On Wednesday, Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform and Greater Birmingham Ministries sponsored a “Let the People Vote” rally on the steps of the state capitol building. It’s not easy to draw a crowd on a weekday, but there were around 350 people in attendance. There were also boxes full of petitions signed by more than 65,000 registered voters, asking our legislature to allow the citizens of the state to vote on a call for a constitutional convention. Under our current (and horrible) constitution, only the legislature can call a convention, and that’s not going to happen without tremendous public pressure.
College students from around the state began reading the constitution aloud at 9:00. After a three-hour public hearing, several senators and representatives joined the rally around 11:30, including Sen. Ted Little (D-Auburn) and Rep. Demetrius Newton (D-Birmingham), the sponsors of SB52 and HB109 respectively. The students were close to the 100th amendment at that point. They only had 670+ to go.
Among the speakers was Mrs. Johnnie Carr, president of the Montgomery Improvement Association since 1967. Mrs. Carr turned 95 yesterday, but age hasn’t dimmed her enthusiasm or her commitment to justice. She is an inspiration, and as I listened to her speak, I could only hope to have half of her energy and passion.
I’m always surprised by opposition to constitutional reform. After all, wouldn’t anyone want to dump a document that was written to be racist and exclusive, that was almost certainly ratified by a fraudulent vote, and that hamstrings progress in this state every day? But, as usual, the “Christian” Coalition and Alfa are up in arms about anything that would help the average citizens of the state. Coalition head John Giles is convinced that this is a ploy to raise taxes (it’s absolutely ridiculous that our tax code is imbedded in the constitution, making it almost impossible to update, so we currently have families here who start paying state income tax when they earn $4,600/year). Alfa is afraid that its constituents might have to pay reasonable property taxes (timberland currently makes up more than 70% of land in Alabama but produces less than 2% of property tax revenue).
A new constitution would provide the opportunity for real tax reform, and it might mean that those who have the most to spare would have to pay a bit more. Shouldn’t the citizens of Alabama, most of whom claim to be Christians, be willing to lift the burden off the poor and to provide stable funding for our public schools, knowing that education is the best way out of poverty?
This should be a no-brainer, but even Ted Little doesn’t expect his bill to pass during an election year. It’s up to the citizens to keep the pressure on our legislators. After all, they are supposed to representing us, not special interest groups. Yeah, I’m naive and idealistic, but sometimes that’s what it takes.
Demetrius Newton; Ted Little; GBM’s Democracy Quilt