And I thought the city runoff election stats were pitiful.
Let’s put this another way: in a metropolis where two years ago 26,227 citizens went out of their way to vote for Larry Langford, last Sunday only .002% of that number could be troubled to come out and pray for the man’s immortal soul.
That is one cold referendum.
In fact, cold weather was one of the reasons I heard bandied about to explain the invisible turnout, along with lack of weekend bus service and Wiccan bible study conflicts, but it is unassailably true that the Sunday prayer vigil shortfall represents an historic low point in regional politics.
You see, the vigil was organized by Frank Matthews, noted gadfly, talk show host and currently co-director of the Birmingham Office of Citizen Assistance. (Thank you, Charles J. Dean, for the published reminder.) That means Frank Matthews, who got his cushy political job from Larry Langford, couldn’t turn out 60 people to pray publicly for Larry Langford.
The vigil was led by the Reverend Calvin Woods of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. That means the same organization that persuaded 3,500 students to come downtown and confront Bull Connor in May 1963 couldn’t get 60 people to come downtown to listen to a guy on a bullhorn in October 2009.
Colonel Stone Johnson, you’d better roust out some of those famous foot soldiers from the bad old days: Black folks of the current era may be forgetting how to organize.
It would be totally understandable, of course. It’s hard work to get up from behind a desk and walk all the way down to the street to generate some action, especially when conservative white guys, like at that high-tech Freedom Works, seem to have the system figured out. They’ve got computers perfectly capable of ginning up outrage among a disaffected segment of the voting population, then amplifying that outrage through interconnected echo chambers in various agenda-driven media, finally provoking the disaffected to spend their own money participating at regular intervals in showy but insubstantial public demonstrations like Tax Day rallies and Tea Bag parties.
Back in the day, Birmingham’s black folk showed the rest of the world how collective action ought to operate. They put their lives on the line to be counted among those on the right side of history. The racist cabal could never prevail against the power of ideas, which is why they had to resort to dogs and hoses and dynamite.
Then again, is Larry Langford much of a cause to get behind? He hasn’t been martyred, unless you count being the recipient of some really ugly collection letters from upscale men’s clothing stores. You can’t say he’s been overly discriminated against; most people can’t get a financial institution to return their calls these days, but Larry seems to have had a really special relationship with his investment bankers.
Speaking of bankers, why was there such a shortfall of clerical concern when our old friend Richard Scrushy came back to town last week to help locate items for the big HealthSouth garage sales? When he was a mere tycoon in travail, a phalanx of well-dressed, well-nourished church people seemed to follow Brother Richard about, asserting his innocence and inveighing against the evils of prosecution. Now that he’s just another shmoe in an orange jump suit, Scrushy doesn’t seem to attract the same kind of attention from the prelates. Let us hope that they are following the New Testament admonition to keep up their prison ministries. While they’re at it, it couldn’t hurt to hold a prayer vigil for Richard’s memory. He seems to be having a lot of trouble remembering for the auditors just where a lot of his old holdings wound up.
A couple of area municipalities could stand to get in on the vigil action as well. There’s the taciturn town of Adamsville, for one, where the city councilpeople are so proud of their agendas that they keep them behind closed doors so ordinary people won’t hear them being discussed. You know how it is with these ordinary people; once they hear what’s being done with their tax dollars by conscientious councilpeople, they’re probably just going to gum up the works trying to get their own ideas implemented.
Then there’s my hometown of Homewood, where that city council has decided to streamline the budget process by leaving all the numbers out. That’s right, they don’t really know if they have a giant deficit or a modest surplus, because they passed their multi-million dollar city budget without any documentation. In other words, Homewood is balancing its checkbook the way I do mine. So will Homewood wind up bringing its stuff to my garage sale, or should I bring mine to Homewood’s?
Homewood had better be careful, or they won’t be able to afford to hire Frank Matthews to organize a vigil for them over at Soho.
We kid about the Czar of Citizen Assistance, but Frank Matthews knows better than to make his boss look pitiful at a prayer rally. He dropped the ball, when he should have been dropping some cash into the outstretched palms of “neighborhood activists” to guarantee a respectable showing for the Sunday night TV cameras. If Frank had been making some rain, instead of excuses, he could have conjured a massive throng as ready to pray for Jon Gosselin as for Larry Langford. As a result of the spiritual snafu, Frank’s next public action may well be a rally to pray for the survival of his paycheck.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.