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On How Alabama Is Blazing a Trail of Social Justice Resistance

GBMPhoto3-feature750Alabama has long been a seedbed for some of the nation’s most repressive policies and practices, many of which are now centerpieces of the new presidential administration.

Alabama’s notorious anti-immigrant legislation, known as HB 56, helped lay the groundwork for the current national anti-immigrant hysteria.

Rev. Angie Wright
Rev. Angie Wright

Not only has Alabama exported the policies of HB 56 to the national stage, but also Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions, whom many consider to be one of the most aggressive anti-immigrant voices in the country, is now the U.S. Attorney General.

Alabama also has long been the seedbed for powerful models of resistance, both during the Civil Rights movement and in the more recent grassroots-led dismantling of HB 56.

That law was designed to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants – people who contribute on so many levels to the country – that they’d feel compelled to self deport.

As the nation faces an onslaught against immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, women, people of color and other vulnerable groups, resistance has already begun to take shape in a “Stand As One” campaign led by Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM).

We’re finding a great deal of energy for resistance these days. We’re working to capture the energy represented by mass mobilizing and channel it into building capacity for long-term social justice change.

In Alabama, people concerned about social justice are organizing to stand with communities that are facing intolerance. Photo courtesy of Greater Birmingham Ministries
Photo courtesy of Greater Birmingham Ministries

In Alabama, people of diverse backgrounds have mobilized in incredible ways since Election 2016:

  1. A “Stand As One” march in our area in December attracted 200 people.
  2. A sister event to the Women’s March on Washington this year attracted 5,000 people.
  3. A press conference in which grassroots advocates condemned the “travel ban” and the building of a massive U.S.-Mexico border wall was attended by 50 people.
  4. About 2,900 people attended an airport protest against the administration’s travel ban.
  5. Three hundred people attended a vigil for peace at a local Jewish Community Center after bomb threats.
  6. To show community support, 1,000 people attended an “open house” event at the Birmingham Islamic Center.
  7. Also, at the Birmingham Islamic Center, 250 people of various backgrounds participated in a prayer gathering for social justice.
  8. A town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer to discuss community concerns drew more than 1,000 people.
  9. The detention of 40 immigrants prompted a press conference and vigil attended by 50 people.

Organizing efforts also led the City Council to adopt a resolution declaring Birmingham to be a “sanctuary city” for immigrants. The Birmingham mayor, similar to others nationwide, reaffirmed the city’s commitment not to use police officers for immigration enforcement and declared our municipality to be a “Welcoming City.” He established a task force of advocates and organizers to develop recommendations for implementation.

GBM has a 47-year history of working for justice and caring for the poor and vulnerable. We are an interfaith organization of Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths and good will who work together for justice. We have a long tradition of working in coalition with other progressive organizations to effect lasting change.

We have a base of faith groups and low-income communities that mobilize together around values of justice and inclusion. All these things add up to this: Our people are threatened, and we have the capacity and responsibility to #StandAsOne against the threats.

GBM is working with community organizers from immigrant rights, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ and women’s organizations along with civil rights groups, under the #StandAsOne umbrella. Our goals are evolving but include the following:

  1. We will form a rapid response to threats to any of our communities;
  2. We will promote “sanctuary,” broadly defined, for vulnerable people;
  3. We will train organizers, paid and volunteer, to build power through a collective process;
  4. We will support community and self-care.

GBM’s goal for the #StandAsOne effort is to build capacity for grassroots organizing, leadership development and movement building across the state. Our goal is to hire organizers who will be placed with progressive organizations around the state.

The organizers will be trained together, will strive toward collective goals and work with one another to build a multiracial, multi-issue, multi-faith movement that can effect progressive social change.

Our reasons are clear: As we’ve said loudly before, we believe no one should divide and deny the humanity of any person in our communities in the United States.

Rev. Angie Wright is the associate director of Greater Birmingham Ministries. The top image is courtesy of Greater Birmingham Ministries. This essay has been updated.


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