By William Winter
Former Governor of Mississippi
As one who lives over across the border in Mississippi,
I recognize that this is a very presumptuous thing that I am doing
Let me say that I justify this appearance on your program
only by imagining that I am looking into a mirror and that I am talking
about my own state. For we have some of the same identical problems
that you have and a state constitution even older and more outdated.
After all, our states are very much alike. In fact, as
you know, we used to be one until some engineer who couldn't run a
very straight line drew a border between us. Maybe we should have
just stayed together and combined our resources and solved our problems
together. But history doesn't permit us the luxury of retracing our
steps, although we are pretty good at rewriting it when it suits our
Let me say here, though, that I don't want to try to
repeat a lot of that history. As one who grew up in the Great Depression
and the days of Jim Crow, I recall how it was then, and with all of
our problems today, I'll take what we have now and be grateful that
I have been permitted to live in this golden age... and that is where
I think we are.
But because things are now a lot better than they used
to be does not mean that we have gotten to where we ought to be. In
the past, we lost so much time and energy battling old ghosts and
resisting change that now we are called on to make up for those wasted
years. Now we are called on to move to a new level of thinking and
Carl Carmer, who lived in Tuscaloosa back in the thirties
long enough to write a book about your state, wrote this in Stars
Fell On Alabama: "Against a background of lazy serenity and of happy-go-lucky
ease, the inevitable reaction to any unusual stimulus was to do some-
thing about it, something physical and violent." I hope that now we
are still willing to act to do something about the challenge that
confront us, except this time the reaction has to be astute and rational.
It is my understanding that this is what this rally is
all about... the charting of a wise and sensible course that will
help this state to be better able to compete in the twenty-first century
and to ensure that this generation of young Alabamians will have the
brightest possible future.
What is important now is developing our ability to bridge
the differences that so frequently in the past have kept us apart
and prevented us from achieving our ultimate destiny. Those differences
have been between white and black, between urban and rural, between
the privileged and the underprivileged. But not the least of the factors
that thwarted our progress has been the inability of people living
in a given area to recognize their common goals and interests.
Your coming together in this rally today is a significant
step in breaking down these old barriers.
I do not underestimate the difficulties of this effort.
I can testify to this problem out of my own experiences in the politics
of my state. It is not always simple to get people and communities
to lay aside their age-old perceptions of self-interest... to ignore
short-term results... to forget old rivalries... to alter long-held
beliefs and ways of doing things. We folks in the Deep South are bad
about hanging on to old ways, but now the time has come to create
some new and better ways. Those ways start with the process of working
It is not enough, though, simply to pledge that we are
going to do better. We must also understand what it is that we expect
to accomplish out of our common efforts. Let me paint with a broad
brush this afternoon.
You will fine-tune the process, but the bottom line seems
to be that to achieve our maximum destiny, your state, like mine,
needs to upgrade and modernize and make more effective our state constitutions.
I shall not be so presumptuous as to suggest specific details. You
know much more about that than I do.
Let me deal with some ideas regarding how we go about
this process of change. For it to be effective, it obviously has to
have the understanding and support of the people. It cannot be perceived
as being manipulated by some elitist group. Somehow, we have to overcome
the cynicism and the skepticism that a lot of people in politics have
about our capacity for citizen- driven civic change. Many political
leaders pass it off as the well-meaning efforts of a scattered group
of do-gooders who don't understand how the real world operates.
In bringing together so many citizens from across the
state here today, you are on the right track. You already have found
a successful formula. You have created the basis for the kind of civic
renewal that can extend across this state and that can elevate the
level of political thought.
It does not take huge numbers of people to make this
happen. It does take dedication, discipline and the tenacity of enough
of you who understand the basic organizational principles behind this
I saw this happen very dramatically in my state in the
passage of education reform when I was governor. In the face of both
cynical indifference and downright hostility, we were able to mobilize
in every county a small but determined and fearlessly dedicated group
of average citizens who came together to form the most effective political
force behind a specific public issue that I have ever seen.
It was not the numbers so much, although we had more
than 30,000 people who were actively involved, but it was the logic
and intensity and selflessness of their efforts that made the difference
and turned the legislature completely around.
Permanent innovative change has to be based on the development
of broad-based participation that will not be dependent over the long
haul on the direction and leadership of a single individual or party
or political administration. It cannot be jealously and closely guarded
but must be shared with the larger community. It will require a high
degree to collaboration. It can never be based on a concern as to
who gets the credit.
With your initial effort based on these guiding principles,
let me now suggest what the larger, permanent mission must be. It
is to create a clear picture of what most people in Alabama want this
state to look like ten or twenty years from now and let that be the
basis for an extensive... even massive... program of education for
civic change. Let me try to define that mission of civic education.
When I speak of education for civic change, I am not
talking about a dogmatic or sanctimonious kind of approach that suggests
arbitrary and simplistic solutions to very complex problems. I am
not talking about a paternalistic, condescending approach that only
serves to frustrate and divide.
Rather, I am talking about the communication of a vision
that makes people dissatisfied with a status quo of easy accommodation
and self-serving. I am talking about the transmission of an understanding
of how much better and more fulfilling life can be for everybody if
we put aside some of our personal hang-ups and self-serving interests
and work a building bridges across the fault lines that have held
us back in the past. It is, to put it simply, education for the highest
office in our society... the office of citizen. It is an education
that has as its center, a recognition of the worth and dignity of
every human being. It is a commitment that we put more into our society
that we take out.
It is an understanding that each generation must bring
a new and fresh vitality to the process of renewing and reviving and
expanding the values that maintain our stability as a people. For
as John Gardner reminds us in his book, Self Renewal, "the moral order
is an ever changing thing, never any better than the generation that
holds it in trust."
In our country, it has been this element of public decision-making
through involvement of average citizens and the engagement of civic
and humanitarian institutions that has maintained our stability as
a nation. I believe that this was really the force, stronger than
the military that was the decisive element in the long struggle with
cynical forces of communism. We were able to create ways to solve
public problems through responsible citizen action and build a sense
of community that made the ultimate difference.
A democratic society cannot leave grave public issues
to be determined by blind chance or individual impulse. We have to
work at it together. There must be a shared vision that recognizes
our mutual interdependence, and advancing and clarifying that vision
must be our common purpose.
For those of us who have been so greatly favored to have
been the beneficiaries of a good education and the opportunity to
enjoy social and financial success there is an obvious element of
self-interest in all of this.
Because we have so much, we have more to lose if there
develops a basic distrust of our political system, if there is a sense
that it is out of sympathy and out of sync with the needs and hopes
of ordinary citizens, if we get hopelessly divided between the have
and the have-nots But for most of you, there surely must be a motivation
in this effort that is beyond self-interest. That motivation, in the
final analysis, will ultimately determine what kind of people we are
and whether the ideals of truth and equity, that we profess to believe
in, will be strengthened and preserved.
It will determine most importantly what kind of society
we bequeath to our children and grandchildren. That is the only inheritance
that really matters. It must be an inheritance that combines a commitment
to social and economic justice, environmental integrity, the education
and development of all of our people, and in an increasingly diverse
society, the recognition and celebration of our common humanity.
That is a cause worth fighting for. It is the cause that
inspired our earliest beginnings as a people and, in spite of all
of the mistakes and setbacks along the way, it is a cause that will
ultimately prevail. Your inspiring efforts here in Tuscaloosa herald
the coming of that day.
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