Reflections on Selma Experience
A very pleasant and exciting surprise came my way last week when on Thursday I received an unexpected invitation to address the Alabama Conference of Black Mayors in historic Selma, Al during the annual celebration and reenactment of Bloody Sunday. The four Democratic contenders for Governor were also in attendance and gave addresses as well.
There were no Republican contenders in attendance. However, I have determined that they were invited.
I arrived and two of my supporters were already in attendance as well as three people I work with on drug policy and prison issues. It was good to see some familiar faces in the room. I placed my things at the table with my supporters and set up my camera. Also at this table was Harry Lyon an attorney and frequent candidate for public office and his girlfriend. I had some oversize postcards with me to distribute and Harry's girlfriend picked one up and began to read it. When it dawned on her who I was she looked at Harry and said, "I've been with you ten years, you are a wonderful man and I love you...but I am voting for Loretta." I must say that was a hell of a way to start the day.
I began to place my cards on every table in the room and suddenly a young white man comes up to me and says, "You're the candidate that wants to change the drug laws...I saw your front page article in the Huntsville Times and I agree with you and plan to vote for you...by the way I am the campaign manager for (name left blank to protect the job of this gentleman)."
I must say I was floored that in the space of five minutes I had stolen the support of a longtime girlfriend of one democratic candidate and the campaign manager of another. That sort of thing does a great deal for ones confidence.
Soon it was time to take my seat at the head table. Mr. Nathan Mathis who is also a democratic contender was seated next to me. I have to say I like the guy. A big hearty fellow who is a peanut farmer in South Alabama. He had a great sense of humor and he and I shared a number of laughs as the day unfolded. He gave an entertaining speech as well.
Current Lt. Governor Lucy Baxley made her way to the table and, if I may say so, looked genuinely surprised and a tad put out to find that I was in attendance. I introduced myself and said that it was nice to meet her, which it really was. She is an important woman in Alabama politics and just because I am running against her doesn't mean that I do not respect the work she has done to get where she is. Alabama politics don't have a reputation for being overly welcoming to women and she certainly has my respect for her accomplishments. I still intend to beat her pants off come November 7, 2006 though. I think that may be much easier to do due to her remark at the beginning of her speech that referred to the event as a "variety show". How incredibly arrogant and distasteful. I heard afterwards that many in attendance were very unhappy about that remark and that she lost points for thinking she deserves more respect and consideration when the guest list is compiled.
After lunch was served the event began in earnest when former Governor Don Siegelman was called to the mic. Former Gov. Siegelman has the bad habit of claiming in the media that he already has the black vote, which I find to be snide, disrespectful and condescending to the black community. While it is true that he has a history of black community support that does not mean that they will support him this time around. He is in a lot of trouble and while I will not pass judgement on his innocence or guilt that trouble is looking more and more like excess baggage that will prevent him from winning the Democratic party nomination.
Don's speech was sad to me. Disrespectful too. He seemed to be trying to pull off a white boy version of the "I Have A Dream Speech" while throwing out things like "Every Alabamian has a right to a good job" whatever the hell that means and talking about how "the struggle goes on." Don Siegelman has never personally known human struggle in his life, and especially not the kind that African Americans endured in the South during the civil rights movement. To imply that his "struggle" to beat the second round of indictments against him in any way compares to theirs is the height of disrespect, in my humble opinion.
Next up was yours truly. Being that I only received the invitation the day before the event I did not have much time to prepare what I would say to this very important and distinguished group of black leaders. Since this weekend is such a special time that deals specifically with voting rights and the struggle to obtain them I decided I would focus solely on how the drug war has stripped voting rights away from many African Americans and how they need to join in the fight to get them back.
The text and video of my speech and others speeches is located HERE. I wasn't really nervous until it was my turn, then all of a sudden my gut knotted and the temp in the room seemed to rise 20 degrees and the gravity and importance of the situation finally sank in.
Here I am, for the first time being given equal time with those considered to be "major candidates" in this election, about to address a room of roughly 300 politically active African American Alabamians 54 of which are current mayors in places like Birmingham, Mobile, Selma and Tuskeegee. Wow! I am humbled and awed.
I know that what I am about to say will not be anything at all like what the other candidates there will say and in fact may be something only two or three people in the room have ever heard anything like before. I knew that my words had to leave an impression and that I had to shock them if I could. And I think I achieved that if nothing else. When the other candidates speak there is laughter and interaction from the audience. Generally that is included in my speaking as well but not this time. When I spoke the room was so silent you could hear a pin drop. I was nervous and could not get the shake out of my voice. Looking back at it now I think the nervousness I displayed could be seen as a sign of respect to those I was addressing. I also get emotional near the end of the speech when I begin talking about the Christmas for Kids of the Incarcerated event and the thousands of little kids whose parents are in prison.
That deserves some emotion if you ask me.
When I was done loud, extended applause broke out. I must say the silence throughout the speech had me a little scared about whether there would be any clapping when I was done. I hadn't come with pork chops around my neck, nor with a hundred empty promises of things I would give away if elected. I came with the message that there is serious trouble afoot and that the civil rights leaders of the past would not have stood for what the drug war has done to the black community and that if they really cherish their voting rights then they, as black leaders, have a lot of work to do.
Next up was Mr. Mathis whose sole campaign is to legalize lottery and casino gambling. He promised to allow black people to own four casinos out of fifteen. My question is "Why only four and how come he gets to decide who owns what in a free-market?" He also stated that he would use some of the money collected in taxes from casinos to build more prisons. He had balls to get up and say that after what I just said.
After Mr. Mathis it was Mr. Lyon's turn and the only thing that stuck with me from his speech is how he wants to implement mandatory student drug testing for all high-school students and send them through the court system if they fail a drug test. I began to shake my head NO at that point and tuned the rest of his talk out.
Finally it was Lt. Governor Baxley's turn and her speech consisted of her being a farm girl, a good Christian, a successful politician with nothing embarassing on her track record and a liberal in the example of Jesus Christ. She didn't really say what her plans for Alabama are but asked for the support of the black community as we all did.
And then it was done. As I exited the building many older people in attendance approached me and told me how wonderful it was to hear my words and to really shake up the people in attandance and remind them what voting rights are all about. They wanted information cards and a few even wanted campaign signs which I gladly gave them.
Later that night after I returned home I called a black minister friend of mine who was in attendance and asked him what his perspective on my speech was. He said, "Girl you kicked them in the mind....they're not used to a white woman saying what you said and you made each and every one of the black leaders today think. They won't forget you soon and after today you might well gain enough black support to win this election."
I am honored to have been asked to address the Alabama Conference of Black Mayors and I hope to be working with them a great deal in the future. Even if they do not vote for me I hope that they took my words to heart and will become more active in preserving and restoring the right to vote.