Creative solutions can be found

Published 11:43pm Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My mama use to say, “Son, there is more than one way to skin a cat.” I didn’t understand the term “Skin a cat,” but I understood what she meant: if you cannot do it one way, you can do it another way. I never forgot her words.

I never saw myself as “skinning the cat” the traditional way in the Alabama State Senate. I always saw my Senate role as empowering the community to act in its own interest. Now that I cannot empower the community through my Senate work in the way I used to, I focus differently on skinning the cat. I want to share just four events I participated in this week to illustrate this focus.

Last Sunday, I traveled to Atlanta to facilitate a plenary panel at the Black Immigration Network (BIN) Conference. Basically, the panel discussed how to get things done from a community perspective when our supporters are in the minority in state legislative bodies.

A woman from Mississippi shared how they stopped immigration, charter schools and other initiatives from passing the Mississippi Legislature. A woman from Florida shared community experiences of fighting immigration and other issues before the Florida Legislature. A woman from Tennessee shared her perspective and a man and a woman from North Carolina shared their experiences. I shared our experiences in Alabama which resulted in the worst immigration law in the nation.

As we talked, it became clear community forces in other states learned from what happened in Alabama. They did not just rely on legislative forces but organized powerful community based movements across racial, gender, areas of interests, class and other lines. In Mississippi, legislators actually said that they did not want to end up like Alabama on immigration. They skinned the cat differently.

On Wednesday, I was in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the infamous Arizona Immigration law. We don’t know what the Supreme Court will do but it looks like a majority of the Court may support some aspects of the law. We gathered in front of the Supreme Court to speak to more than a thousand leaders. I spoke to the gathering, as did a number of others. My message and the message of most other speakers focused on the power of unity: United we stand, divided we fall; United we stand, divided we are stuck; United we can never be defeated. We were uniting across lines of race, ethnicity, class, place of origin, areas of interests, etc. “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

Unity is powerful. United we are more powerful than the U.S. Supreme Court. United, we are more powerful than the U.S. Congress. United, we are more powerful than all the forces arrayed against us. United, we can never be defeated. So no matter what the Supreme Court does, we will not be defeated if we are united. “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

The next day, we were in the U.S. Justice Department meeting with the U.S. Attorney General. We were concerned about the way the Justice Department is responding to massive attacks on voting rights and immigration issues. There was a time when we could stop many bad voting laws from passing in the Alabama Legislature. That is no longer the case. We do fight hard in the legislative arena but the numbers are too great to overcome. Unity in our fight from a community perspective is another way. “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

On all three occasions, I shared how a group of 25 organizations had come together in Alabama to stop us from going back to the past. This was the Save Ourselves Summit. The first Summit was Nov.19, 2011 in Montgomery. The next Summit is scheduled for June 30 in Birmingham. We met by conference call on Thursday to forge ahead. We are uniting across differences of race, background, areas of interests, gender, etc. “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

Sometimes, we find that the way we have been doing things is no longer effective. Some of us stop trying as hard. Others just give up. Still, others find new ways to be effective. My mother would be very proud of those who understand and act on her words, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”


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