The road to reform
Insight from the Anniston Star
By Jeanne Cross
Special to The Star
04-29-2007

The college experience ushers in many rites of passage necessary before a checkbook-balancing, grocery-buying, apartment-owning “adult” can be produced.

Roadtrips are one such rite of passage, and they are arguably one of the most revered experiences of college. Whether Waffle House or Panama City, college students always are looking for a good excuse to get behind the wheel where the rubber meets the road.

On Wednesday, however, I had the opportunity to be a part of a different type of roadtrip. This one was to Montgomery for reform of Alabama's 1901 Constitution. For a college student, the prospect of a roadtrip takes precedence over attending class any day; however, there was more than just missing class lectures motivating students from across the state, including myself, to trade our backpacks for banners.

John Knox, Alabama's former Constitution Convention president, exemplifies our reasons for going to Montgomery in his statement of why Alabama's current constitution was written: “We must get rid of the Negro problem and establish white supremacy in this state.”

In 1901, 155 white males, mostly plantation owners and industrialists, wrote Alabama's sixth and current constitution. These writers openly discussed ways to disenfranchise African-American and poor white voters. The slogan used to ratify the constitution was, “White Supremacy! Honest Elections! And a new constitution! One and inseparable!”

In addition to remaining overtly racist, Alabama's Constitution was explicitly written to strip away power from the local government in order to consolidate it within the state Legislature. As a result, all local governments must pass laws through the state government. Because of this, our state Legislature spends more than half its time discussing local issues, when it could be working on statewide issues such as education, healthcare, and poverty.

Because local government cannot sufficiently govern, economic development is greatly hindered due to the tedious legislative process needed to pass local amendments. There are more than 50 amendments simply passed to allow local governing bodies the ability to promote economic development and invest in local infrastructure projects within their county. These amendments can take six months to a year to pass through the state Legislature. As a result, Alabama's ability to compete with other states for future jobs is greatly limited.

Alabama's Constitution is literally the longest constitution in the world, bearing nearly 800 amendments — seven times longer than any other constitution in this country. The constitutional amendments cover such topics as bingo, mosquito control, catfish, soybeans, dead farm animals and beaver tails. The imposing length of the document makes it less accessible to the citizens it is supposed to serve.

While the Constitution is racist, limits economic development, local government, and described at its best, is the longest most ineffective in the country, the reason closest to my heart for constitutional reform involves none of these things. I am passionate about constitutional reform because our current Constitution oppresses the poor, and my convictions in Christ will not let me keep silent. My God is a God of the oppressed and the poor (Isaiah 1:10-17, Proverbs 14:31, Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23), and as a follower of Christ I have the joy, as well as the responsibility, to seek justice as his follower.

Embedded in the Constitution, Alabama's regressive tax structure taxes families further into poverty. In Alabama, a family of four paid state income tax with a taxable income of just $4,600 up until this past year when the minimum taxable income became $12,600. This amount is still much lower than the poverty line.

In comparison, Mississippi does not start collecting income tax until $19,500. In Alabama, the poorest 1 percent of the state pay more than 14 percent of their income in taxes, while the riches 1 percent pays less than 4 percent in taxes. This is absurd and immoral.

In addition, Alabama has one of the highest sales taxes in the region at 9 percent, taxing basic goods such as milk, non-prescription drugs and baby formula.

On Wednesday, college students around the state, including myself, got behind the wheel where the rubber meets the road to rally against the racist, the restrictive, and the regressive Alabama Constitution of 1901. We went to Montgomery because the people of Alabama deserve to be governed by a better Constitution, and we demand they get the choice to vote for a better constitution. Please join us in this rally for reform.

Jeanne Cross is a sophomore at Samford University majoring in psychology and sociology.

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