Stephen Colbert has tackled Alabama's Beason/Hammon Immigration Law before, but last night he had the help of Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries.
Colbert: Why as an African American would you be fighting for the Latinos? Because they didn't fight for you guys.
Douglas: This is Martin Luther King's birthday celebration and he's famously said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and HB56 is a threat to me and all Americans.
Colbert: ... You seem like you want me to be against it because I want justice for people who are not American citizens. You can't make me want to give them rights.
Douglas: Dr. Martin Luther King said there is no document written by a human hand that should be used to diminish the humanity of any man. And this law diminishes the humanity.
Colbert: If you want to go old school on me here, you have said that Hispanics are the new negro.
Douglas: Yes, based on treatment, because it's just like the Jim Crow laws. Where arbitrary laws, capricious in their application gives anybody the power over you, to abuse you, to hurt you, to harm you.
Colbert: But are things so good for African Americans in Alabama that they're not in any way the old negro? I mean are things so good for black people in Alabama that you can turn your focus to Latinos?
Douglas: African Americans can never forget how hard we toiled to gain the rights we now have and how far we've got to toil to gain even more. We know the path we had to tread and we're trying to be in solidarity with these people as they face this stage of this abuse.
Colbert: It just seems as if so many things, like jazz and rock and roll were taken from black people, it's just a shame that negro gets taken from them too. You know, hold onto some of the heritage.
Last year, as groups across Alabama geared up to fight the state's immigration law by any and every possible means, there was concern that the show of backbone would hurt organizations with some donors and long-time supporters. After all, anti-immigrant sentiment was strong in Alabama, and polling had always indicated public support was high for such a law. I have no insight into the discussions at GBM, but I've heard some progressive groups in Alabama did a lot of soul-searching before deciding that they just had to do what was right -- oppose HB56 -- even if it cost them donors or members. Principles triumphed across the board, and the organizations fighting for repeal of HB56 have prospered as well.
Take GBM for example. They're one of my very favorite progressive organizations in this state. What's the likelihood they could have landed a spot on The Colbert Report (with all the attendant publicity in local media) just based on their fight against poverty? Or hunger? Or advocating Constitutional reform? All of which they do.
Zero. Instead, GBM took on a hot political issue and as a result they're finding themselves in front of new audiences, like Colbert's. Standing for something, and standing up for something, is how you reach more people and grow an organization. In that respect, HB56 has boosted the progressive community in Alabama. This law was simply too egregious to be tolerated or ignored and as as leaders stood up in protest, people joined them -- people who had never been involved before.
This is a beautiful example of how doing the right thing, standing for principles, is also good for you. Kudos to Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama ACLU, the SPLC, Alabama Appleseed, ARISE and all the other great organizations and members of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice who have stood up for what is right in Alabama.