Save Ourselves Summit Initiates the Movement

sos_asu_greene2-2012Saving OurSelves started in 2012 at the Save Ourselves Summit, a special meeting to begin to organize efforts to combat oppressive, extremist policies that were being pased by Alabama’s new Republican-controlled Legislature.

The story below comes from the Greene County Democrat

More than 400 people, from over twenty participating organizations across the state of Alabama, attended Saturday’s Save Ourselves Summit at Alabama State University in Montgomery to explore issues, strategies and a vision to overcome the damage to the quality of life of people in the state inflicted by the regressive and right-wing laws and policies adopted by the Republican dominated Legislature and state government.

There were nine panels with forty speakers, breakout sessions and report-back sessions to fill the four hour meeting followed by a delicious lunch in the University’s cafeteria.

The panels ranged from establishing a progressive “think-tank” to research new policies, strategies and tactics, to voter mobilization for coming elections, to popular education, to youth leadership, to tools for communications, fundraising and direct action.

“There was so much information and so many new ideas and strategies presented in all areas, that it was hard to take it all in,” said Sherita Hale, a participant from Sumter County. Calvin Knott of Greene County said, “ I hope people will keep working and carry out some of the ideas discussed.”  The same thoughts were echoed by Helen Rivas of Birmingham, in interviews in the cafeteria after the meeting.

The session began with a panel on culture, which set the tone for the meeting and displayed the diversity of participants. Scott Douglas, Director of Greater Birmingham Ministries set a historical frame on the state’s struggles for social and economic justice emerging out of slavery, Jim Crow, corporate domination by coal and steel barons to the Civil Rights Movement and the current regressive shift by the Legislature.

Myra Rangel eloquently presented the daily dilemmas for Hispanic immigrants facing the strict controls of HB 56 and HB 658, the worst  anti-immigrant legislation in the nation. Rangel said, “ We are immigrants but we came to this county to work and provide for our families. We are brave people. We work and do not complain – even though our working conditions are often unfair and abusive. We pay taxes. We are desperate to become legal to protect our families from disruption. We are not going to rest until our demands for justice are heard.”

April Caddell, a recent graduate of Spellman College in Atlanta and a member of the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement gave a youth perspective on ”the importance of culture in shaping the way we live and work and our future destiny.”

Victor Spezzini, a native of Paraguay in South America, the son of an American Peace Corps worker and a Paraguayan native, with ties to a European ancestry talked about the personal dimensions of being an immigrant and a citizen.

He pointed out that economic conditions fostered by trade and foreign policies of the U. S. in Mexico and Latin American has contributed to the displacement of rural and urban people forcing them to migrate northward into facing policies like Alabama’s anti-immigrant laws.

Bradley Davidson, who works with the Alabama Democratic Party, pointed out that the Legislative Redistricting Plan, “ will have the effect of making white Democrats an extinct group. They have set up the districts to perpetuate control by Republicans, elected from majority white districts. Poor white voters do not fully understand what is happening but the truth is that most of the social welfare programs in the state like Medicaid (health care and nursing home beds) as well as Food Stamps serve 70% white people. Cuts in these programs affect white people too. If enough people understand this reality, it will be the beginning of reasserting a more progressive Democratic Party in Alabama.”

Al Henley, President of the state AFL-CIO was the last speaker on the opening panel. He said he was asked to explain why many working-class white voters voted against their own economic interest. “All I can say is that people are uninformed, misinformed and influenced by Southern culture, in answer to that challenging question.” Henley went on to say, “ the vast amounts of corporate money in politics is a shame and a disgrace.  This is the result of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. Add to that the new restrictions in Alabama on unions spending money in political campaigns tilts things against the people who like us want to see progressive change.”

sos_asu_greene1-2012There were eight additional panels which explored aspects and elements of the strategies needed by the Save Ourselves Summit to change Alabama in a positive and progressive direction. The eight panels were: establishing a think-tank, voter mobilization, direct action support teams, youth leadership, a communications center, popular education, state policy initiatives and a fundraising center for the SOS Coalition.

The ideas presented by the panels were further examined and intensified in breakout sessions where summit attendees were able to comment and present more ideas, strategies and plans.

After the reports from the small groups, Roberta Watts of Alabama New South Coalition and a major convener of the SOS Summit said, “we will continue meeting, our eight committees will continue meeting and we will begin implementing our strategies for change in Alabama.”

Senator Hank Sanders, another major force behind the SOS Summit said, “we have demonstrated that we can bring diverse people around the state together to fight for progressive change. Now we must work every day at the local county level and the state level to enhance our solidarity and capability to work together for change. This is just the beginning of what our SOS Summit and its members can achieve.”

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