"Constitutional reform must start with the people."
A fundamental part of Alabama's character seems to be a resignation to defeat. Alabama ranks 46th out of 50 states in tax revenue, 49th in school funding, and dead last in trust of state governing bodies and politicians. Statistics like these are part of a familiar pattern, a pattern that engenders a hopeless attitude about the problems we face as a community.
This state is so acquainted with defeat that it is part of the citizens' nature to accept that Alabama is stuck in a continuous pattern of humiliation and struggle. Despite Alabama's assets -- rich history and tradition, gorgeous geography and weather, innumerable landmarks and attractions -- there is always a reminder that the poor of this state remain poor, the children of this state remain uneducated and the politicians of this state remain corrupt. So instilled in our collective mind is the legacy of being last that we've forgotten it doesn't need to be that way.
For those of us who love this state, ignoring the problems we face doesn't manage to ease the frustration of seeing potential wasted by perpetual apathy and political vice. The fact that no one has managed to fix our problems so far seems an insufficient excuse for hoping things will change for the better without a commitment from every citizen. If Alabama is to improve -- commit to giving the children a proper education, commit to taxing the citizens and businesses fairly, commit to enforcing the rule of law over those who create the law -- the change must start with the people. Not until the people lead will the leaders of this state learn to follow. From citizen to legislator, the process begins with education and insistence.
From corruption to education, every problem this state faces can be traced to the 1901 constitution under which we still operate. At more than 700 amendments, it is among history's longest legal documents, the oldest state constitution in America and the least efficient basis of government imaginable. The tax structure written into the 1901 constitution continually robs Alabama of revenue, cuts breaks to special interests and lays the burden on the poorest families in the state. There is a reason why we face the problems we face. We have inherited a fundamentally flawed basis for governing.
Yet in 100 years, every attempt to bring about change has been met with apathy. Politicians who try to tackle the issue inevitably give up when they realize the measure of resistance from special interests and the relative lack of public concern. If there is to be a change, it must start with the people, and in 100 years, Alabamians have yet to rise up and demand a basis of government more efficient and more just than the system under which we now live. It is time we rise up and demand a better state. It is time the citizens assume the burden of making this state be all it can be.
To start, the citizens of this state must learn more and seek to teach others about how we can improve. On Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Richard Scrushy Center in Birmingham, the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform will hold a conference, the theme of which will be "Why Alabama Can't Wait: Next Steps to a New Constitution." Scheduled to attend are Gov. Don Siegelman and former Gov. Albert Brewer. Panelists of activists and citizens will discuss and answer questions about student and community involvement, the tax code and education. Admission and lunch will be provided for students free of charge, and transportation will be provided on the morning of the event.
Deadline for signup is Friday, Oct. 19. For information on how to attend, contact the Alabama Students for Constitutional Reform at 347-7231, or contact the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform at www.constitutionalreform.org.
Make a commitment to do more than wonder why Alabama has the reputation it has. Resolve to do your part to promote democracy and fairness in government. Start by learning, and encourage others to do the same.
Charles Drennan is a senior in the College of Communication and Information Sciences.