Op-Ed: The Bills Are Too Damn High: Alabama Can Make History By Doing Something About It
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I never intended to make history, but sometimes we’re called to a different purpose. In the more than one hundred years the Alabama Public Service Commission has been in existence, every elected member has been white. Here in Alabama, we’ve also failed to elect a single Black woman to statewide office. Yet here I am. My name is Cara McClure and I’m running to be the first African American ever elected to the Alabama Public Service Commission, and the first Black woman to be elected statewide — for any office — in the state’s history. I join a historic class of Black women running for office in Alabama, and I am ready to channel my passion for helping and standing up for people into service as a member of the Public Service Commission. Together, we can make an impact and act in the best interests of poor folks, our seniors and all of us. How did I get here? As the youngest of six kids, my upbringing was rooted in faith. The church was a second home to me and my family — so much so that three of my brothers became pastors. Ask my parents and they will tell you proudly that “all of our children are Christians and live by the values taught in our home.” Organizations like MoveOn have established initiatives like their Black Women Candidates program to provide support and guidance to Black women in races all across America. Black women often face incredible barriers to running for office, including access to resources and infrastructure that most white male candidates take for granted. More organizations are stepping up, but MoveOn has made a particular effort to back us up in a year full of historic races. I’d like to believe that by running for office I am walking in the values my parents taught me and living my purpose. We grew up in the tradition of Civil Rights icons like Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis and many others — fighting to ensure ALL people, regardless of race, class or gender, can thrive and live their best lives in spite of the pain, trauma and turmoil that has shaped Black folks’ existence and presence in the South. While my family, my faith, and the Civil Rights leaders who changed this country for the better have given me the motivation to serve my community in different ways, it was knowing the everyday hardships experienced by my fellow Alabamians that pushed me to run for this historic seat. Having spent several years as an activist and progressive living in the South, I am very familiar with the vestiges of oppression in our society. It shows up in many ways, but for many of us it means excessive utility costs, poorly maintained roads and little to no access to economic mobility in the state I call home. It’s expensive to be poor in Alabama. One of the ways I’ve chosen to give back to my community is to drive seniors in rural Alabama to their doctor’s appointments. Their stories were almost always the same. The nearest hospital is an average of 30 minutes to an hour away and the roads tear up our tires if we’re lucky enough to have a car, many folks are forced to choose between keeping the lights on, buying groceries, and paying for medication. I had to change my own tires two or three times in just a few months, due to the bad roads. Being poor and living in the country isn’t easy, even if you do have people you can call on to take you to your appointments. One moment I remember distinctly is when I had to write down the directions to a patient’s house, because there is no internet or phone service in some parts of rural Alabama. My journey wasn’t an easy one, and it was fueled by my own experiences and pain. At one point, I was homeless but I fought my way back. I helped start the Birmingham chapter of Black Lives Matter Global Network after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted of murder charges. Later, I helped start Showing Up for Racial Justice Birmingham to expand upon that work. I’ve led campaigns to bail out Black mommas out of jail to reunite them with their families. While my activism lay the groundwork for my run, the 2016 elections inspired a deep passion in me to bring much-needed change to Alabama. It inspired me to work for Bernie Sanders, and with his loss and Donald Trump’s subsequent victory after a violent, misogynist campaign for president, I was inspired to do more, to be more. For an agency as powerful as the Public Service Commission, charged with protecting the consumers rather than the utilities, I found much to be desired. After some digging, I learned that our utilities hadn’t had a rate review in 36 years, since 1982. We need more transparency, and we can do that with a full public review. Our commissioners would have you think that we are already getting the best rates, but how can we know for sure if the process for settings those rates isn’t public? Our average monthly bills still rank among the highest in the nation. Of the state’s 2.2 million customers, more than half of them are served by one utility. If we don’t diversify our energy sources, we’ll continue to pay expensive utility bills. Most people in Alabama do not know what our Public Service Commission does — until recently, I was one of those people. Well, now I can tell you what it should do. It should ensure a fair balance between customers and utilities. It should advocate for the people always, and first. It should push our utilities to move into the 21st century so that we create good, quality jobs in the neighborhoods they serve, and utilities should be held responsible for the harm inflicted on communities from pollution. Alabamians deserve an advocate that will put the ‘public’ back in the Public Service Commission. In this historic moment, when our country seems moved toward ensuring adequate representation for all of us, we need an advocate for people who are considered low income, are therefore underrepresented, and too often marginalized as a result. The utilities have the power, but we Alabamians can take it back with our votes. We did in 2017 with Doug Jones. In 2018, we can do it again and move closer toward elevating the quality of life for all people in our great state. We’re just getting started.