I have roots that go deep in Alabama. My father’s family is from there and is spread all over the state from Birmingham to Mobile. My parents retired to Alabama’s Gulf Coast and my sister moved to the state after her divorce.
I lived there as an infant after they moved us to Montgomery while dad was in Vietnam so we could be near my dad’s parents while he was at war. In 2005, I evacuated there ahead of Hurricane Katrina making landfall and ended up living above my folks’ garage for more than a year while recovering my house and city from the devastating flooding.
There is a lot of natural beauty in the state but the special election for the Senate seat vacated by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions showed a spotlight on the ugly underbelly of Alabama’s strange combination of white nationalism and Christian evangelism.
This is a state Trump won by 28 points just over a year ago.
Yesterday, though, Alabama voters rejected Roy Moore and elected Doug Jones. With 99% of the votes in, Jones had 673,236 votes to Moore’s 652,300. While Moore isn’t conceding, those 20,000 votes will survive a recount.
What can we learn from the numbers coming out?
Most crucially – that African-American women are the beating heart and soul of the Democratic party.
Fifty-eight percent of Alabama women voted for Doug Jones, including a paltry 35 percent of white women. However the difference is that ninety-eight percent of black women voted for him. I hope the party (and those who fund prospective candidates) are paying attention to who got him to victory.
The second lesson is that field work wins elections.
There was a significant boots-on-the-ground, get-out-the-vote effort, especially in the Black Belt, that resulted in turnout higher than the 2012 election (according to exit polling, went for Jones by 92 points. In 2012, African-Americans made up 28% of voters and Barack Obama won them by 91 points).
Money was spent on local billboards in black communities reminding folks of the election date, while a number of organizations prioritized calling all registered voters and educating folks about what to do about voter suppression efforts (checking registration ahead of election day, staying in line no matter how long, not letting the police presence at the polls checking for active warrants discourage voting, procedures for casting provisional ballots when necessary, etc).
Significant efforts were also put on getting people out to vote by arranging carpools and rides and organizing in black churches to get “souls to the polls.”
Those efforts paid off big time.
There are also lessons that need to be taken to heart. For all those thinking about running for office, remember that focussing on kitchen table issues can win elections, especially when the opponent only has hyper-partisan dog whistles and no substantive policy positions (other than wanting to jail LGBT people, kick all Muslims out of public life, and a dream to return the country back to the greatness of slavery).
Furthermore, personal integrity is still crucial to a lot of voters. The GOP lock on family values has taken a serious blow, especially in light of the number of supposed pro-lifers (and GOP funders) who were willing to champion an accused sexual predator.
We are also seeing how much a state’s urban/rural divide is being exacerbated by gerrymandering (large numbers of votes came from the counties housing Alabama’s five biggest cities). We must not allow our state legislatures to pass further laws to suppress the vote.
Each and every vote was crucial, so all those who love democracy should shift their focus to 2018 and getting out the vote. All 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested, as well as numerous governors and state races.
We can win. And, for a change, Alabama is leading the way.
Essay title comes from Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd.