African-American leadership decisive
People far and wide celebrated the defeat of arch-bigot Judge Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate race on Dec. 12. A Facebook message that night crowed: “I just got the good news on my cell phone here in Bolivia!” The next day the president of an elite Massachusetts college began his faculty meeting: “Let’s take a moment to thank Alabama for that victory.”
African-American people, especially Black women, led a grassroots mass movement against racism and misogyny. Soundly trouncing Republican Moore, they voted in a former federal prosecutor, Doug Jones, the first Democrat elected to national office from Alabama in 25 years.
Stopping Moore was indeed a huge win over a monster of bigotry. It’s hard to imagine a more despicable political candidate or person.
With his “Onward, Christian Soldiers” ideology and President Trump’s support, Moore was headed for the Senate and perhaps for the high-level Bible study group where Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry attend classes run by Ralph Drollinger, a well-known Christian nationalist. (tinyurl.com/ybrwpuax)
Chosen for the Senate instead was Doug Jones, who led the prosecution and conviction in 2002 of two Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. There, four young Black girls died and 22 other people were injured.
As U.S. attorney for Alabama’s Northern District, Jones also built the case against Eric Rudolph, the 1998 bomber of the New Woman All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham. Rudolph had committed a series anti-abortion bombings across the South between 1996 and 1998.
Most of the corporate media lauded Jones’ election win. They urged the national Democratic Party to take tips from him on building a winning coalition. Republican Trump took 62 percent of Alabama’s vote in 2016.
Organized mass resistance
Behind the Alabama vote, however, was an undying, fierce tradition of organized resistance to racism and right-wing bigotry built in Alabama long, long before Doug Jones’ arrival on the political scene.
In only one historic example of thousands, in Lowndes and Montgomery counties in 1861, a hundred enslaved people of African descent, together with “poor whites of the country,” planned a rebellion to redistribute the “land, mules and money” of plantation owners. Twenty-five Black and four white insurrectionists were executed on discovery of their plot. (Herbert Aptheker, “American Negro Slave Revolts,” 1943) (For more on that resistance history in this issue, see Devin Cole’s article, Part 1, on “Hammer and Hoe.”)
Moore’s modern-day defeat was achieved through mass organizing by people in Alabama determined to fight back against racism, woman-hating, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ bigotry. They resisted the dead hand of segregation and the use of slavery-era Christianity to justify murder, rape and all kinds of viciousness.
Even The Hill, an inside-the-Beltway website, had to concede that victory came from the mass movement, including “logging 1.2 million voter phone calls and knocking on 300,000 doors — an effort made more notable because of the lack of any real Democratic [Party] infrastructure statewide.” (Dec. 12)
Groups involved ranged from political organizations like the Alabama NAACP, the LGBTQ-oriented Human Rights Campaign and End Citizens United, to nonpartisan grassroots groups like Greater Birmingham Ministries and Vote or Die. Individuals appealed on Facebook for money to fund home-bound people to vote. Others, ignited by the #MeToo campaign against sexual abuse and violence toward women, joined in knocking on doors.
Black leadership decisive
The turnout of Black voters was crucial. It equaled the historic levels of Black votes for Barack Obama. Of Black women, 98 percent voted for Jones, together with 93 percent of Black men. Turnout was extremely high for an off-year, two-person race in majority-Black counties like Greene and Perry, centers of past civil rights struggles.
Black women also led door-to-door, grassroots organizing as African-American Alabamians continued their centuries-long fight for basic human and civil rights — a struggle independent of any one political party. In exit polls and on social media, Black voters said their vote was not an endorsement of Jones or the Democratic Party, but they had again gone out “to do what had to be done” to block the return to Jim Crow days of state-authorized racism, rape, reaction and death.
Voting-while-Black in Alabama on Dec. 12 confronted outright voter intimidation, codified in the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. This ruling gutted key portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, won with the blood of Black Civil Rights Movement martyrs, and it has been used to suppress voters nationwide, including with restrictive voter-ID laws.
From Homewood, a Birmingham suburb, social media reported that city police were systematically stopping and ticketing drivers of color on streets approaching a polling place. Homewood City Jail is where Kindra Darnell Chapman, a Black gender-nonconforming teenager, died in 2015 under suspicious circumstances.
‘Struggle far from over for Black Alabamians’
After the election of Democrat Jones, the struggle is far from over for Black people in Alabama. When a reporter asked Jones if Black Alabamians face different issues than white Alabamians, Jones called the question “divisive,” even though Black residents are 2 ½ times more likely to live in poverty and twice as likely to be imprisoned. (talkpoverty.org)
Monica Moorehead, the 2016 WWP presidential candidate, was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala. She told WW: “As a Black person who experienced the trauma of racist segregation from birth until adolescence, the defeat of Moore was really a people’s referendum against white supremacy and heinous misogyny. These go hand-in-hand because they are both rooted in the divide-and-conquer system of capitalism.
“While you can never vote away capitalism, voting can serve as a political barometer on where the masses stand on certain issues, more than choosing lesser-evil candidates,” said Moorehead.
“This defeat of Moore at the polls was just as important as a shut-it-down protest in the streets. The vote reflected the ongoing shut-it-down sentiment against Moore and also against the white supremacist and misogynist who occupies the White House.
“My mother’s family is rooted in Wilcox County, ranked the poorest county in the state. The fact that Black people, especially women, turned out in record numbers shows that despite dire poverty and other intense forms of oppression, Black lives matter in every struggle.”
The enduring lineage of Black organizing in Alabama is exemplified in Moorehead’s family, including great-grandfather William James Edwards, who founded Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute in Wilcox County in 1893 for formerly enslaved people. The institute remained open until 1973, and then was revived in 1979 by Moorehead’s mother Consuela Lee as an African-American cultural center for the impoverished county.
‘Against the politics of hate and division’
At Jones’ victory party, LGBTQ signs were waved, and Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said the win “was made possible by the overwhelming and unprecedented, grassroots resistance of ordinary Alabamians against the politics of hate and division.” (LGBTQ Nation, Dec. 12)
Less visible was under-the-radar organizing by closeted LGBTQ Alabamians still at risk for losing their jobs, children and family. One visible protest was by white farmer Nathan Mathis, who systematically picketed Moore throughout the campaign because of Moore’s anti-LGBTQ positions. Holding up a photo of his daughter, who committed suicide at 23 because of anti-gay attacks, Mathis voiced bitter regret for his own anti-gay prejudice, condemned the Republican candidate’s attack on young women and waved a sign, “Don’t vote for Moore.” (CNN.com, Dec.12)
In a 2002 legal opinion, Moore actually declared that LGBTQ people should be punished, even executed, to “protect the family.” The Alabama Supreme Court decision denied custody to lesbian mother Dawn Huber. Then Chief Justice Moore wrote: “[Homosexual conduct] is an inherent evil against which children must be protected,” adding: “[T]he State … carries the power of the sword … the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution.” (WW, March 3, 2002)
Moore was removed permanently from the court twice, once in 2002 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the state judicial building and again in 2016 for ordering county probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
An outright white supremacist, when asked what would “make America great again,” Moore answered: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery.” (cnn.com, Dec. 8)
Moore’s definition of “family” is a racist, neofascist, male-dominated, heterosexual, “Christian” institution, where wives are ruled by husbands and “unattached” girls and women are fair game for exploitation. A Nov. 9 Washington Post story scrupulously documented his predatory hunting and sexual assault of underage teenage girls in the 1970s, when he was serving as deputy district attorney of Etowah County.
Moore’s extreme right-wing statements and actions are consistent with his brand of “Christian nationalism.” According to researcher Michelle Goldberg, these “dominionists” believe they have “a holy responsibility to reclaim the land [the U.S.] for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, as in every other aspect of life.” (“Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,” 2011)
In October 2017, Moore was the rising star of the Christian right as it united with white supremacists and neofascists at the right-wing Family Research Council’s annual Value Voters Summit. (tinyurl.com/y95z8w3s) This is the context for Moore’s consistent Islamophobic position that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in the U.S. Congress “because of their religion.” (newsweek.com, Dec. 12)
According to CBS News on Dec. 12, most voters had decided one way or the other about Moore before the story on his sexual assaults appeared. However, women with children under 18 at home backed Jones by 66 to 32 percent, with college-educated white women swinging toward Jones as well. (ABCnews.com, Dec.12)
But racism still left a very heavy mark. Some 63 percent of white women voted for Moore, despite the well-supported evidence that as an adult Moore had had “sexual contact” with a child under the age of 14 — fitting most legal definitions of statutory rape in the U.S. (newsweek.com, Dec.13)
Since almost three-quarters of white men backed Moore, these figures signal the still-entrenched hold of the divide-and-conquer racist strategies of “Big Mule, Big Steel” agriculture and business interests that continue to this day in Alabama. Their propaganda, policy and laws have for centuries indoctrinated white workers into racism and set them against Black workers, to the murderously unequal but real detriment of both groups.
‘Sitting it out’ vs. solidarity
A vote for Jones offered white workers a chance to protest the racist propaganda of the owning class. Some white voters seem to have sat out the election, with white-majority counties showing significantly lower turnouts than their 2016 vote for Trump.
But “sitting it out” this election was not a clear rejection of racism and sexism, nor even a neutral position. As the South continues to be the fastest growing region economically in the U.S., and as Alabama competes for more manufacturing and corporate business to locate there, those with financial interests in the state saw Moore’s election as an echo of the Old South and “bad for business.”
A polarizing figure like Moore could stir up community and worker organizing, call up solidarity and threaten the big profits being wrenched from the working class in this “right-to-work-for-less” state.
Meanwhile, all workers, including the white workers who voted for Moore, are going to take it on the chin as Republicans continue their attack on Social Security, Medicare and other benefits won during upsurges of mass organizing from the 1930s through the 1960s.
Once a bastion of organized labor, the Alabama unionization rate was twice that of other southern states, and even on par with some northern states. Some of those union struggles were won with multinational solidarity. (Payday Report/The Guardian, Dec. 16) Doug Jones bragged during his campaign that he was the grandson of unionized steelworkers and a union member when working at U.S. Steel Fairfield Works to pay for college.
But Jones is not calling for mass resistance to the state’s right-to-work law. Despite a campaign pledge to help workers organize in the state’s growing auto industry, all he’s announced is appointment of a “labor liaison.” The likely outcome? A predictable attempt to pull workers back into the national Democratic Party orbit.
Meanwhile, all workers are going to be buffeted by the austerity cuts to come as the Democratic Party continues to support the all-military, all-the-time U.S. imperialist wars in search of capitalist profit.
What lesson has the Alabama election to offer? Mass independent organizing; fierce anti-racist work, especially with white workers; solidarity among people oppressed and under fire because of their nationality, sexuality, gender or disability; resistance that steadfastly seeks the way forward toward a world without capitalism and governed by socialist principles. That is the only way to a lasting victory against injustice.
Pratt was born in Selma, Alabama, and raised in Centreville, Alabama.