“Senator Sanders, did you hear about the victory on the driver’s license offices?” This call came the day after Christmas and I considered it a gift. But it was a gift forged by continuing struggle. Victory often comes unexpectedly, but it never comes without struggle. To paraphrase the great Frederick Douglass, “Victory cannot come without struggle. It never did and it never will.” We struggled, and we won victories.
The struggle started when the State of Alabama closed 32 driver’s license offices in 28 of Alabama’s 67 counties on October 1, 2014. It made no sense because driver’s licenses are necessary to drive, vote, board airplanes, participate in commercial transactions and much more. Driver’s licenses are critical but Alabama said certain citizens should go to other counties to apply. We struggled, and we won victories.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) said it closed these offices to save money, but it only saved $100,000. However, Alabama kept liquor stores open that were losing as much as $75,000. They said that it would not be fair for citizens to have to travel to other counties to get “a bottle,” yet it was alright for citizens to have to travel to other counties to get a driver’s license. We struggled, and we won victories.
We, led by SOS (the Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy), organized on the ground. We protested. We issued press statements. We held press conferences. We performed a public drama at the State Capitol entitled “Give Us The Ballot, Not Just The Bottle.” We wrote and spoke widely. We led a two-day, twelve-county caravan in certain counties. We struggled, and we won victories.
I introduced a bill in the Alabama Legislature to require that driver’s license offices be open in every county for at least two days a week. The bill passed the Senate. It also passed the House. Then Gov. Robert Bentley killed the bill with a pocket veto by refusing to sign it. I am determined to re-introduce the bill again in the next regular legislative session. We struggled, and we won victories.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell requested that the federal government look into the closing of the driver’s license offices. We met with representatives from the United States Department of Transportation. We struggled, and we won victories.
This was not the first victory we won. We won an earlier victory when ALEA announced that it would open driver’s license offices in each of these counties for at least one day a month. This was far too little and much too late. We continued to struggle. We struggled, and we won victories.
Now let me tell you about this victory. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency entered into an agreement. In nine of the 28 counties, driver’s license offices will be reopened with the same days and hours of service as before the massive closings. The counties are Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Perry and Wilcox counties. Five of these counties are in Senate District 23, which I currently represent. Two are in counties I formerly represented. We struggled, and we won victories.
Make no mistake, this is an important victory. However, it is not a complete victory. Therefore, we celebrate for a moment, but we continue the struggle. Yes, nine of 28 counties is a significant victory but there are 19 counties that still need adequate driver’s license services. We must continue to struggle until all 67 Alabama counties have driver’s license office to adequately serve our citizens. We struggled, and we won victories.
When we started, the odds were greatly against us getting offices re-opened in even one county. As we struggled, we won a partial victory when the State of Alabama opened driver’s license offices at least one day a month in each county. Now we have a second partial victory. However, this is still a hardship on so many Alabama citizens. We struggled, and we won victories.
How will we continue the struggle? I don’t know all the answers. I do know that I will re-introduce the bill to have driver’s license offices open in every county at least one full day a week. Others will also act in their own ways. We must never forget that it was not just SOS and a few of us struggling. Many others struggled in their own way, including the Legal Defense Fund. We are thankful for all who struggled. We are thankful for all who will continue to struggle. If we struggle, we will win, for victory is in the struggle. We struggled, and we won victories.
Epilogue – Struggle is a special gift from God. When we embrace our struggles, the gift is revealed. I work to embrace my struggles. I challenge you to embrace yours. When we struggle, we always win.