You and I have had a thing going on for many years now. I grew up just across the Hooch from you. I spent nearly every weekend of my high school years driving your backroads on the way to Camp Hill to watch my brother play football. Or to march across the parade field at Lyman Ward Military Academy.
When we weren’t in Camp Hill, we were often visiting Mama’s fiancé, a proud Auburn grad. A disciplined fellow, he loved our mama but didn’t quite know what to make of us three kids. He was good-hearted enough to try and form some bonds with us. He bought me my first and only Billy Jean King tennis racquet. He took me up to Central High and tried his best to teach me the sport. I realize now that what he was really trying to teach me was independence and confidence. We spoke years later, long after Mama broke off that engagement over some silly dinnertime argument he had with my brother one Thanksgiving. He told me that he always knew I’d become somebody good. If I did, it was because people like him believed in me, had hopes for me.
My life has been greatly enriched by Alabamians. Alabamians who believed in me and in my work. The citizens of Fairhope embraced me early into my writing career, provided me with a place to write the murder story of Karly Sheehan, and then again to finish up the Appalachian series. They invited me into their homes, provided me with nourishments and drinks, and regaled me with stories of their own. Booksellers throughout Alabama hosted me at their stores, encouraged readers to read my work. Pastors throughout Alabama invited me to speak to their congregants and urged them to read my work. Librarians and cops have helped me with research. Some of my dearest writer friends live in Alabama. Some of my dearest friends period live in Alabama.
There is so much I love about Alabama. Church at St. James. The turnip greens at Ed’s Shed. Fairhope Floats at Mr. Gene Beans. Pelicans on the piers at Point Clear. Reading in the Garden in Moulton. The monastery in Cullman. The church choir in Montgomery. Rick Bragg. Southern Living. Samford University where I sat with Mrs. Betty, my pastor’s wife, and watched my son perform in the Fall production. And the music, always the greatest.
I love Alabama. I love its people, its food, its culture, its stories. But not its history. Or its politics.
I don’t know why the good people of Alabama continually make poor choices when it comes to elected officials. The best I can wrangle out of all this is that y’all have your politics mixed up with your religion. You expect more out of your preachers than you do out of your elected officials.
If a preacher says something you don’t like, you call a deacons meeting and threaten to give him the shove off. Yet, a politician can say the most crude things, can do the most crude things and y’all praise him like he’s your beloved Papaw risen up. You treat your politicians with a reverence usually reserved for Bear Bryant or Nick Saban, or some other pigskin saint.
I understand the reverence for a good coach, but I can’t understand affording the same sort of reverence to a low-down politician. Listen, not to be disrespectful or anything but your track record in the political arena has been abysmal at best. And because I love you all so much I won’t even mention the worst of it. You can look it up, though. Your history in these matters has been well-documented. And it ain’t pretty, unless you consider it’s been pretty awful.
I know you to be a better people than this. Your state is full of good-hearted folks. People who’d do anything for neighbors. People, who when the storms hit, are out helping one another put up shutters and put away the lawn chairs. People, who when the storms hit in other states, pack up vans full of food and blankets and make their way to Mississippi or Louisiana or Florida to offer aid.
How can you possibly keep putting up men like Roy Moore for one of the highest offices in the nation? Alabama is home to the Childrens Advocacy Centers. It’s where people from other states come to get training in the prevention of child abuse and child sex abuse. You are home to the Southern Poverty Law Center that fights tirelessly against the hate groups that exist all over this nation, including Seattle and Spokane, Eugene and Portland.
The problem is that you keep trying to use religion to justify your political beliefs. You don’t want a Senator. You want a preacher. You don’t want a legislator. You want your own version of the Taliban. Political figures who legislate, and yes, even dictate that all citizens adhere to your own personal belief system.
Despite your usually meek ways, there’s an inbred arrogance to your beliefs. You think you know best how others should live. That if only everyone followed your belief system (you call it salvation in Jesus) the world (and Alabama) would be an even better place to live. The problem is that most of you don’t even adhere to your own values.
Just look at who you keep putting in office: Fornicators. Child abusers. Racists. Men who abuse their wives. Men who cheat on their wives. Men who demean women. Men who believe they are above the law. Men who think they can get away with murder and you won’t do a darn thing about it.
There is only one person who can change the fate of Alabama.
You the voter.
You must choose better. Because if you don’t, you will continue to suffer the same abuse that’s been heaped upon you for generations now. You might be number one in football but in education you rank 45th. You rank 44th for your care of women and children. You have the third highest murder rate. You are the 6th poorest state in the nation.
Obviously, the way you have been voting is not serving you very well.
You will never be able to give your children and grandchildren a better future until you choose more honorable people to serve you and them.
Karen Spears Zacharias was the writer-in-residence for the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts.