Pleading to Save Lives in Alabama

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I am writing this email on Saturday morning, July 18, 2020, as soon as I learned, from my lawyer, that the City of Montgomery has issued a warrant for my arrest for the misdemeanor charge of writing on a public street. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Greene County Health System, I wanted you and fellow board members to be informed of my situation, as this may reflect upon the health care facility. I have copied others with whom I have a staff, board or volunteer relationship.

On Thursday, July 16, 2020, the Save Ourselves Movement for Justice and Democracy (SOS) conducted a protest on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. The protest was about several interrelated issues, including: ending police brutality and passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act; highlighting the health disparities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic, which have contributed to the disproportional effects of the pandemic on Black, Brown and poor people; urging Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Legislature to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which would provide affordable health care coverage to more than 340,000 people in Alabama; and supporting the release of non-violent prisoners in state and county prisons and jails, to prevent them from contracting the virus; and other related issues.

This was not the first time that SOS has held protests on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol. The organization has held these protests and caravans, every two weeks since the beginning of March 2020. Some of the protests have been also been held at the Governors Mansion and Montgomery Federal Courthouse. I have attended each of these protests and spoke out at the press conferences specifically on behalf of Medicaid Expansion and Saving Rural Hospitals. At all of the protests, we have worn masks and gloves and stood stood at least six feet apart, following social distancing recommendations.

During the protest on Thursday, July 16, 2020, while some of our colleagues were “dying-in” on the Capitol Steps, a group of us, armed with yellow spray paint cans started writing: “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” in the street directly in front of the State Capitol. My hope was that Governor Ivey would see the writing and be prompted to take positive action on the demands of the protest.

While writing in the street, we attracted a dozen or more Montgomery and State police. The police told us that we should stop writing in the street but did not physically stop us. They put hands on Karen Jones, an SOS leader and community activist, but did not stop her. A photograph is attached to this email showing the writing in the street. I personally wrote the word “Expand” as part of Expand Medicaid. We did not have time to add “Now” at the end of Expand Medicaid.

After our “guerilla artwork” in the street, SOS continued with our usual press conference on the issues. The police watched us closely from across the street but did not arrest anyone on Thursday. We learned Friday that misdemeanor warrants had been issued for

SOS leaders – Karen Jones and Johnny Ford. Ford is the former Mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama and has also served in the Alabama Legislature. Today, we learned that warrants had been issued for three more of us – Attorney Faya Rose Toure, a young BLM activist and myself ( John Zippert).

The five of us and our lawyers plan to turn ourselves in for arrest on Monday, July 20, 2020 at Noon at the Montgomery City Jail.

We expect to make bail without having to spend time in jail. We also plan to hold a press conference to explain the reasons for our arrest and announce our next steps in this Alabama struggle for justice and democracy. We invite people, especially those close to Montgomery, who support us, to join us for this event.

This is the third time in the past three years, that I have been arrested for civil disobedience in Montgomery, in connection with protesting for Medicaid Expansion. The first time was with an SOS group that held a prayer vigil inside the Alabama State Capitol for Medicaid Expansion; the second time was with a group connected with SOS and the Poor People’s Campaigned that poured catsup on the statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, which stands in front of the State Capitol. Both times we were acquitted by City Judges without fines or a record.

On a day where we mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis and Rev. C. T. Vivian, I feel good about getting into “good trouble” trying to change the recalcitrant policies of the State of Alabama.

John Zippert

Co-publisher of the Greene County Democrat

Chair of the board of the Greene County Health System

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