Why Do I Stay?

“If TPOP* wins, I’m moving to Canada!”

Those are words no one has ever heard me say. I’ve probably thought them a few times — OK, maybe more than a few — especially in the days following a disheartening presidential election. I’m truly upset about the outcome, but I’m not upset “my side” lost. Since Nov. 9, it’s been very hard for me to look other Americans in the eye.

“You voted for that con man,” I think. “You supported a man who believes in White Supremacy. You supported a man who ran the most vile presidential campaign in history.” I’m upset because I truly thought we were better than this as a nation. And now, I simply don’t trust that there is common decency in my fellow man.

I always knew Alabama would go red, as it has for the majority of my lifetime. If that ever becomes in doubt, Republicans mobilize to suppress black and brown voters here, just as they did this year. Corruption in Alabama politics is rampant, especially now. State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, a Republican, was suspended from the bench for violating the ethics of his office (for the second time). Speaker of the Alabama House, Mike Hubbard (R-Lee County) was convicted on multiple felony counts of corruption earlier this year. And the Cryptkeeper himself, Governor Robert Bentley (R-Tuscaloosa) is on the verge of being impeached, accused of using public funds to finance his affair with a woman 30 years his junior.

That sexy beast, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

A subtle pattern begins to emerge. And those things are the tip of the iceberg down here. Alabama has significant problems: we refuse to adequately fund our schools, and so we have set up generations more children to live in poverty and ignorance. We’ve re-introduced segregation in public schools. We refuse to offer anything but abstinence-only sex education, ensuring that our teen pregnancy and STD rates are some of the highest in the country. Our state government tried to close down 31 drivers’ license examination offices in predominantly black counties, before reversing course because the public could actually SEE voter suppression happening.

Sweet home Alabama, right? So why the hell do I stay?

Good question.

I have some fallbacks: Alabama is where my family is. The Heart of Dixie is where I grew up. The Yellowhammer State really is, for better or worse, home. I remember being a 5-year-old child and sitting on the back steps at my parents’ house with my best friend in the neighborhood, a black boy named Tim. I said something only a child that young could find funny, and Tim stuck his tongue out at me. I ran into the house to tell my mom: Tim’s tongue was the same color as mine!

My mom laughed at me. I understand that now. But it was, in truth, a moment of racial awakening. Under his dusky brown skin, Tim was person just like me. We were not different. We were both human, there, under the skin.

There are other things I could discuss. I could talk about sweet tea and fried chicken and cornbread dressing. I could talk about dinners on the ground at church when I was a child. I could talk about college football. After all, Alabama is fortunate to have two great FBS football programs of which it can be proud: The University of Alabama and Troy University. That’s all well and good.

But here’s the reason, above all else, that I won’t leave:

This is where the fight is. Right here. Right now. I’ll say it again, for the people in the back: This is where the fight is. There is racism and misogyny and bigotry everywhere, true. But this is where the confederate flags still fly on the back roads and black people know to be out of city limits in Cullman by sundown. This is where George Wallace blocked the doors at Foster Hall and proclaimed “Segregation now! Segregation forever!”

Wallace looks like kind of a low-rent Dick Nixon, doesn’t he?

This is where towns are still divided by railroad tracks. This is where Trump’s pick for Attorney General, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, called the NAACP and the ACLU un-American, but approved of the KKK, as long as its members don’t smoke pot. Jeff Sessions is living proof you don’t have to be smart to pass the bar or be elected to congress.

I still, on occasion, get to talk to student journalists, young people who want to make their mark in the world of news reporting in some way or another. I always tell them to get out of the South — to go somewhere else for awhile. See how other people live, how they compromise, communicate, and commingle. And the second part of my advice is this: Once you’ve seen it, come back. We need people here, in THIS state, who understand that extending rights to ALL citizens doesn’t diminish the rights given to other citizens. We need people fighting the good fight in this state — people who will stand up and say that black lives do matter, that women have right to control their bodies, that LGBTQIAP+ folks aren’t experiencing a ‘lifestyle choice,’ and that religious freedom extends to muslims and sikhs and buddhists and agnostics and athiests as well as to christians.

It really is Sweet Home Alabama. It is Alabama the Beautiful. It’s my home, and it’s worth fighting for.

That’s why I stay.

TPOP* = Talking Pile of Pigshit, the name I continue to call the resident-elect until he shows us his long-form birth certificate or his tax returns.