As the nation held its collective breath on election day (and for another four days afterward), members of Together Louisiana were able to let out a small sigh of relief over a major, local political victory. Constitutional Amendment 5 would have granted hundreds of millions of dollars in future property tax exemptions to the richest corporations operating in Louisiana, further diverting funds from the state's cash-strapped public services. The people of Louisiana need that funding, so they fought for it. And they won.
A few participants in our "Vote No On 5" Campaign have offered their thoughts on what it felt like to be a part of this victory:
On October 20th, we celebrated the birthday of our Senior Organizer, Mr. Khalid Hudson. Although we are in the thick of election season, COVID-19, and a whole host of other important issues, it is important to remember that relationships are at the core of everything we do with Together Baton Rouge.
There could be no stronger testament to the strength of these relationships than the celebration we organized for our Senior Organizer. Phillip, Abel and I came up with the idea to gather a group of leaders from our member institutions via Zoom. One member, Ms. Dorothy Thomas, exhibited her baking prowess by preparing Khalid’s favorite 7-Up cake! Despite his only being in Baton Rouge for a relatively short time, over a dozen leaders from throughout the city gathered on Zoom and expressed their gratitude for the support and guidance they’ve received from Mr. Hudson.
This raises the question – why do we focus on relationship building? When Saul Alinsky began the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council and, after that, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), he was largely focused on issues-based organizing. Although he brought diverse groups together around certain community issues, once those issues were resolved, that was it. As a result, many IAF organizations dissolved after a few years once their organizers left and there was no longer a common cause to fight for. Since then, IAF organizations such as Together Baton Rouge have become much more focused on relationship building as the main avenue for achieving long-term change.
Together Baton Rouge has released the following statement regarding proposed changes to the city-parish plan of governance that were recently introduced by the Metro Council. These changes were developed without significant citizen input, so we are asking that the council defer this effort until it can guarantee a truly democratic discussion about restructuring our parish government.
“Out of all the things that we have to fight for, why would we choose the issues that divide us?”
-Rev. Steve Crump,
ret. Minister, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge
In colonial Virginia, 1676, an event took place that would shape the American racial landscape for generations. Bacon’s Rebellion was led by Nathaniel Bacon, a young and rich Virginian Planter who mobilized a band of poor, landless whites; small farmers and indentured servants; as well as free and enslaved blacks who wanted access to land that was not available to them under the colony’s “Indian policy”. The rebellion was quickly extinguished, but the colonial government was sent reeling over the prospect of diverse groups of poor black and white bondsmen and freemen alike coming together to pursue their common self-interest. (Now, let me take pause here to note that the self-interest they were pursuing, in this case, was the appropriation of more land from the indigenous peoples of the region.) This prompted the colonial government to pass stricter laws governing slaves and free blacks while granting more freedoms to poor whites and indentured servants. Laws were created that prohibited and severely punished enslaved blacks for interacting with free blacks and whites, and slave patrols were formed, requiring non-slaveholding whites to police the slave population. These measures institutionalized a racial divide that inextricably linked the survival of poor whites to the disenfranchisement of poor and enslaved blacks, allowing those who profited from the economic system of slavery unimpeded access to wealth.
Almost 300 years later, on the morning of April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the 2nd-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. At the time of his death, King was organizing a group of sanitation workers in Memphis to protest for fair pay and preparing for the upcoming Poor People's Campaign for economic freedom, which was set to take place in Washington D.C later that year.
About a year before his death, on April 14, 1967, at Stanford University, Dr, King gave what would be one of his final speeches, titled The Other America. In this speech, King paints a picture of two Americas, one that is “overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity”, and another where “millions of work starved men (and women) walk the streets daily in search of jobs that don’t exist,” where people find themselves “perishing on a lonely island of poverty, in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”