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Mayor Maddox Gives Commencement Speech at Shelton State Community College

Tuscaloosa, Ala. – Today Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox delivered the commencement speech at Shelton State Community College.

Read his entire speech:

Winston Churchill said, "The truth is incontrovertible.  Malice may attack it, and ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is."

The truth is that very few people believe that our political system works, especially at the state and national levels. 

The digital revolution has placed this belief on steroids – It is tweet first and ask questions later. 

Elected officials have responded to this dynamic with a vengeance. 

We now use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms to promote our message. We tell ourselves this is how we circumvent the traditional media and "fake news.”

Our support, our rush to judgment, and even our righteous indignation can be boiled down to 140 character bites and distributed to a universe of people who will either validate how we feel or vilify our existence. 

In this 21st century, technology-driven age, and with the unprecedented access to information and decision-makers, our belief in the political process should be ever increasing. Unfortunately, the reverse is happening. Why?

The truth is that our political system is broken, and fear is at the core of this dysfunction.  

Fear is rapidly replacing facts thanks to an abundance of websites, blogs, social media and cable shows that will provide you the news you want to hear. 

If you disagree with President Trump, MSNBC is on stand-by with the latest crisis and popular vote totals from the November election.  If the Democrats are getting under your skin, FOX News will be there to reinforce both your partisanship and outrage.

In our political discourse, fear, which is often camouflage in a narrative of good versus evil, is available for our choosing 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Fear has become the common denominator in our politics, and as Yoda warned us, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

In our home state, the politics of fear have led to anger, hate and suffering, and it has been a staple of Alabama’s political culture for decades.  Is it really necessary? 

We have come so far since Selma, Stand in the School House Door and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

In so many remarkable ways, Alabama has achieved what many believed to be the impossible by landing some of the world's premiere companies like Mercedes and Airbus.

We have also experienced the resurgence of higher education that is recognized both nationally and internationally for engineering, aerodynamics and bio-medicine.

Yet, for all the progress, Alabama is still failing in nearly every major quality of life category.

Beyond the cold and analytic statistics, this means that mothers are losing their children before they are born due to inadequate pre-natal care. 

This means parents are sending their children to schools with the false belief they are being prepared for a technology integrated workforce. 

This means, the young and the old are being trapped into generational cycles of poverty, blight and crime with no avenues of escape. 

Ranking near the bottom is more than embarrassing it is immoral. But, who should bear this responsibility?

The obvious answers are Montgomery and Washington D.C., and both parties need to be held responsible.

However, the deeper and harder truth is that we all share in this failure. 

For whatever the reason, consciously or subconsciously, we too often embrace fear as a condition of our politics, especially in Alabama.  

Fear is the natural default position when faced with difficult choices or a changing landscape.

Fear amplifies. Fear divides. Fear distracts. 

Here is the truth, in politics, fear usually works.

Are we condemned to eternal failure and embarrassment?  Absolutely not.

My hope is grounded in my experiences as mayor, in particular, when we met the worst of Mother Nature with the best of humanity.  Tens of thousands of Alabamians became the images of God as they cleared the debris, searched for the missing, transported the injured and rebuilt our City. 

Emerging from tragedy, even in our darkest hours, there was always hope.

From Rosedale to Forest Lake, from Alberta to Holt, our confident hope was a common thread woven into the fabric of who we are as a people, especially when our backs were against the wall.

With hope as our compass, we rebuilt our city.

Together, we demonstrated to the world that hope is not something dreamed about in faraway places or reserved only for fiction. Our hope was tangible and alive connecting us in ways that only our maker could have imagined.

Hope inspires. Hope serves. Hope heals.

However, hope feels elusive at election time because it always seems if we are choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Which begs the question: How do we create a New Covenant in our politics?

It begins with the acknowledgement that the challenges facing Alabama are complex and cross racial, economic, urban and rural lines.  

These challenges deserve more than empty rhetoric that will never elevate our economy, improve education, reduce poverty, or provide an affordable pathway to college.  

We need real solutions to the real problems facing our state.

Creating this New Covenant is not about big government, or small government.  – It is about effective government that is transparent, accountable and effective.

This may sound high-minded, but it's been done before, and done well. 

Following World War II, Alabama was considered a “New South State,” in large part due to elected officials who were willing to serve something greater than themselves.  

Senator Lister Hill, who was once known as one of the most influential members of Congress, co-authored the Hill-Burton Hospital Act, which was one of the pioneering efforts of the Federal government to improve outcomes in health care.  Today, hundreds of thousands of Alabamians, especially in our rural areas, receive medical care because of his work.

Senator John Sparkman, who had the foresight and political muscle to ensure Redstone Arsenal and Wernher von Braun made their way to Huntsville, is considered one of the founding fathers of NASA. In 1952, he became one of the few Alabamians to serve as a candidate for vice president on a major party ticket. 

Congressman Carl Elliott, who was elected to Congress eight times, was the House sponsor of the National Defense Education Act In one of its many benefits, more than 30 million Americans, including myself, have benefited from the low-interest loans to attend college.  In 1990, he received the inaugural John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award,for his opposition to Governor George Wallace on several political fronts.  

Senator Hill, Senator Sparkman and Congressman Elliot were not perfect men. 

They certainly had flaws, and at times, they made decisions which we would find irreprehensible today, especially in the areas of Civil Rights.  Yet, in the context of their times, they had vision, they had courage and they had the fortitude to honor their political covenants to the people of Alabama. 

Fear doesn't create the genesis of medical research at UAB – Hope does.

Fear doesn't bring missile and rocket research to Huntsville – Hope does.

Fear doesn't provide tens of millions an opportunity to receive a college diploma – Hope does.

Edward R. Murrow, whose reporting is often credited with damaging McCarthyism at its height, said: “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep into our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”

As I see it, we are nearing the age of unreason, and this is the moment of the incontrovertible truth.

Knowing all the challenges before us, and knowing that the answers will not be easy, do we continue to revert to the default position of fear?  Or, do we have the courage of our convictions which catapults our state?

If you believe in our state, and if you believe that our time is now, then demand more of your elected officials, demand more of your friends, demand more of your family, and demand more of yourself, by creating a New Covenant for our politics.

The truth is that Alabama needs you.