By Walter Simon –
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The last time I was in the vicinity of the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham was in the winter of 2012 at the occupy camp we set up, wrapping around the corner sidewalk of 20th and 5th avenue north in front of the entrance to Regions bank.
The bus ride from Mobile was full of not only hope, but humor, fun, and the camaraderie of the riders who made new friends and allies on that journey which began on the campus of the University of South Alabama.
I hadn’t been on that campus much since I left teaching in the art department as an adjunct. It was a position which required almost as much work as a full-time professor, at a quarter of the pay, with no benefits. Which is unfortunately not atypical of many of my education level, having finished my bachelor of fine arts at the University of Montevallo I had begun at USA. I went on to get my master of fine arts degree at the University of Georgia. These are all public universities, and if Bernie Sanders wins the election, he promises to make them tuition-free, as well as reduce interest rates on existing student loan debt — something that is crippling a generation.
As a teacher who has not been employed in the system since the crash of 2007-2008 caused my new job in the public school system to evaporate, I had strange personal feelings as I reflected upon the situation as I stood 20 feet from the podium where the celebrated “socialist” senator from Vermont would soon be speaking to the crowd of thousands.
The scene was buoyant. The people around me were mostly young college students bussed in by the campaign from all over the state, from Mobile, Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville and Montgomery, with others coming in carpooling from rural places where liberals and progressives are not expected by the mainstream group-think, like Oneonta, Saraland, Anniston and other places that conventional wisdom would assume are stalwartly conservative.
As Sanders himself said to the rallying crowd, “There must be some mistake, I heard Alabama was a conservative state!”
As a habitual Facebook user in Mobile, I am daily confronted with the harsh ugly reality of the stubborn prideful ignorance of much of the white working class population in the area. But I can assure you Trump supporters are not an impregnable base. The Republican Party has fielded candidates who have no solutions to the problems that face our nation, and even straight-ticket Republican voters know this.
My observations have lead me to believe it will not be long before the “southern strategy” which converted the South to a conservative political machine is showing signs of weakness. And I believe with more migration of people from other states we will see much change in the corrupt good-ole-boy system of Alabama politics.
The dissatisfaction of the students who attended the Sanders Rally on MLK day in Birmingham was clearly articulated with cheers for Bernie’s plans, and much booing at any mention of Hillary Clinton or the Republican Party. Sanders himself claims he has never run a negative campaign ad against an opponent. His method of challenging Clinton is clear and consistent. He doesn’t stoop to childishness and mud-slinging, a discipline perhaps easier for one not living in the Deep South where hate speech and willful stupidity seem almost mainstream.
Just look at the comments section and Facebook pages for AL.com (Newhouse), or any of the unmonitored local news station pages like WKRG, WPMI and others, where clickbait, likes, and Web traffic are the only measure of success for what passes for journalism in Alabama. What is sad is that even most of the liberals in Mobile still get their news from these corporate sold-out news businesses, owned and run by the same huge corporations that dictate our government through huge campaign contributions afforded by both the Citizens United decision (which Sanders promises to repeal), and the lack of sufficient taxation upon the powerful.
This business-as-usual for Wall Street has enabled the richest to purchase and destroy our democratic governing processes. This is why our economy is in tatters. And this is why a candidate like Bernie Sanders is able to succeed by running a campaign based on the hard truths we face as a nation, a global economy — and perhaps even a species.
As the crowd continued to swell in numbers inside the auditorium, music was played on the loudspeakers, songs of revolution such as Tracy Chapman’s “Talking About A Revolution,” a song that moved me to tears in that moment. I chose to perform this same song in the fall of 2011 during the Occupy Movement as hundreds of compassionate citizens and undocumented immigrants gathered for a march in front of a federal detention center where the words “HELP US” were pasted on the upper story windows using sheets of toilet paper pasted to the windows. I will never forget these moments of action and purpose.
Bernie Sanders represents the inevitable answer to the absurdity of an economic machine of destruction that is turning on its creators. Capitalism always has been a system based on unfairness and opportunity. But time is running out for this system that has succeeded too well at profiting monetarily off the abuse of Humanity and the destruction of Nature herself. As an economic system we are running out of space to expand.
The rainforests are still being cut, even as drought and rising temperatures create epidemics of wildfires across the country. And the public has run out of patience for the moderate rhetoric of career politicians and the quasi-religious faith of the “invisible hand of the market,” the economic cult of the 1%. This extracts wealth from the working and middle class, strangling more and more people and throwing waves of disposable youth into prison as we approach yet another stock market crash.
The word “Revolution” is sometimes tossed around lightly like a buzzword as hype, but it is a strong word with serious implications. The so-called “Reagan Revolution” saw the destruction of the Democratic governor of Alabama at the hands of Karl Rove and the political machine that still grips Alabama. But not for long, if the flower of Alabama, the college youth who are digging in, stick it out instead of fleeing for greener pastures. We may very well be looking at the basis of a new revolutionary political system based on universal values of human rights and responsibility, which include healthcare, job opportunities, education, and freedom from the exploitation of the increasingly devastating global system of war and piracy. It is a soul-less system of manufactured idolatry where corporations have more rights than a real human, a system which has abandoned America for the opportunity to reap the profits of exploiting cheap labor in far away lands at prison wages.
The Revolution can only come of a movement built upon the expression of real truths about our pressing reality. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate speaking these truths directly, clearly, and without personal agenda, unless you call wanting to help people a personal agenda. It is for me, because I feel the pain of others, and I feel the hope for change that only an educated egalitarian grassroots movement can deliver.
New American Journal correspondent and artist Walter Simon of Mobile, Alabama, joins University of South Alabama students in a bus ride to Birmingham, where progressive Democrat Bernie Sanders made an appearance in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.
Watch the video here.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.