(In the early days of a new president, BirminghamWatch is looking at what divides us and connects us close to home. This is the third of the stories.)
On face value, the political and cultural divide in the Birmingham metro area — and, in larger part, the country — appears to be an ever-widening gulf of competing ideals and values.
But if you take a closer look, you will see that supporters of President Donald Trump and of Hillary Clinton say they want many of the same things from government — fairness, safety and the support to achieve greater success. They value church and family, education and freedom. And they express feelings of disenchantment. Both sides complain of feeling left out, unheard and overlooked.
Birmingham residents, like many interviewed in the Sylvan Springs area for a recent story on Trump Country, said it is important for government to treat people fairly and justly. Many said they want the government to make safety a priority.
While rural Trump supporters bemoan the violence they see in urban areas, residents in urban communities share those feelings and said they fully support a crackdown on crime.
“I want the crime to stop and the government to keep us safe,” said Detroit Daley, an 18-year-old resident of Birmingham’s Southpark neighborhood who cast his first ballot in the November presidential election.
His friend Trenika Mason, 19, agreed.
“I believe in background checks for guns and I want to feel safe,” she said.
Mason worries that the divisions she sees festering in the country will lead to tension with other parts of the world.
The two teens, who were at the Five Points West Public Library on a recent Tuesday, acknowledged that in some ways they did not feel that they were that different from Trump supporters. Each pointed out that people on both sides of the political divide want to feel safe and most people in the country now want more job opportunities and increased funding for education.
Is it “all about the money?”
Mason and Daley, who watched election coverage while at school at Wenonah High School, said that, for them, it appeared that only race and wealth made the difference between Clinton and Trump supporters.
“I think it really is all about the money,” Mason said.
So what else separates the two groups? Party affiliation, obviously, but there is also geography. According to the numbers, the election was an urban-versus-rural showdown.
Clinton won Jefferson County with 51.07 percent of the vote. Trump received 43.87 percent of the vote. In 59 of the county’s 171 precincts, 90 percent or more of the vote went to Clinton. Trump won 11 precincts with a margin of 90 percent or more, BirminghamWatch found in an analysis of the results.
Clinton’s base across the county was decidedly urban, with Birmingham and other central municipalities and communities supporting her. Trump gained strength the farther precincts were from the metro core.
In seven precincts, Clinton received more than 99 percent of the votes. Those were Fairfield Fire Station, Hudson Middle School, North Birmingham Public Library, Lively Hope Baptist Church, Dunbar-Abrams school, Bryant Chapel AME Church and New Bethel Baptist Church, where there was one vote cast for Trump.
Another difference is that, while both sides say they want their government to be fair, their definitions of fair may differ.
Marian Daniel, a 70-year-old musician at Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville, put fairness at the top of her list of government traits.
Definition of Fairness
“And when I say fairness, I mean making all of us equal and not cutting off stuff that help one set of people and not another set,” she said. “Our government is changing and I’m not with all this cutting off for the middle class and the poor.”
Many of the people interviewed in Sylvan Springs said they wanted their government to be fair, and part of the current unfairness involves what they see as preferential treatment for immigrants and minorities. They said the government should be stricter with benefit programs for the poor and disabled, as well as administering aid to businesses without regard for race or ethnicity.
Both groups did agree that a strong educational foundation was important for the nation.
“What I really want out of government is for them to do right by the people, not just for some and throw the others a little bone here or there,” said Marquietta Coleman of Belview Heights. “I would really like for them to make all of our schools good schools so our kids can all get a fair chance so they can be exposed to everything and by the time they get out of high school, they’ll know in what direction they want to go.”
Coleman formerly worked for the telephone company as a service representative. The Oklahoma native also was a sales person at Pizitz department store.
Nowadays, she is a substitute teacher in Birmingham. Education is one of her concerns as she thinks too little is spent on education in her part of town, and she believes charter schools are detrimental to conventional public schools.
“I’m glad they (members of the Birmingham Board of Education) did not vote for that,” the 64-year-old said. “I believe all these children should receive the same type education.”
As President Trump talks about building a wall to keep Mexicans from illegally entering the country, church musician Daniel said she’s not against immigration.
“I feel that all of us, in a way, are immigrants here and I think it should be for the government to kind of be fair about it,” she said.
Fix the Potholes
When talk turns from national to local issues, there is one failure both groups see: Keeping up the infrastructure.
“You can walk or ride on any street (in Birmingham) and there are potholes,” said Rosie Toole of Woodlawn. “There are sidewalks that are raised up, that are trip hazards. We talk about people being healthy and getting outside. Well, if you get outside and if you’re not watching, you’ll trip over a stump going in the driveway on sidewalks and uneven pavement.”
Dennis Jenkins, a 56-year-old disabled Navy veteran, echoed Toole’s comments.
“Roads, housing, all over the board,” the East Lake resident said. “The roads in Birmingham are just messed up. I live in a fairly nice neighborhood but you’ve got abandoned houses that go unattended, you’ve got roads that have potholes in them.”
Anita Craig is a 37-year-old Titusville resident and mother of a 4-year-old son. Craig, a part-time college student and full-time restaurant worker, counts job creation as a top priority for her local government to tackle. But she also said she wants more from her local government than it has provided in the past.
Her wish list includes more community policing, more money spent on keeping neighborhoods clean and attractive to businesses, more money spent on children and more people involved in improving their communities.
“I want to see less talking, less arguing and more doing.”