Today, I want to talk about something that has been on the minds of every American since January 6th. Like many others, I found myself looking on in shock and horror as the Capitol was defaced and our democracy faced its toughest test likely since the Civil War. I even found myself tearing up in anger and frustration, especially as I began thinking about how so many protesters suffered grievous injuries while fighting for racial justice last summer. In contrast, these extremists seemed to go by unharmed, although thankfully it appears that most of those who participated in the violence will eventually be caught and charged.
You may ask, what does Together Baton Rouge have to do with this? It’s true that we generally focus on local issues, and as many within the organization will tell you, those issues have much more of an impact on your everyday life than national politics do. However, I believe what we saw that day was the symptom of much deeper problems that exist within all of our communities. Despite the desire to blame these problems on any one person or group, we must remember that we are all responsible for strengthening the weaknesses in our democratic institutions, weaknesses which were made glaringly apparent by the events of January 6th. I think it is not only possible but absolutely necessary to condemn the actions of the individuals who threatened our democracy that day while also acknowledging the factors that could have led to such violence. The attack on the Capitol also holds particular significance to Louisiana and Baton Rouge, as reports indicate that local business owners were present at the insurrection, while many of our elected officials voted against the certification of the election results – even after their lives were threatened that day.
In John Dewey’s, “How We Think”, the author takes after John Locke in critiquing a series of errors that Locke believed we are all prone to making when formulating our thoughts and beliefs. One common error in thinking which I found particularly poignant describes people who “sincerely and readily follow reason” but “converse with but one sort of men, read but one sort of book and… will not come in hearing but one sort of notion.” Nowhere is this error more evident than in our current political climate. Despite significant progress in terms of racial equality, Black and White Americans remain largely segregated, whether in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, or even the churches they attend. Those who grow up in urban environments rarely, if ever, interact with those from more rural areas. As someone who grew up in an urban environment, I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like in a rural area. In fact, I even fear driving through them at times. Another significant divide exists in the realm of education. Pursuing a higher education frequently divides you from those that don’t, even if this separation isn't necessarily intentional on your part. After all, we primarily make friends through our educational institutions. In this, I also share some guilt. All of my closest friends have had at least some college education, and many are pursuing graduate degrees. Age as well is a huge divide, to the point that I can have a hard time even holding a conversation with an older person – much less find any means by which we might closely relate to one another.
"As a network of religious, labor, education and community leaders from all walks of life and all political persuasions, we condemn the acts of insurrection and violence in Washington, D.C."
We the leaders of Together Baton Rouge are shocked and appalled by what happened at the Capitol Wednesday, January 6. The Capitol was disrespected and demeaned by violent actors who threatened the rights of every citizen who peaceably engages in the democratic process in our country.
Deliberation, debate, argument, compromise, deal-making: these are the means to advance interests in a democracy. Working with our sister organizations of the West/Southwest IAF, we teach and practice these political skills every day; fighting in a non-violent manner on behalf of the issues that impact families and traveling regularly to state Capitols, City Halls and decision-making chambers to advance these issues. That the buildings and halls of power belong to these organized citizens is made self-evident by their consistent and persistent presence throughout years of effort. Their work is carried out through hundreds of conversations full of respectful dissent, concession, and, sometimes, victory. In other words, democratically.
What happened at the U.S. Capitol not only endangered the officials, staff members and public safety officers who were present, but endangered our democratic institutions by introducing violence to what has, until now, been a tradition of peaceful transfer of power in national leadership. To arrive at the point of raising arms is the weakest form of power in our national leadership and our nation was weakened on January 6 by the use of violence in a place of political debate. We mourn the unnecessary loss of life that occurred as a result of this attack.
As a network of religious, labor, education and community leaders from all walks of life and all political persuasions, we condemn these acts of insurrection and violence in Washington, D.C., and recall the words of Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address at the conclusion of the Civil War: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Dorothy Thomas is a fifty-year member of St. Mary’s Baptist Church. After growing up on her father’s farm in St. James Parish, she moved to Baton Rouge to raise a family and ended up finding a career as a nurse. She first became involved in Together Baton Rouge by spearheading an effort to reopen the Blue Grass Bridge that leads into her neighborhood, North Forest Subdivision. Since that action, she’s stayed involved as one of our most consistent and committed leaders. Whether she’s making hundreds of turn-out calls, working with neighbors to canvass her whole precinct before an election, or pressing the Mayor and City Council for better infrastructure maintenance, Ms. Dorothy simply gets things done. In her narrative, she reflects on her growth as a leader during the Blue Grass Bridge campaign and describes what it means to belong to the Together Baton Rouge family.
Photo by Lily Brooks
I was outside, mostly. Not like most girls, I used to be out with my father, out in the fields. Most of the time, really, when we weren’t at school, I helped my dad in the fields because he had a big farm… And even right now I do a lot outside ‘cause that’s what I’m used to doin’. I work in my flower beds, sometimes cut my yard.
I grew up in St. James Parish. My dad was a farmer, my mom had fourteen children, had two sets of twins but they all died except one. We went to school in Lutcher, that’s a couple of miles from where I lived. For elementary, I went to St. Martin, that’s a smaller school, then from there to Cypress Grove High, where I played basketball, I was a cheerleader, and I was Homecoming Queen one year.
So, I grew up on a farm. I was outside, mostly. Not like most girls, I used to be out with my father, out in the fields. Most of the time, really, when we weren’t at school, I helped my dad in the fields because he had a big farm. When I was growing up, all of us siblings wasn’t there together, because the older ones had gotten married and moved. So, about four of us that was there, we helped our dad, and then he had a few others that worked for him. I was outside most of the time, doin’ stuff on the farm. And even right now I do a lot outside ‘cause that’s what I’m used to doin’. I work in my flower beds, sometimes cut my yard.
On Friday, November 13th Together Louisiana and Together Baton Rouge organized a rally at the Board of Commerce and Industry meeting. This action came in response to the revelation that Marathon Oil had altered public records in order to circumvent new, stricter regulations on ITEP applications. Despite the recent defeat of Amendment 5 and other, recent ITEP victories across the state, this latest request was yet another example of the staunch opposition and corruption that we are facing in our fight against corporate welfare.
The news about Marathon Oil’s fraudulent actions came to us with little time to act. I myself had not heard about the rally until Thursday afternoon. With little time, my colleagues and I had to make sure there were going to be enough people to make a powerful statement to the Board that enough is enough. On top of that, our Mayoral Accountability Assembly was coming up, and we were scrambling to make the final touches on the agenda for that meeting. Despite the workload, we scrambled into action, reaching out to our list of faithful Block Captains.
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: