To Pastor and Mrs. Holland, to the congregants of Shiloh Missionary Baptist church; to Mayor Joanne Grimsley, Mayor Vickie Moore; to City Councilman George Williams and dignitaries; to Alvin and Vera Beacham for their invitation; to the event organizers; and to the people of Midland City, I bring you greetings in the name of the justice that Dr. King stood for, and in the name of the service that Coretta Scott King said this day was to represent.
Dr. King’s voice embodied the righteous authority of an overdue moral revolution that swept through the south and America. His voice called for desegregation at the height of Jim Crow; it cried for equality under the law when “states’ rights” institutionalized interposition and nullification; and it clarified the injustice of poverty for those African Americans—those descendants of slaves—who, as King put it, “still lived in the basement of the Great Society.” That voice punctuated a movement and shaped the tactics and language for generations of activists across the world. That voice, bearing the lilt of a generation of southern preachers, preached love to hate, and preached resistance to complacency. Dr. King’s voice, which inspired us yesterday, should drive us today. Click Here to Read the Entire Message
It should stand as a reminder that terror is not destiny; and that this moment, like his moment, can only fester not because of what King called the “words and actions of the bad people” but because of “the appalling silence of the good people.” When exclusion has become enmeshed in our civic consciousness; when vast inequality—between poor and rich, between black and white, between undocumented and citizens—has punctured our political landscape; when racism—yes, racism—has infected our national character, we must embrace the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement and remember that we, the people, are what bridges the chasm between the America we see and the America we can be.
We must remember that in the face of Republican majorities in the House and the Senate; that in the face of a majority on the Supreme Court; and in the face of the President himself, this day should stand as a reminder that we still have a say in the political process, and that we say exactly what King said in his day: let freedom ring!
Let freedom ring in the court rooms, where justice denied feeds the imprisonment of lost generations of American citizens. Let freedom ring on our coastlines and borders where cruelty has become confused for security, leaving children who grew up knowing nothing but America fearing separation from their home. Let freedom ring on our streets, where seventeen year old boys and girls like Ulysses Wilkerson walk in fear of agents of the state that view some American children as interlopers in their own countries. Let freedom ring in our states, which have seen corporate dominance and automation choke our ability to collectively bargain for the wages and hours we deserve. Let freedom ring through our politics, which has abandoned morality for money, and traded vision for political convenience. But above all, let freedom through the ballot box, like it did this past December, like it will in November, proving that it is our effort, our power and our organizing that determines where our future lies.
The question that Dr. King posed to the SCLC in 1967 should reverberate through the present, and govern what this moment represents for Alabama and America: “Where do we go from here?” “Where do we go from here?” If we don’t answer that question, time, degraded by complacency will answer it for us. If we don’t answer that question, Trump and the forces that brought him into being will answer it for us. Alabama walked into the New Year facing the reality of possibility anew. Coretta Scott King reminded us that, “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”
A future was born from the collective struggle of those in this state. It was shaped by us, and led to a Democrat taking the Senate for the first time in almost three decades. In the wake of that stunning victory—afforded in no small part to black people and particularly black women throughout the state—we must remember that we were not fighting for power for power’s sake. We were not taking a step forward with no destination. We are participants in the long struggle, standing for and with the poor, and the divested from; the sick and the neglected; the oppressed and the dispossessed, whose plight that we as Democrats, and as people of good will have taken upon ourselves to address. For us, victory is not just won at the ballot box. It’s won through guaranteeing that America’s fruits are available to all Americans.
The dream—left unrealized by his murder during the Poor People’s Campaign—has been left for us to enact. We stand as not just the recipients of his vision, but as the measure for whether an America that can confront what he called the interrelated evils of poverty, racism and militarism will come into being. He did not just see a future where white and black children can join hands together in peace. He saw white and black children coming together to fight those freedoms as the realization of that peace. His dream is our charge; and only through our action, our organization, and our movement toward an Alabama that sees no barrier to where we can go, can his dream become our reality.
I’m running for Congress because I believe, as I’ve always believed, that what happens in Alabama foreshadows this nation’s greatest triumphs just as it reflects its greatest sins. Alabama stands at America’s crossroads, with our feet standing uncertainly between the America we must have and the America we can no longer afford. But I’m heartened, because I know that the fierce urgency of now will motivate our footsteps. The Alabama that sees universal healthcare as a right for all; the Alabama that sees a living wage and labor rights; the Alabama that embraces equality and justice by seeking to right historical injustice is within our reach. As Alabama did when our protests forced the hand of Jim Crow; as Alabama did when my mentor, Amelia Boynton Robinson, joined the organizers on Bloody Sunday to embrace the political power that was their right; we have been called to do now. That is the service that we owe to a moral arc that cannot bend itself. That is the service we must fulfill to ourselves, to our country, to our state and all of our people.
This is our time. We have in our hands the opportunity to shift the moral compass of Alabama and the nation. I close with a quote from Howard Thurman, the African-American philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. Thurman’s theology of radical nonviolence influenced and shaped a generation of civil rights activists, including Dr. King, who he mentored. It reads:
“The movement of the spirit of God in the hearts of men and women often calls them act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and kindles a hope that inspires.”
Let us be the hope that inspires not just our generation, but generations to come!
I’m Audri Scott Williams, and I’m running for the U.S House of Representatives right here in District 2.
God bless you, God bless Alabama and God bless the United States of America.