The Pedophile vs. the Prosecutor

Notes from the Birmingham Mall


A bi-racial, multi-generational grassroots uprising is trying to turn Alabama, the Reddest state in the Deep South, Blue in Tuesday's special election for U.S. Senate, as average citizens knock on doors, distribute lawn signs and work the phones for former U.S. prosecutor Doug Jones in his insurgent race against former state judge and credibly accused pedophile Roy Moore.

That a Democrat has a fair shot at taking a seat in the narrowly divided U.S. Senate away from the GOP is as much as testimony to the self-dealing and corruption of the Alabama Republican party as it does to any creeping sense of buyer's remorse for the Donald Trump brand nationally. Luther Strange, who has been temporarily filling the Senate seat Jeff Sessions held until he left to serve as Trump's attorney general, was himself the attorney general of the state until Robert Bentley, Alabama's last governor, fell from grace in a statehouse sex scandal earlier this year. His appointment of Strange to keep Session's seat warm until another Republican could take his place in a special election was widely viewed in Alabama as a quid pro quo for Strange's promise not to prosecute him. Republican state legislators have been hauled up on financial corruption trials too, hastening the day when the GOP's one party rule in Montgomery may be coming to end.

“The Republican party is rotten to the core in Alabama,” said Jerry McDonald, a white 67-year-old retired air freight worker who grew up in Southside Birmingham. He has been spending his free time speaking in black churches on behalf of Doug Jones, canvassing and making cold calls in the suburbs of neighboring Shelby County since September. “There is a growing sense that if we kick it, it will collapse,” said McDonald. “This is the moment.”

Doug Jones spoke to a fired-up campaign rally of about 500 volunteers at the historic Boutwell Auditorium in the center of Birmingham, the heart of the one reliably blue county in Alabama, on Saturday night, after a rousing introduction by former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. The Boutwell was the site of a Nat King Cole concert in 1956, where the beloved singer was beaten on stage by white racists. But times have changed.

Jones quoted Seamus Heaney, by heart, from The Cure at Troy: “History says, 'Don't hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.' We have a chance on December 12th for hope and history to rhyme in Alabama.”

Jones, best known for prosecuting and jailing two aging Ku Klux Klan members who bombed the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young African American girls in 1963. That story has resonated powerfully in the downtrodden black neighborhoods of Birmingham like Woodlawn, where six of us from Western Massachusetts went door to door for hours on Saturday morning carrying literature for Doug Jones. We found his campaign supported by everyone we spoke with. Jones' signs proliferate in the well-heeled interracial suburbs of Fultondale too, where we met very few who had not already made up their minds to vote for Jones on Tuesday.

The 4th Avenue Doug Jones headquarters in Birmingham is bustling with volunteers. It is located one block from the 16th St. Baptist Church, where Civil Rights' icon and Congressional Black Caucus leader John Lewis, of Georgia, along with Lilly Ledbetter will headline a get out the vote rally for Jones in the park on Sunday afternoon.

Jones has toured the state, working hard, appearing at more than 600 campaign events, and promoting his platform of a livable wage for the working class, access to health care for all, investment in education, and support for civil rights.

The campaign headquarters are located in the historic black business district, and the staff is led by young, tech savvy African Americans who are working closely in a broad coalition with white volunteers from the suburbs. Our small delegation of grassroots activists from Franklin County, MA who drove through an early Alabama snowstorm on Friday to lend a hand were joined there by an influx of like minded folks from around the country, who are descending on Alabama to help get out the vote for Jones. We worked side by side with four women from New Jersey, a college professor from Chapel Hill, NC, and a woman from Portland, Oregon, along with volunteers from Washington DC, Mississippi, and many other parts of the country, and we were warmly welcomed and put right to work. After the Democrats' surprisingly strong showing in the November elections in Virginia, there is a sense that Tuesday's special election in Alabama – the first Senate election of the depraved Trump era – could be the next bellwether in the mounting tide of revulsion against Republican dominance of the nation's affairs. As wild fires burn in Southern California, and a $1.5 trillion tax giveaway to the super rich couples with the latest attack on the Affordable Care Act, there is a narrow opening for Jones to prevail. And as the nation faces a pivotal moment with women uniting to overturn the deeply ingrained culture of oppression, predation, and sexual harrassment in the workplace, Trump's full-throated endorsement of Roy Moore rings hollow. Like Trump, Moore has been credibly increased by numerous women of sexual predation and inappropriate contact, in Moore's case while they were underage or young teenagers.

In addition to those claims, there are the known facts of Moore's career – including his being removed not once but twice from the Alabama Supreme Court: for refusing to allow gay marriage in Alabama even after the US Supreme Court upheld its legality nationwide and his refusal to remove a huge monument to the 10 Commandments from his courtroom. Moore has called for homosexuality to be recriminalized and for banning Muslims – like Keith Ellison – from serving in Congress.

Now Moore, who has refused to debate Jones and made very few campaign appearances himself, is running a stealth campaign in Alabama, relying on his party label to carry him to victory on Tuesday. The latest polls, and conventional wisdom, still predict Moore will be elected, albeit narrowly.

But if the energy of the volunteers who have been pounding the pavement and making more than a million phone calls to Alabama voters on behalf of Jones is any indication, the prosecutor has a good chance of staging an upset against the pedophile. The Alabama business community and the bluebloods along the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail who fear the fall-out of a Moore victory on Alabama's image, have begun to turn against him, Jerry McDonald says, citing the evidence planted on their front lawns in the form of Doug Jones lawn signs.

Once in a lifetime, hope and history rhyme. Tuesday, look to Alabama and see if that day may have dawned at last in the Reddest state in the Deep South.