into slavery. Exodus 21 spells out the rules that apply for the new owner. (If you’re curious, her new owner can’t sell her to foreigners, and if he decides to marry someone else instead, he still has to keep her, feed her and apparently have sex with her.)
So really, if an older man wants to marry a young girl, what’s the beef – as long as he gets her daddy’s permission?
Now, let’s not forget that the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for a host of offenses, including idolatry, blasphemy, sabbath breaking, rape of a person engaged to another (apparently single people are fair game), adultery, loss of virginity before marriage, and the all-time favorite, gay sex.
Point is, the Bible is chock full of horrifying rules, punishments and brutality, even when viewed in its cultural context. Even among more traditional liturgical Christians, who reject the Old Testament law as a relic of the time before Christ, let’s not forget that the entire religion is built around an act of pretended cannibalism – eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ. It’s all there in the Bible for your reading pleasure.
We Christians are the original walkers, as it were.
So we can accuse Moore of being out of step with historical Christianity, and of stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the many things we’ve learned from science and history. But by and large, the things that horrify us the most are entirely consistent with the Bible we all have on our own shelves.
I should note that Moore doesn’t get abortion right, because in fact, the Bible says nothing about that. Nothing. This isn’t surprising, because the scriptures were written long before we knew enough science to discuss the life status of an unborn baby. Still, the fundamentalists in the late 1970s needed a wedge issue, and as with anything else, you can find something in the Bible to justify what you’re looking for. So what do the fundamentalists pull out to make their case? Well, not much, really. There are some verses saying that God foreknew/predestined who would believe in him. Of course, this isn’t really on point, because this “knowing” happened centuries before there was a fetus in the womb. You see this theme in Psalm 139:13-16; and Jeremiah 1:5. Another argument is the general assertion throughout the Bible that babies are good, which I think most folks would agree with anyway. Finally, there’s a reference to John the Baptist kicking in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41). So yes, babies kick, as every mother knows.
Fortunately, we don’t have to start stoning homosexuals and sabbath breakers, because if we take into account the timing and context of what the Bible says, we find that it isn’t inspired and doesn’t claim to be. The fundamentalists like to point to 2 Timothy 3: “All scripture is inspired by God,” etc. It’s a single, brief letter to a local church that claims to have been written by the Apostle Paul (though many scholars think it was someone else) – maybe in 61 A.D., maybe the next century. In either case, the only “scripture” a Jew in those days would know about would be the Torah, so that’s all it would really address. It certainly has nothing to do with the gospels (which came much later) or the entire New Testament (which was still in flux until the fifth century).
Yet, I adhere closely to the historic Christian faith. I take communion every week, accepting it as a graphic demonstration of a spiritual principle. It has a great deal of meaning for me. But basically, I do it because that’s what Christians do.
But it’s a faith based on a combination of the Bible, reason and tradition – not a literal reading of rules written by somebody in the desert a few thousand years ago. At any rate, from the very beginning, our founding fathers made it clear that our government wouldn’t take sides. I have close friends who are Jews, Muslims, pagans and atheists, and I love them all. That’s the real beauty of being an American. We can be different without getting our heads chopped off.
You can thank whatever god you worship for that and pray that people like Moore never get their way.