This week’s award promises to be special, though, for it will be presented at the Civil Rights Institute under the aegis of his old running buddy, Fred Shuttlesworth.
The two clergymen were front and center with Martin Luther King Jr. when time came to assert the rights of black people in Birmingham, one of many cities in the South not especially disposed to do so. In the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alabama’s forward unit in the battle against institutionalized racism, Lowery fought in the front ranks. (Almost literally: in Carry Me Home, author Diane McWhorter tells how he leaped up, “fists ready,” when King was sucker-punched at a 1962 rally.)
Born in Huntsville, a young activist in Mobile, almost blown to bits in “Bombingham,” Lowery left Alabama in 1968 to pastor a church in Atlanta, becoming an iconic figure in that city’s politics while pursuing issues of economic justice throughout the country and around the world. With his copious résumé, Lowery is a natural choice to receive the annual Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.
Friday evening will be memorable and the oratory sparkling, as befits the honoree. Now let’s zip ahead to Shuttlesworth dinners of the future: who are the activists of today who will merit commendations tomorrow for their affirmation of human rights?
Believe it or not, the struggle for civil rights is not over and the impetus for human rights still encounters strong resistance worldwide. Who are the heroes yet unsung risking their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for freedom?
Though human rights have been in play for a couple or three millennia, here in the U.S. we seem more concerned with civil rights, perhaps because our republic was founded on a civil compact, or perhaps because the rights in that original compact were meted out to so few members of American society.
The public crusade currently most analogous to the Civil Rights struggle of the Sixties is probably promulgated by homosexual Americans. Joseph Lowery has recognized a kinship, stating earlier this year, “I support civil rights for all citizens and this includes gay and lesbian citizens. I support civil unions and full benefits (visitation, insurance, etc.) for partners in same-sex relationships.” Though he has not gone so far as to endorse same-sex marriage, the old Methodist minister stands on his hard-won principles: “I am strongly opposed to propositions or amendments that put into law any discrimination against citizens because of sexual orientation.”
He might need to get his marching shoes back out, because here in Sweet Homo Alabama, State Representative DuWayne Bridges wants to enact exactly that kind of discrimination. Irked by UAB’s decision to allow domestic partners of either gender to get employee insurance coverage, the Publican from Valley is talking up legislation to quash that policy, and he’s seconded by at least one Publican gubernatorial candidate looking for a bandwagon to jump aboard. With election year looming, look for more such grandstanding, and if the Publicans take control of the legislature in 2010, look for more of these bad jokes to become worse law.
Speaking of law we could do without, what about the imposition upon women’s rights just enacted by the U.S. House? In the process of passing an expectedly inadequate health care reform bill (neatly skewered by an online wag as “a bailout plan for insurance companies”) with the complicity of all those ostensibly gutsy progressive Democrats, the House endorsed an amendment by Michigan Blue Dog Bart Stupak, a doctrinaire Catholic, to restrict abortions by making them essentially unaffordable for all but the well-to-do.
It started out as politics as usual, allowing a vote on Stupak’s amendment to persuade uncommitted lawmakers to vote for the whole package, with Speaker Pelosi stating that pro-choice lawmakers would vote for the bill nevertheless.
Then a lot of people voted for the amendment, 240 in all, with 64 Democrats joining in to ratify a blunt and sweeping assault on reproductive freedom. Under its provisions, “The amendment will prohibit federal funds for abortion services in the public option. It also prohibits individuals who receive affordability credits from purchasing a plan that provides elective abortions. However, it allows individuals... to separately purchase with their own funds plans that cover elective abortions.”
We’ve insufficient space here to elaborate, but in essence, the Stupak amendment turns back the clock to pre-Roe v. Wade, essentially giving access to abortions only to the wealthy. It’s not change you want to believe in. Another aspect creating disbelief: Artur Davis voted for it.
Of course the state Publican delegation voted for it, and of course Blue Dog Dems Bright and Griffith did, but Davis, representing a district where hope is already at a premium, should have done better by his constituents. Worse, if he voted for the Stupak amendment because it’ll play better for his gubernatorial ambitions, then that reflects poorly on the personal integrity he surely anticipates will inspire voters to choose him next year. We knew he wasn’t going to vote for the health care reform bill. We couldn’t have guessed he would vote against reproductive freedom as well.
As long as riches wax, liberty will wane. While banksters and their barons control access to democracy, the assertions of mere citizens are hard pressed to prevail. Being granted a right is only half the battle, as Joseph Lowery could tell you: if you want freedom, you have to fight to make it yours.
Rev. Joseph Lowery will receive the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award in a ceremony at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel Ballroom at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13. The program will also include a performance by affiliates of the Alabama Celtic Association, including pipers, dancers and musicians, and a tribute to Rev. Shuttlesworth by Nashville songwriter John McAndrew.
For ticket information or more details, call (205) 328-9696 or visit www.bcri.org.