An organization that probably does – and has done — more to improve the lot of working folks in Alabama than any other, especially the working poor, is Alabama Arise. As you may know, Alabama Arise is a coalition of approximately 150 congregations, associations, and community groups that promote fairer public policies affecting low-income Alabamians. Many local and statewide churches and church-affiliated associations are members of Arise. But its diverse membership also includes health-related organizations, environmental and environmental justice groups, associations of teachers and college graduates, groups focusing on criminal justice issues, statewide coalitions on hunger, domestic violence, and human relations; advocates for fair housing; groups concerned about child care; and student chapters at several Alabama universities.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Alabama Arise hired its first full-time staff member, my good friend Kimble Forrister, in 1991. Kimble remains the State Coordinator, but Arise now has ten staff members working to analyze poverty issues. Throughout its history Arise has tackled a broad range of issues faced by low-income Alabamians. These include state funding for public transit; the inequities of the death penalty; funding for elderly, child, and low-income health care; predatory lending practices; constitutional reform; and education reform. Among other things, Arise actively fought in the school equity funding war. They have worked tirelessly for legislation to outlaw or regulate the extortionate practices of payday lending that prey on those outside the “normal” banking system, even though the lenders ultimately succeeded in watering down substantially the protections for consumers for which Arise had fought. They have pushed for increases in funding for AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and Medicaid. They spoke out and organized against the shameful veto by George W. Bush (and the acquiescence in that veto by many congressional Republicans) that blocked the expansion of the federal SCHIP program that would have provided insurance to millions of Alabama and other American children. In 2006 they helped win passage of Alabama’s historic, first landlord-tenant law, establishing basic rights and duties of both landlords and tenants.
Possibly Alabama Arise’s best, most persistent, and almost surely most difficult work has been aimed at reforming Alabama’s regressive tax system. That tax system severely under-taxes the property of big, politically-connected corporate landholders such as ALFA, leaves public services (including education, health care, and infrastructure) at permanent risk of being cash-poor and underfunded, and places a disproportionate burden on middle and especially lower-income Alabamians. As one of the fruits of a several-year campaign, Alabama Arise helped spearhead passage of legislation that put to a popular vote the comprehensive tax reform package that was a centerpiece in Governor Bob Riley’s first term – although the package ultimately was voted down by voters after an expensive, misleading ad campaign by its well-heeled opponents. In 2006, Alabama Arise succeeded in winning passage of an increase in the income-tax threshold from $4,600 – well below the poverty level for a family of 4, and among the lowest in the U.S. – to $12,600. This past Legislative session, working once again with key legislative allies (including Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery), Arise fought to remove the sales tax on groceries – which only a handful of states other than Alabama impose. The bill came close to passage, but died on the last day of the session.
Although constantly battling against entrenched and wealthy special interests (who are quick to appeal to voters’ fears because they can’t win on the merits), with the poverty rate in Alabama – especially for children and even working families – still among the highest in the U.S., Alabama Arise continues to fight aggressively for policies to improve the lives of low-income Alabamians. If you would like to have a list of these programs that are priorities, you may visit their Web site at www.alarise.org.
The priorities set by the coalition’s membership are all steps toward Alabama Arise’s longer-term, 15-year goals which are:
A fair, adequate, transparent and simple state tax system
A restorative criminal justice system rather than a punitive one
A new state constitution that reflects Arise’s core values
A state budget that provides equitable and adequate services for low-income people
Wages, benefits and policies that provide economic security for all working people in the state
Safe, affordable, accessible and adequate housing for all Alabamians
Against long odds, Kimble Forrister and the others at Alabama Arise have achieved some historic improvements of conditions for low-income residents and Alabamians generally. But, as we all know, much remains to be done, and Arise needs your support. Alabama Arise takes seriously Jesus’ words,
Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me!
For more information, to become a member, or to contribute, go to their Web site, www.alarise.org, or contact them in Montgomery at (334) 832-8060.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.