Address Given by Audri Scott Williams
at the AME 9th District, Christian Education Congress
July 26, 2017
Giving due honor and gratitude to Bishop Seawright and Rev. Sherita Moon Seawright of District 9, to the presiding elders, spouses, Brother Richard Bowden, and to all brothers and sisters in Christ gathered here today. My name is Audri Scott Williams and I greet you in the name of God and in the name of the peace and the human rights I’ve spent my life struggling to achieve.
This is a time of tribulation and a time for change for America and for Alabama. We’ve seen the same poll taxes they used to stop our parents and grandparents from voting come back as Voter ID Laws in the same Alabama where my mentor, Amelia Boynton Robinson, was beaten on Bloody Sunday. We witnessed an administration elected to “Make America Great Again,” create a commission with the goal of purging voters from the rolls. We’ve seen how right here in Alabama, the sixth poorest state in the nation, our ex-governor thought it was better to borrow 800 million dollars to build four new prisons than it was to create a jobs program or raise the minimum wage. We are bearing witness to a swift transition from the hope of the past, to the escalating hostility of the present. But the wonder of change and the responsibility it bestows to each of us is the knowledge that bearing witness isn’t enough.
During my time as a Global Trustee of the United Religions Initiative, I’ve walked the world from Europe to the Middle East; from the expanses of Asia to Africa, working to end religious persecution and to create common ground between peoples and groups and faiths. My experiences continue to teach me so many valuable lessons, but nothing as important as this: change isn’t given to us. It doesn’t swing inevitably between good change and bad change then back to good. It doesn’t just appear when the time is right, or when politicians call for it. Change is made.
Change is formed by people like you, who look at healthcare and see it as a life-or-death necessity which everyone should have access to, not a privilege to be snatched from the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich.
Change is shaped by people like you, who see our children stand neglected in underfunded schools; who look at young adults take on crippling debt just to get an education and think something must be done.
Change is forged by people like you, who have labored and worked in a state where Republicans banned cities and towns from raising the minimum wage.
Change is forged by people who think that workers have a right to a livable wage and collective bargaining power in the workplace, even when they are doing jobs their bosses and lawmakers in our country do not value.
Alabama is facing a crisis. We see it in the closed storefronts that we drive past every day. We can sense it in the rural hospitals that the Republican healthcare bill is threatening to shut down. We observe it in the paychecks that aren’t large enough to cover the growing price of food and the friends and family who struggle with them. Here in Pike County alone, 25 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty line. It’s the 10th poorest county in our state. Its story is not unique to the Black Belt or the state. Alabamans make 11,000 dollars less than the median income in the rest of America.
We’ve tried tax cuts for the wealthy. We’ve tried having one of the lowest minimum wages in the country. We’ve tried being a “Right to Work” state. We’ve tried small government. We’ve tried denying Medicaid to our poor. And all we’ve gotten in return is being the sixth poorest state in the nation. It’s time for something new.
It’s time for an inclusive economy that lets workers—not wealthy elites—decide that they need a living wage. It’s time to make justice a word that we can hear outside of the court room and apply it to the working-class woman that’s making only 73 cents for every dollar a man earns, and to the black family whose median income is almost half that of a white family. It’s time to guarantee healthcare as a right for all, and to challenge the cruelty that threatens our seniors and our sick with death as a punishment for not being rich. It’s time to support teachers, and to give schools the funding they need to equalize access and resources. It’s time to stand behind tuition and debt-free public colleges, to remove the burden of unnecessary punishing debt from their shoulders. It’s time to commit, once and for all, to the full civil rights and equality that’s been long overdue to African Americans in this state and this district. It’s time to embrace the human rights that protects my longtime relationship and marriage with my partner; and that doesn’t make citizenship a precondition for safety and stability, even within our borders.
Change only comes when our response to crisis is action. It only comes when we learn to view change not as an external force, but as an extension of ourselves and our choices. We need to be clear about what we face and what we suffer as a state and as a people, but that knowledge must not turn into paralysis. It must not lull us to sleep. The stakes are too high and too far reaching.
Now is the time when we must wake up! If you’re worried about your healthcare, call your Senators. If you’re tired of fretting in front of the news, join your local Democratic chapter. If you don’t have an active Democratic chapter, make it active. Vote! Make sure everyone you know is registered. Now is the time. Organize! Agitate! Because we are the change. We are the inheritors of the legacy people like Fannie Lou Hamer, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Amelia Boynton Robinson and so many others left us, and what happens next isn’t in Trump’s hands, it isn’t in the state’s hands, it isn’t even in mine. It’s in ours.
I am Audri Scott Williams, and I am running for the US House of Representatives in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, against Martha Roby.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.