By Sydney Melson and Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Standing on the steps of the downtown Birmingham church where she lost an eye and her sister Addie Mae Collins and three other girls died in a 1963 bombing, Sarah Collins Rudolph, had a simple message for those gathered outside the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Monday.
“Today I stand for all the girls [who died in the bombing] because they didn’t get a chance to vote, so I’m marching for them today,” Collins Rudolph said. “I was in the hospital [after the attack] and my mother told me all the girls in the church were killed and I was the only survivor.”
Collins Rudolph was among a number of Birmingham and Jefferson County officials, community members and national activists in downtown Birmingham to urge citizens to vote in the November 3 election.
The organizers were downtown as part of the State of Emergency Vote Tour that raises the importance of next week’s election. The tour began in Orlando on Oct. 23 and will travel to 12 cities through November 3.
“We have nothing to lose but our chains,” said DeJuana Thompson, founder of Woke Vote, a Birmingham-based social justice organization, and one of the organizers of Monday’s event. “Even when people are trying to take that vote away, people are still organizing to ensure our voices are heard.”
“We have to stand for the people who don’t receive attention. Maya Angelou said: ‘I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.’ We’re standing as thousands today on behalf of our communities,” she said.
Tamika D. Mallory, co-founder of Until Freedom, another social justice organization, aimed at unifying and empowering the Black vote, asked attendees to “to stand and fight for justice.”
She also said Breonna Taylor, who was killed in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this year, “will now be used as a catalyst for a movement that will change the conditions for Black people and Black women in America.”
Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, also spoke of the importance of people heading to the ballot box. “I’m voting because Breonna can’t, because she couldn’t get justice,” Palmer said. “It’s not the first time I voted, but it’s the first time I’m voting like my life depended on it.”
Cara McClure, president of Birmingham’s Black Lives Matter chapter, said citizens are “in a state of emergency . . . vote like our lives depend on it, because it does,” she said.
Others who spoke included Jefferson County Commission Pro-Tem Lashunda Scales; Ed Fields, chief strategist for Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, Birmingham City Councilor Crystal Smitherman and the Rev. Gwen Webb, a Civil Rights Activist and Neighborhood Association president.
Following the gathering at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, many of the participants marched to the Jefferson County courthouse where in-person absentee voting was held. From there, the group canvassed through the Gate City community in East Lake.
In the Gate City, more than two dozen volunteers with Until Freedom and Woke Vote went door to door to make sure residents were registered to vote; registering those who were not and encouraging those who were to vote November 3.
“We don’t rally around candidates or parties, we rally around social justice causes that affect Black and brown communities, so this is bigger than just the 2020 election we are trying to build political power and political capital beyond 2020,” said Cedric Norman, a volunteer with Woke Vote.
DeJuana Thompson, founder of the organization, said the tour could not come at a better time.
“History has taught us time and time again, if we want change in this country, we have to fight for it ourselves. So this is a state of emergency — it is a righteous call to action,” she said. “Our collective existence, the justice for every name we’ve ever had to hashtag, it’s on the ballot this year; every policy that could help or further harm our community, it’s on the ballot this year; who we love, how we resist and what we value, it’s on the ballot this year. This moment, this tour, this vote- it’s about us.”
Until Freedom is an intersectional social justice organization rooted in the leadership of diverse people of color to address systemic and racial injustice.
Woke Vote’s mission is to invest in the activation, long-term engagement, training and development of new organizers, and mobilization of historically disengaged voters of color.