'Moral' Civic Reform Movement Spreads Across Deep South
One of the nation's most innovative and so-far successful social justice reform movements in recent years is spreading in the Deep South -- including in a major test scheduled for March 25 in Alabama.
A new Alabama "Moral Mondays" group that mixes advocacy and civil disobedience plans its public launch at noon on the state capitol's front steps in Montgomery. Moral Mondays takes its name from weekly demonstrations that have occurred on Mondays during recent legislative sessions in North Carolina.
The movement draws its strength from the pain and anger widespread in the Deep South, including on legal and social justice issues.
It draws heavily from the civil rights movement of the 1960s and also uses "moral" and "constitutional" language similar to that of recent conservative groups. It emphasizes non-partisan "fusion" politics while opposing what its leaders call extremist policies by conservatives.
The new movement is characterized by mass arrests during peaceful protests at state legislatures. It expanded last week to Georgia and South Carolina. It moves next to Alabama, one of the reddest of Red states and locale of many of the nation's iconic civil rights struggles from five decades ago.
Today's column is a first-hand report on how Alabama's Saving OurSelves (S.O.S.) coalition affiliated itself March 8 with the Moral Mondays movement. My photo at right shows the organizational meeting in Selma, with the Alabama River and the city's Edmond Pettus Bridge in the background.
The main leader is the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter. In my March 8 photo above showing Alabama planning, Barber was just to the right of Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, who was dressed in a red Tuskegee University sweatshirt as he spoke in favor of the new coalition. Barber is shown also in a file photo below.
The Moral Mondays message attacks as extremist conservative policies such as opposition to Obamacare extension of Medicaid health insurance to the uninsured -- a decision largely in the hands of states.
Yet the movement's messages go far beyond specific policies and thus are "transformative, not transactional," Barber likes to say.
Such messages mean, on close examination, that the movement threatens traditional politicians and special interest groups of many kinds, including those on the left that are organized on single-issue rhetoric, party politics, and wheeler-dealing with hidden agendas. Implicit in the Moral Mondays movement is that it opposes those on the left who are accustomed to celebrity-driven, top-down leadership -- and fund-raising that crosses a line in terms of self-dealing or "pay to play" arrangements.
This Moral Mondays movement impresses me as bold, creative and seemingly likely to achieve significant goals. As our work at the Justice Integrity Project has found, many people are hurting, angry -- and looking for new and better ways to achieve dramatic civic reform.
I was one of the few reporters to attend the meeting, which was part of my five days at the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee from March 6 to 10 in Selma commemorating "Bloody Sunday."
That name comes from police brutality on March 7, 1965, when approximately 160 Alabama state and local police viciously beat and gassed 600 peaceful protesters on the Pettus Bridge. The marchers had intended to walk from Selma to Montgomery to protest near-complete lack of voting rights for blacks in majority black Dallas County and the police killing of a local resident, Jimmie Lee Jackson. The overall brutality, including the fatal clubbing of Wyoming-born Rev. James Reeb by racists in Selma, led to the national public outrage, two follow-up marches, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The new Moral Mondays coalition for Alabama was created in Selma during the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, which retraces the steps of the first marchers. This year, a core group of 50 also traveled in a modern Freedom Ride from Selma through five Southern capitals to Washington, DC for rallies, including protests at the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol.
The week of protests, church services and educational events I attended were powerful. There were many eloquent speeches, historical recreations and special events (including a mock trial and a play) repeatedly framed by prayer and music. Yet such scenes are best appreciated in person or by video. Therefore, my goal below is to focus in words on a summary of the movement, its allies, challenges and prospects.
Inside The Moral Mondays Movement
The Moral Mondays movement began last April with sit-in protests in North Carolina's state's capital of Raleigh following six years of planning. On Feb. 8, Moral Mondays convened more than 80,000 followers for a protest in Raleigh in the largest civil rights demonstration in the South in nearly five decades. How did such growth occur?
One must look first to public pain and anger from economic, legal and social injustice. Especially in the South, elite interests working through parts of the Republican Party have been able to gain political strength from public resentment. But strong evidence exists that neither of the major parties -- nor most other officials or civic groups -- have won public confidence for their methods and long-term solutions.
Barber, the son of a minister, became a leader in looking for a better way. His experience includes a doctorate from New Jersey's Drew University, and a vision that draws from successes of the 1960s civil rights movement. Since 1993, he has been the Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church DOC in Goldsboro, NC. He wrote the book, Preaching Through Unexpected Pain. He raised $2 million in new funds as president of the his state's NAACP chapter, and expanded it to become the nation's second largest.
Among his diverse models for action are the conservative Tea Party and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is primarily corporate-funded, including by the Koch Brothers. It showcases legislator members who pay $50 a year.
Barber wants to create broad coalitions to fight for widely popular programs, including Medicaid expansion, voting rights, and job opportunities.
In daring fashion, Barber is tackling Deep South governments regarded by most pundits as out of reach for any moderate, much less those who have progressive platforms. The Democratic Party in Alabama, for example, is in shambles. The most prominent race will be the 2014 campaign for governor. Incumbent Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, shown in official photo, is seeking re-election.
In a three-hour workshop in Selma March 8, Barber and his colleagues described their strategies. The workshop was in Selma's historic St. James Hotel overlooking the Alabama River. Barber described for an hour the organizing principles he said had proved effective in North Carolina in building biracial, bipartisan coalitions.
"If you are trying to change America you must think states," Barber said. "This is a specific movement focusing on state legislators, governors and Congress because our adversaries in the Tea Party and ALEC did the same thing."
But he urged his audience not to get ensnared in Democrat versus Republican politics, saying that 16 percent of the Moral Monday supporters in North Carolina identify themselves as Republicans.
In Barber's talks and workshops, he emphasizes group leadership, consensus and "fusion" of different views -- in contrast to many reform organizations that feature a top-down style. "I never give a speech without being part of a group speaking," Barber likes to say. "We won't give a speech unless we get a chance for a workshop also."
"The word 'We' is the most important word in the movement vocabulary," he continued, arguing that single-issue advocacy efforts by reformers are doomed, especially in what he called the main arena for social change: Deep South states and their officials, now overwhelmingly Republican.
Instead of party labels, he advised that reformers fight "extremists" who are damaging the public on a wide variety of issues. The litmus test for an issue, he said, is to have it pass these kinds of tests: "Is it moral? It is constitutional?"
Further, he urged that members of the coalition advocate each others' issues at key junctures, not their own.
And if no progress occurs many supporters of the coalition members are prepared for arrest in non-violent civil disobedience. That was the formula, Barber said, that energized the North Carolina movement. There 17 arrests the first Moral Monday, 34 the next, 64 the third week, and 945 arrests by the end of the legislative session last summer. Overall, 13 Moral Mondays events occurred in Raleigh and 63 elsewhere in the state.
"After that first week," Barber said, "we never asked people to volunteer to be arrested. They came themselves." He said the governor's popularity sank from the start of the campaign from over 50 percent approval to 30, and the legislature's from 40 to 19 percent.
He and colleagues responded to questions from the audience, including one based on my recent Presidential Puppetry book research and experience covering the Occupy movement. My research has found evidence that intelligence and law enforcement agents in the 1960s helped finance such disparate groups as the Communist Party Daily Worker newspaper, Students for a Democratic Society, the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. The result, intentional or not, was to increased animosities that helped break-up the late 1960s alliances between civil rights, peace, and labor advocates.
I asked the group about how they responded to the threat of agents provocateurs who intentionally infiltrate civic movements under the guise of sympathy, and then disrupt them by such tactics as advocating violence leading to arrests on serious charges and bad publicity.
Barber and several older colleagues responded that transparency, morality and adherence to constitutional principles would overcome in the long run even spying, disruption, and other deliberate sabotage.
Many of the goals are congruent with those of the Justice Integrity Project, including the Alabama movement's emphasis on court and prison reform. For example, Alabama members agreed to advocate freedom for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a victim of one of the nation's most notorious political prosecutions. Siegelman is scheduled to serve four more years in prison for what we have repeatedly documented here as a trumped up federal corruption conviction in 2006 for his routine reappointment in 1999 of a non-profit donor to a state board.
The Moral Mondays/S.O.S. coalition also uses the name "Truth and Justice Tuesdays" to mark the day of its protests in Alabama.
The Rev. William Barber and State Sen. Hank Sanders March 12, 2014, Washington, DCFor a new group, it is well-positioned-- albeit with scant apparent funding.
The Saving OurSelves (S.O.S.) coalition includes more than 40 state and regional groups. The Moral Mondays team is also enthusiastically supported by, among others, at least two of Alabama's longtime black political leaders, Tuskegee Mayor Johnny L. Ford and longtime Selma State Sen. Hank Sanders (D). Sanders is shown in my photo with Barber at the U.S. Capitol steps overlooking the Washington Mall March 12 following the Freedom Ride through five state capitals.
Accompanying them was the senator's wife, Faya Rose Touré, shown delivering remarks the same day at the U.S. Capitol.
She is a graduate of Harvard Law School, as is her husband, and is also a prominent figure in Alabama. She was formerly name partner with him in their law firm when it was the largest civil rights firm in Alabama. During recent years, it helped win a billion-dollar settlement from the federal government for decades of discrimination against the nation's black farmers in agricultural programs -- a legal battle whose expenses created a large debt for the firm and an ongoing legal battle with heirs of a deceased partner.
Also, she has been the main organizer since the 1960s of Selma's Bridge Crossing Jubilee and founded the Selma-based National Voting Rights Museum. She is a hands-on organizer who coordinated all aspects of the 40-event program convening at least 10,000 (and maybe many more) attendees March 9 for the bridge crossing, as well as for many smaller events in the days surrounding the crossing re-enactment.
For the programs, she positioned the Moral Mondays leaders prominently. The event also included many members of Congress and such civil rights celebrities as Dick Gregory. She was a continuing presence even in such routine matters as hawking for $10 copies of the invaluable historical booklet Martyrs of the Movement to educate fellow marchers -- and also to make up an expected major revenue shortfall in event expenses.
Johnny Ford, 71, is a high-energy mayor, author, actor, former state representative and official within many national civic organizations. Ford began his career as a Democrat, later became a Republican and switched back to the Democratic Party in 2010.
I spent two hours with him in conversation in Selma in hearing him describe his varied experiences, which include the undoubtedly searing moment of being with Democratic Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy during his 1968 assassination in Los Angeles.
Ford said he sees an urgent need for a new type of broad-based coalition to help the public, and is committed to working towards it as a top priority in Alabama, shown below, and elsewhere.
Deep South Challenges
But any social justice movement faces major obstacles these days, especially arising out of the African-American community in Alabama, the locale of many lynchings and major civil rights battles still within the memories of some of those whom I encountered.
In the Tabernacle Church March 6, for example, I found myself during a service holding the hand of Korean War vet George Sallie, sitting to my left, after a preacher asked the audience to reach out. Sallie's forehead still bore the scar of his beating while trying to march across the Pettus Bridge in 1965 in hope of winning the right to vote. Among other historic locales in Alabama from the civil rights struggle are Montgomery, site of the 1955-56 bus boycott by blacks. A photo of the model of the original bus ridden by Rose Parks is at left. In 1963, the racist fatal bombing of a Birmingham Church occurred as well as the jailing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that prompted his famed Letter from Birmingham Jail urging everyone to shoulder the burden of the civil rights struggle.
Alabama has the highest percentage of whites in the Deep South. These days, the Republican Party holds all Supreme Court seats and all other major statewide offices except one congressional district gerrymandered in the central-west part of the state to include a high proportion of blacks.
The long-running Republican prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003), the state's most popular Democrat, helped gut the party and sap the energies of many Democrats who for years have petitioned the Obama administration -- unsuccessfully so far -- to intervene on his behalf. Siegelman is the victim of a trumped-up prosecution and six-year prison term, as illustrated in my column last fall, Siegelman Seeks Justice With New Appeal.
Far from helping Siegelman, co-defendants and whistleblowers persecuted in his case and cover-up, the Obama administration has opposed their appeals and independent inquiries.
President Obama also has maintained as U.S. attorneys in Montgomery leadership that has been repeatedly exposed as shameful by the Justice Integrity Project, among other independent observers. My book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters links the Obama administration's behavior to the powerful and largely hidden players who influence American politics, law and the media above normal accountability for their actions.
Looking ahead, one of those who has courageously protested Siegelman's prosecution is current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Parker Griffith, a prosperous physician shown in his official photo. He was elected in 2008 as a Democratic congressman in northern Alabama in the Huntsville region. He switched to the Republican Party to catch its momentum in Alabama. But he lost his primary for reelection later that year.
Last November, the former congressman told a radio interviewer that Siegelman's prosecution has been a "political assassination." Parker, 70, said, "There was not a finer man that wanted to do more for the state than Don Siegelman....This was a political assassination of one of the finest governors we've ever had in the South."
On my Alabama visit, I caught Griffith's first major speech as he sought to repair relations with Democrats. At a luncheon before Birmingham's Downtown Democratic Club, he was asked how Democrats could trust him. "I'm climbing aboard the Titanic," he replied. His comments, including endorsement of expanded Medicaid and job opportunities, won a positive response from the business attendees. They have few other viable options among traditional politicians.
"Alabama is in in trouble," he told the group, "and it is in trouble because it's caused by the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, and a lackluster governor who's afraid to stand up for what he knows to be right."
Parker helps illustrate both the challenge and opportunity for a movement like Moral Mondays. Even with his wealth and prominence, he is a long shot to win office.
More generally, Barber told me that clergy and other would-be reformers place too much emphasis on aligning with politicians. I asked his opinion of panel discussions when political leaders are invited to talk.
"They get plenty of time to talk as it is," he responded. "I'd like to see clergy and ordinary people, including young people, discuss their problems and solutions while politicians listen."
The Moral Monday movement expanded this year to South Carolina and Georgia with organizational meetings in January and public events this month.
The New York Times reported these developments in Protest Disrupts Georgia Senate Session On Bill To Block Medicaid Expansion as did Common Dreams in New 'Southern Strategy'? Waves of Liberal Protest Ripple Across South. Common Dreams reporter Lauren McCauley wrote, "The focus of these demonstrations was health care, but the rhetoric of those protesting touched upon a wide swath of issues, from education to voting rights to women's health."
Regrettably, I have found serious flaws in nearly all of major civic leaders I have examined. That's because it seems so difficult to achieve stature and influence at the highest national levels without serious compromises on the way up.
So far I have not found these problems in the relatively new Moral Mondays movement. Let's hope that it turns out to be the real deal. The country needs one.
Related News Coverage
Moral Mondays Movement
Update: About 75 people attended the rally March 25 according to a participant, who added, "Alabama is not going to be as easy as North Carolina!" Press coverage was sparse aside from Alabama Public Television and a few other outlets.
Al.com, Alabama's Moral Monday Movement plans announcement on state House steps Tuesday, Martin J. Reed, March 31, 2014. The Alabama Moral Monday Movement is hosting a press conference on the steps of the state House in Montgomery at noon on Tuesday to announce an action by the group. Following in the footsteps of similar organizations in neighboring states, the Alabama Moral Monday Movement previously held an initial kickoff rally on March 25 at the state House in Montgomery. "The purpose is to counter the conservative movement that is spreading across the South," said Benard Simelton, president of the NAACP's Alabama State Conference. In an e-mail to AL.com, Simelton described the group as "an indigenously led, state-based, state-government-focused, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-equality, pro-labor, transformative, fusion movement." The movement, he said, is composed of NAACP, Save Ourselves, Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, Greater Birmingham Ministries and other organizations."
New York Times, Protest Disrupts Georgia Senate Session On Bill To Block Medicaid Expansion, Herbert Buchsbaum, March 19, 2014. "The movements are rare stirrings of impassioned, liberal political action," writes Herbert Buchsbaum at the New York Times, "in a region where conservative control of government is as solid as cold grits and Democrats are struggling for survival more than influence."
Nation, What's Next for the Moral Monday Movement? Ari Berman, Feb. 19, 2014. This article appeared in the March 10 edition. This multiracial, multi-issue progressive coalition is not only remobilizing in North Carolina—its model of activism is now spreading all over the South. On Feb. 1, 1960, four black students at North Carolina A&T kicked off the decade's civil rights movement by trying to eat at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter in downtown Greensboro. Two months later, young activists founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at Shaw University in Raleigh, which would transform the South through sit-ins, Freedom Rides and voter registration drives. So it was fitting that when North Carolina's Moral Monday movement held a massive "Moral March" in Raleigh on February 8, it began at Shaw University, exactly fifty-four years after North Carolina's trail-blazing role in the civil rights movement.
Democracy Now! Georgia Activists Confront GOP Rejection of Medicaid as Moral Mondays Spread Across South, Staff report, March 20, 2014. Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, serves as senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. On Tuesday, he was among the 39 protesters arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience as part of the Moral Monday Georgia movement. "Medicaid expansion now!" was the rallying cry this week of a rising grassroots movement spreading across the South. Nearly 40 people were arrested at the Georgia State Senate on Tuesday protesting a bill that would bar the expansion of Medicaid. Georgia has the fifth-highest number of uninsured people of any state in the country. Under the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 650,000 additional residents would be eligible for Medicaid. But Georgia is one of a number of Republican-led states that have opted out of such Medicaid expansion. The protest at the Georgia State Senate was the largest to date by Moral Monday Georgia, an outgrowth of the Moral Monday movement that began in North Carolina. We are joined by Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. Warnock was among the protesters arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience on Tuesday. "Dr. King said that the time comes when silence is betrayal," Rev. Warnock says. "That time is now. The issue is affordable healthcare for all in the richest country in the world."
The Huffington Post, 'Moral Monday' Group Plans Protest At Georgia State Capitol, Samantha Lachman, March 17, 2014. A coalition of organizations under the "Moral Mondays" banner is planning to protest legislation at the Georgia state legislature in Atlanta on Tuesday, in an attempt to broaden the reach of such protests beyond North Carolina, where the civil rights rallies began. The coalition's press conference, scheduled to coincide with the legislature's second-to-last day in session, will focus on calling for the body to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The coalition aims to draw attention to what it calls "moral" legislation, such as strengthening voting rights, gun control, affordable housing, reproductive rights and public education. "The Georgia state government's right-wing agenda promotes corporate greed over people's needs; denies healthcare to over 600,000 uninsured Georgians; has cut over $7.6 billion from public education in the past 10 years; accelerates income inequality by restricting workers' rights and benefits; attacks women's reproductive freedom; promotes bigotry towards the LGBT community; enables gun violence through 'Stand Your Ground' and 'Carry Anywhere' laws; and seeks to restrict our voting rights," the coalition explained in a press release sent last week. The group says this is the ninth such protest that has been organized in conjunction with the NAACP this legislative session.
Common Dreams, New 'Southern Strategy'? Waves of Liberal Protest Ripple Across South, Lauren McCauley, March 19, 2014. Demonstrations in Georgia and South Carolina highlight growing movement against conservative control. Disrupting a session of the Georgia Senate, protesters unfurled a large banner denouncing the GOP-led push against health care in the state.
2014 Bridge Crossing Jubilee In Selma & Parker Griffith Speech
Selma Times-Journal, Selma Jubilee celebration was life-changing, Sarah Robinson, March 14, 2014. The annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee celebration will surely be near the very top of my list of great experiences my career in journalism will allow me to encounter. As I maneuvered through the crowds on Water Avenue, I took the time to admire the exciting atmosphere of laughter, excitement, fun and history that’s often packaged with the Selma Jubilee. It put a smile on my face to see kids of all ages come together to take part in such an important commemoration of Blood Sunday. I can honestly say that Selma was the most alive I’ve ever seen it this past weekend. While most would consider marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge as the most interesting and momentous part of his or her Jubilee experience, I found the King Unity Breakfast to be the most life-changing event. The Wallace State Community College-Selma gymnasium was filled with an overwhelming spirit of power Sunday as Rev. Jesse Jackson, the founder and president of the Rainbow People United to Save Humanity Coalition, Dr. William Barber, a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People board member, and Academy Award Winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., the founder of the Eracism Foundation spoke at the King Breakfast, along with local elected officials. It’s always a pleasure to read about the great historians that have contributed to American history, but it is much more great to meet those amazing people face to face.
Al.com via USA Today, Thousands march in remembrance of 'Bloody Sunday,' Alvin Benn, Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, March 9, 2014. Thousands of activists walked across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday to retrace the steps of peaceful protesters who were beaten, gassed and run over by horses by Alabama authorities in 1965. The annual commemoration drew what could have been the largest attendance since the event began two decades ago. Local law enforcement officials are already planning for the 50th anniversary next March — something expected to be much larger.
At right, Korean War veteran George Sallie -- second from the left and a 1965 Selma marcher who was severely beaten by police then -- poses with 2014 marchers Clint Brown, on the left, Sharron Williams and Andrew Kreig after the event on March 9, 2014.
WFSA-TV (Montgomery NBC affiliate), Selma host 49th annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee Festival, Hunter Robinson, March 9, 2014. The 49th annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, to mark theanniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, was held this weekend. The event is held on the first weekend of March every year,and is held to preserve, commemorate, educate and raise awareness about the Voting Rights Movement. The event has attracted participation from thousandsacross the country including famous celebrities such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, whowas in attendance this year. The jubilee event consists of over 40 events that are put on over the four-day period.
Selma Times-Journal, Thousands fill downtown for Bridge Crossing Jubilee, Josh Bergeron and Jay Sowers, March 9, 2014. Thousands of tourists, Selma residents and elected officials packed downtown Sunday for the 49th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the 2014 Bridge Crossing Jubilee. While vendors prepared to open up shop on Water Avenue, Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church was filled to capacity, hosting a service that featured more than a dozen legislators and community leaders. After formal greetings, scripture readings and a welcome from local dignitaries, the crowd erupted in cheers during a speech by Alabama State University President Gwendolyn Boyd. She focused on ongoing injustices with voting rights.
AllHipHop News, Oprah will produce Martin Luther King Jr. film about Selma, Feb. 26, 2014. The race to make the definitive Martin Luther King motion picture of the 21st Century continues. February 26, Deadline reports that Oprah Winfrey has attached herself to an upcoming film inspired by Martin Luther King's voting rights campaign. Ava Duvernay has been tapped to direct the film as well as rewrite the script and Paramount Pictures are currently seeking national distribution for the film. Selma will focus on King's 1965 voting rights campaign which led to the August 6th 1965 enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B Johnson. King's campaign included three attempts at organizing a march from Selma, Alabama to Alabama's state capital in Montgomery. The first two attempts were stopped by police and governmental interference with the first one occurring on March 7th, 1965, a date referred to as Bloody Sunday due to the police brutality on the protesters. The third attempt was successful on March 25, 1965.
Faith & Politics Institute, Institute Announces Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage From MS to AL, Camille McKinley, Feb. 26, 2014. The Faith & Politics Institute announced the 14th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage slated for March 7- 9, 2014.
Al.com/Huntsville Times, In Birmingham speech, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Parker Griffith lashes out at Bentley, Koch Brothers, Troy Medicaid study, Madison Underwood, March 6, 2014. Politician and retired Huntsville oncologist Parker Griffith is a Democrat again, after initially switching to the Republican Party in 2009 while representing Alabama's Fifth congressional district in Congress. Some might see that party switcheroo as a pock mark on a political career, but, in speaking to the Downtown Democratic Club in Birmingham Thursday, Griffith spun his short ride in the Republican Party as an asset. "I understand [the Republican Party] better than you understand, because I've been in the circles, I've sat in the meetings, I've listened to the conversations," Griffith told a receptive crowd at the Downtown Democratic Club. Griffith's campaign will focus tightly on three things, he said: job creation, education and the creation of an education lottery, and healthcare and expanding Medicaid: "With your help and the help of many others in Alabama, I intend to drive Robert Bentley from office, and the Koch brothers back to the state line."
Selected Alabama Civil Rights History
Wikipedia, The Selma to Montgomery marches. Bloody Sunday and the two marches that followed were marches and protests held in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement. All three were attempts to march from Selma to Montgomery where the Alabama capitol is located. The marches grew out of the voting rights movement in Selma, launched by local African-Americans who formed the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL). The first march took place on March 7, 1965 — "Bloody Sunday" — when 600 marchers, protesting the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and ongoing exclusion from the electoral process, were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas. The second march took place March 9; police forced 2,500 protesters to turn around after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The third march started March 16. Protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers averaged 10 miles (16 km) a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama as the "Jefferson Davis Highway."
National Archives, Confrontations for Justice, John Lewis -- March from Selma to Montgomery, "Bloody Sunday," 1965 (video). In 1965, at the height of the modern civil rights movement, activists organized a march for voting rights, from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, the state capital. On March 7, some 600 people assembled at a downtown church, knelt briefly in prayer, and began walking silently, two-by-two through the city streets. The marchers were stopped as they were leaving Selma, at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, by some 150 Alabama state troopers, sheriff 's deputies, and possemen, who ordered the demonstrators to disperse. One minute and five seconds after a two-minute warning was announced, the troops advanced, wielding clubs, bullwhips, and tear gas. John Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture, was one of fifty-eight people treated for injuries at the local hospital.
Wikipedia, Letter from Birmingham Jail. The Letter from Birmingham Jail (also known as "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" and "The Negro Is Your Brother") is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King, Jr. The letter defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism, arguing that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. After an early setback, it enjoyed widespread publication and became a key text for the American civil rights movement of the early 1960s. The Birmingham Campaign began on April 3, 1963, with coordinated marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. The non-violent campaign was coordinated by Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. On April 10, Circuit Judge W. A. Jenkins issued a blanket injunction against "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing." Leaders of the campaign announced they would disobey the ruling. On April 12, King was roughly arrested with Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth and other marchers—while thousands of African Americans dressed for Good Friday looked on. King met with unusually harsh conditions in the Birmingham jail. An ally smuggled in a newspaper from April 12, which contained "A Call for Unity": a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen against King and his methods. The letter provoked King and he began to write a response on the newspaper itself. King referred to his belief that all communities and states were interrelated. He wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider…"
Associated Press via Al.com, Selma's once thriving Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm much smaller and splintered, Phillip Rawls, Dec. 15, 2013. Hank Sanders is the only remaining partner in the firm that was once one of the most prominent African American law firms in the South.
Blog of the Legal Times (BLT), Judge Awards $90.8M in Fees in Black Farmers Class Action, Matthew Huisman, July 11, 2013. A federal judge in Washington has awarded $90.8 million in fees to the plaintiffs lawyers involved in the high-profile black farmers' discrimination litigation. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman concluded the plaintiffs' attorneys should receive the maximum amount—7.4 percent—under the terms of a historic settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. The deal set out a fee range between 4.1 percent and 7.4 percent. The distribution of the legal fees and expenses will be handled by lead class counsel Andrew Marks of Coffey Burlington, Henry Sanders of Chestnut Sanders Sanders & Pettaway and Gregorio Francis of Morgan & Morgan.
Black Radio Network, Judge Reviewing Black Farmer Settlement, Staff report, Feb. 24, 2014. U.S. Federal District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington is reviewing the $1.25 billion settlement in a class action stemming from allegations the government discriminated against black farmers in loan processing.
Modern Voting Rights
Wikipedia, Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. On June 25, 2013, the Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty of the states. The Court did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4(b), no jurisdiction will be subject to Section 5 preclearance unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula. Editor's note: President Bush signed the Voting Rights Act reauthorization in 2006 following overwhelming support in Congress. But the Supreme Court in a party-line vote written by Chief Justice John Roberts, at right, found a different way and and overturned the judgment of Congress and the GOP president.
Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Black Caucus chairman asks U.S. AG Eric Holder to block Miss. voter ID law, Jimmie E. Gates, Feb. 27, 2014. A letter has been sent by the chairman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus asking the U.S. Department of Justice to preclude the implementation of Mississippi's voter ID law. "The law adversely affects Mississippi's most vulnerable population, namely, the elderly, minorities and disabled," said state Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton. "Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional, Mississippi was covered by the "preclearance" requirement." The Justice Department has yet to say whether it will challenge Mississippi's Voter ID law, similar to challenges made in a couple other states.
Huffington Post, Alabama Decisions Illustrate Abuse of Judicial Power, Andrew Kreig, June 10, 2009. The plight of litigants who face a biased judge is illustrated by the track record of a prominent Alabama federal judge, as well by major recent decisions requiring new trials in West Virginia and Georgia courts. The track record of Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, Alabama shows that he continues to supervise cases compromised by his personal, financial or political interests despite his promise at his 2002 confirmation hearing to recuse himself from any conflicts.
CBS News / 60 Minutes, Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get A Raw Deal? Scott Pelley, Feb. 21, 2014. Case Criticized by Democrats And Republicans. Is Don Siegelman in prison because he's a criminal or because he belonged to the wrong political party in Alabama? Siegelman is the former governor of Alabama, and he was the most successful Democrat in that Republican state. But while he was governor, the U.S. Justice Department launched multiple investigations that went on year after year until, finally, a jury convicted Siegelman of bribery. Now, many Democrats and Republicans have become suspicious of the Justice Department's motivations. As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, 52 former state attorneys-general have asked Congress to investigate whether the prosecution of Siegelman was pursued not because of a crime but because of politics. Editor's Note: After the CBS report the number increased to 113 former state attorneys-general who unsuccessfully argued in an unprecedented petition to the Supreme Court that Siegelman had not committed a crime.
Fox Business News, Former Ala. Gov. Don Siegelman seeks appeal of bribery conviction, Neil Cavuto, Nov. 7, 2013. Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman's attorney Gregory Craig on efforts to overturn Gov. Siegelman's conviction on bribery charge.
Justice Integrity Project, Siegelman Seeks Justice With New Appeal, Sept. 3, 2013. Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman challenged his imprisonment on corruption charges last week on two grounds of legal error by his trial judge. Siegelman argued that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery erred by failing to allow evidence on whether a biased prosecutor had actually recused as claimed. Siegelman argued that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery erred by failing to allow evidence on whether a biased prosecutor had actually recused as claimed. Also, Siegelman's appeal to the federal appeals court in Atlanta claims that Fuller wrongly increased Siegelman's prison time by citing allegations that failed to win conviction in the 2006 jury trial. Siegelman is serving a 78-month term in one of the nation's most controversial federal prosecutions of the decade.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
Justice Integrity Project, Jailed Journalist Sends Shocking 'Letter from Birmingham Jail,' Andrew Kreig, March 14, 2014. Alabama commentator Roger Shuler's condition has sharply worsened during his nearly five months of jailing, as I learned by visiting him in Birmingham March 10. "It's a horrible trauma to be away from your wife, your home -- and have no idea when you can get out or how," Shuler told me in a rare interview. Later, I arranged one for him with Alan Colmes of Fox News.
Fox News /Liberaland, My Jailhouse Interview With Roger Shuler, Alan Colmes, March 21, 2014. Roger Shuler of Legal Schnauzer has been jailed since October for refusing to remove material from his blog and for refusing to agree to not write about certain persons. This prior restraint is considered a violation of the First Amendment. Shuler recounts the manner in which he was arrested as abusive, and discusses his plight to get an attorney to represent him. And there are some corrections made to a New York Times story about his case. Roger Shuler is the only Western Hemisphere journalist to be named in the Committee to Protect Journalists' list of imprisoned news workers anywhere in the world. That an American journalist has been treated in this manner is obviously extremely troubling, as is the little attention Shuler has received from the so-called mainstream media.
Fox News /Liberaland, Louisiana Forgets There's A First Amendment And Sues Liberal Group, Alan Colmes, March 17, 2014. Moveon.org put up billboards and did a TV ad critical of Governor Bobby Jindal rejecting Medicaid funds. The state is suing claiming it is illegally using a logo. Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne has been locked in a pitched battle with the group for weeks, unsuccessfully calling for it to take down the billboard that is currently up on the I-10 coming into Baton Rouge from Port Allen. "We have invested millions of dollars in identifying the Louisiana: Pick Your Passion brand with all that is good about Louisiana. No group should be allowed to use the brand for its own purposes, especially if it is for partisan political posturing," Dardenne said in a statement announcing the suit. In response to the suit, MoveOn.org Civic Action's Executive Direct Anna Galland said the organization hasn't yet received notice of the complaint, but, "if press reports are accurate, it is very sad to see the state spend taxpayer money on a frivolous lawsuit instead of providing health care to the people of Louisiana.
Washington Post, Lawrence E. Walsh, Iran-contra prosecutor, dies at 102, Joe Holley, March 20, 2014. Mr. Walsh led a seven-year investigation of the Reagan-era Iran-contra scandal. The investigation would conclude that the administration of President Ronald Reagan had illegally sold arms to Iran to win the release of U.S. hostages in the Middle East and had given the proceeds, in defiance of Congress, to a rebel group known as the "contras," who were fighting to overthrow the Marxist government of Nicaragua. Congress also created a joint investigative committee, which many thought would lead to Reagan's impeachment. The Iran-contra affair led to the dismissal of the president's national security adviser, Navy Adm. John M. Poindexter, and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, the National Security Council staff aide accused of masterminding the scheme.