Friday, March 8th, 2013
Last Thursday marked the end of February which is a month that has been deemed an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of African Americans in this state and nation. It is my contention that these achievements cannot be narrowed to one day, one week or one month, but they are woven into the very fiber of American history. While we have come a long way, the actions in the Alabama Senate last Thursday are a constant reminder of how far we still have to go as it relates to diminishing the idea of supremacy and strengthening the idea of equality among all people.
I was born in Mobile, Alabama around the time the Civil Rights Movement had achieved great gains. My family moved to Michigan when I was young. My youth denied me the privilege of experiencing firsthand the moments that defined the movement: Brown vs. Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, the March from Selma to Montgomery, and the signing of the Voting Rights Act. As a benefactor of all of history’s past, I could only read about those events in books, learn about them in school, or talk about them with the people who were there, but their lesson was not hard to understand.
Still, I wondered why the majority did not want blacks, a much smaller segment of the population, to have access to the same level of education, have a fair chance at well paying jobs, or have the right to vote. What harm could we, a minority then and now, do? The answer turned out to be very simple: maintaining the majority’s authority and power. Giving those of us in the minority the right to participate as equals would inevitably bring into question and harm their supremacy; denying us the right to participate as equals would show that the majority’s supremacy was unquestionable. Thus, we were denied that right. And make no mistake, we would still be denied that right but for the actions of many brave men and women, some of whom history remembers and some of whom history does not, but to each of whom we owe great thanks.
However, as the actions of my Republican colleagues consistently represents, we clearly have a long way to go before we rid ourselves of that hateful mentality. The Republican Party has a supermajority in the Alabama State Senate. They can pass virtually any piece of legislation at any time, including the “School Flexibility” bill that passed last Thursday, with 22 solid Republican votes. Despite the fact that the Republican majority had the votes on this bill, the Republicans decided to result to deceitful tactics and remove democracy from the legislative process to pass another bill. The “School Flexibility” bill, that so many supported, was originally an 8-paged bill. However, the bill that the Republican majority passed on Thursday grew to 28 pages, with a new name “The Alabama Accountability Act”, in conference committee and contained many added provisions to which the original bill’s supporters did not agree and could not support. Unfortunately, the Senate minority and Democratic members of the conference committee were never given a chance to read the new bill and were essentially denied the right to object to it. The Republican majority set the rules for the conference committee, and they broke those rules to pass a bill that they did not want the public to see because they knew at its heart it was not about improving education for the children of Alabama.
Why pull a bait-and-switch in conference committee? Why mislead so many people and break your own rules to do it? Why deny us the chance to read the new bill and debate it? The answer is, again, very simple: the majority has all the authority and all the power. It did not matter to them that I was elected, just like each and every one of them, to serve my district in the State Senate and was not given the equal respect I deserved under the rules. The blatant refusal to recognize me reminded me of one of my favorite books “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. It was clear that I was invisible to the Senate’s presiding officer. It did not matter that my concerns were not only legitimate, but also widespread. It did not matter that there are rules to govern committee processes and Senate floor procedures. It did not matter that I was right to question both the majority’s abuse of the process, the reason why an 8-page bill had grown to 28 pages behind closed doors, and why we were passing a bill that no one had a chance to read. Their supremacy is unquestionable and the rules, even their own, do not apply when they are ill fitted to the Republican majority’s agenda.
I am proud of being an Alabama State Senator an opportunity afforded to me by our history’s past. However, while much has changed, it is also evident that the belief of supremacy by the majority lives. The actions of the majority in the Alabama Senate last Thursday just reaffirms that the fight for justice and equality must continue. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “When your belief is strong and your purpose just, no obstacle can stand in your way”. Therefore, I pledge that I will continue to serve my district, and the whole State of Alabama, with this in mind.
Senator Quinton Ross is a Democrat from Montgomery. He has served in the Alabama State Senate since 2002.