I originally wrote this from an airplane high above California, on my way to Alabama – home – after my first quarter at college. The senate election in Alabama was happening as I wrote, and I could not get rid of the feeling that Roy Moore was going to be voted into office. For the first time that I could remember my state was getting constant coverage by national press, and I was incessantly pressed to critically reflect on why Alabama is so hard for me to talk about.
It is hard to talk about because I can anticipate the conversations I will be having around the election once I am back home, and they will radically differ from the engagement with Moore and Jones in the Bay Area. There is a reason that on Stanford’s campus the only person I can enjoy talking to about the race is from Alabama; we are a state that appears easy to understand and therefore not worth the thought or energy of outsiders.
My conversations with everyone else at Stanford seem to go in the same circles: someone mentions the race in a tone that says they expect nothing less from the people of Alabama, I give a vague negative comment of my agreement, and we move on with our day. The same conversations are displayed in the memes about the election (hahaha oh yeah those Alabama folks can’t read), the videos made by liberal comedy news shows, and even a lot of the articles I have been reading. I lamented to a friend about the lack of attention Alabama gets the rest of the year when equally important and real problems and elections are on the table, and he said “Don’t worry, we won’t forget about you any more.” Not only was the conversation condescending (I think he meant “we” as the liberal good folk from the North who are smart and educated and cultured), but I believe it is blatantly false.
Alabama will not get attention because it is not attractive, and it is not pretty. It was easy for him to look at me, a skinny conventionally attractive white girl, and decide Alabama was worth his (their?) attention, but that is not what Alabama looks like. The people fighting for the values locally that the Democrats purport to support are not pretty or rich or well-dressed or educated at prestigious institutions. The people who put their bodies out there and fight the hardest to made Alabama into a real home are the ones not accepted by mainstream society. This unacceptance is largely because of racism, and also notably homophobia and transphobia, but it also includes the weird ones out, the kids who didn’t really fit in in high school and then never quite figured it out. I think I can say that the Democratic party doesn’t want any of these people.
The Dems want Alabama blue but they want it the way Massachusetts is blue, or Connecticut. They want white Ivy League graduates who are progressive but still work every day to keep people of color and poor people marginalized and oppressed. They don’t want the local activists (the old ones, the people of color) or the weird kids or the radicals unless they conform to expected ideals*.
And then we hit the brick wall. It is just not possible for Alabama to become another New York or Vermont, and so the Dems give up. There is no money, talent, or serious thought given to my state because of this impasse, and yet this vacuum leaves room from growth. Alabama is in serious need of change on every account, and I believe that in my state change can only come from the bottom, from the people who live here. There is such a massive opportunity in Alabama to create something better outside of the neoliberal grasp of the Dems. What Alabama needs is something different. It needs coalitions, new ways of defining liberal and left, and a whole lot more. I wish I had more concrete answers and a clearer vision, but I can see an opportunity. I can invite you to stop and think about a better world and a way of making a difference that does not fall within the confines of only two political parties.
So what does Alabama need? Doug Jones, sure. But more importantly, it needs the confidence of society that wants to change. It needs money, real efforts to listen and understand, and it needs support. The weird Alabamians, the poor Alabamians, the Alabamians of color, the fat Alabamians, the uncultured Alabamians; they need support, we need support.
*I do not say this to undermine the amazing individuals fighting for justice in the Democratic Party. I say this because I believe that as an institution the Democratic Party is deeply rooted in racism, misogyny, and classism.