Weekly Democratic Address
June 5, 2020
Hello, I’m Doug Jones, and I represent Alabama in the United States Senate.
I am talking to you today during what is an incredibly difficult time for America.
As a whole, the events of the past few months and days have opened old wounds and laid bare the disparities in our society, from access to health care and education to economic opportunities and equal justice under the law. The fact that we are facing so many at one time is both overwhelming and clarifying.
I spoke Sunday afternoon at a rally for justice at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham – where 57 years ago, in the shadow of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Police turned fire hoses and vicious dogs on peaceful demonstrators – many of them schoolchildren – who were making a stand for equal rights and importantly a stand for dignity. The scenes from Birmingham at that time – and around the world – made it clear that the inequity in our society could no longer be ignored. Sadly, the legislative changes that came from the movement have been eroded over the years in far too many ways.
There is a clear and direct path from the shadow of the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls died in a bomb blast to the death of George Floyd, just a week or so ago – and centuries of injustice that preceded both.
To make matters worse, the current protests are set against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic that has disproportionately taken the lives of African Americans. It has taken more of their jobs and livelihoods than others. It has demanded much of those who work in front-line jobs in our hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery trucks.
We are painfully aware that this disparity is a multi-generational failure to achieve the ideals of America. It is only when we are all equal that we can truly be indivisible and a nation with justice for all.
But I do have hope. There was a marked difference between the people in Kelly Ingram Park six decades ago and the crowd I witnessed on Sunday: young and old, people of every race and every walk of life attended. I’ve seen this in other cities around our country as well.
This is very important because the test we all face today is not only in changing our laws. We must commit ourselves to personal and systemic change. Can we see the dignity and the humanity of those who in some way are not like us? Can we have hope for others and work for their success? We must pass this test together. And we must maintain as a sense of urgency at reforming the laws and institutions that have perpetuated inequality and injustice.
The question before us now is simply: where do we go from here?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked that question in his last book with the same title: “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” That’s the question every American regardless of race, religion, political party or past differences must ask themselves now. In our hearts, we know that a belief in the dignity of all people is how we begin to not to “get back to normal” but to move toward a better tomorrow.
And while I can’t legislate what’s in people’s hearts, we can all work to break down the systems that produce the discriminatory outcomes and put people’s lives at risk.
In the Senate, there are all manner of legislative actions we can take to address police violence, from bills that would incentivize states to pass laws requiring independent investigations and prosecution of the use of deadly force by police officers, to creating fair and impartial police training.
We also need to pass bills that I’ve been working on since I got into the Senate to help break down the structural inequalities that have led to dramatic economic and health care disparities between white and black Americans.
We need to strengthen and protect access to the ballot box, which is where so many of these local reforms will come from.
I’ll be the first to tell you folks that I just don’t have all the answers, I wish I did, but we’re going to continue to work to find areas of common ground where we can get meaningful reforms passed. And I hope you’ll join me in continuing to listen and learn, because it’s clear that so many of us need to be doing so much more of that these days.
I truly believe that we have an opportunity to come out of this period as a stronger and more just society – but it will take all of us, individually and collectively, doing the hard work.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.