When my family moved from Albany, New York to Auburn in 1984, the city had about 30,000 residents. Now, we have circa 68,000 residents. That’s roughly a 38,000 increase in population. 

As Bob Dylan said in his 1964 song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

Today, we have a huge construction boom as does our twin city, Opelika. In 1984, the largest building in Auburn was Haley Center. There were no high-rises in the city center to lessen the beauty and uniqueness of The Loveliest Village on the Plains. In this connection, I lament profoundly the good old days. 

When I came to Auburn University, it had fewer than 19,000 students. Today, we have over 30,000. In 1984, the only time we had crowded highways was on football weekends. Now, we have almost 100,000 folks living in the area and it seems that the roads are jam-packed on a daily basis. 

In 1984, Democrats controlled the Alabama Legislature, while Republicans were the minority party. Today, the opposite is the case. In 1984, Howell Heflin (D) represented the State of Alabama in the Senate. He was the only Democrat in the post-Reagan era who served as a senator in Alabama until Doug Jones (D) became a senator in 2018. For the last few decades, the G.O.P. has ruled the roost in terms of the Senate, the House, and the Governor’s office.

We were here a few weeks in 1984, when my wife and one of our children went to Kroger on Dean Road. Our 6-year-old asked: “Who are those people in white with their heads covered?” Yes, it was the Klan. On the other hand, in 2020 there was a crowd of several hundred protestors marching downtown chanting “Black Lives Matter.”   

Similar bumps in the road of peace and quiet occur on the national level. We’ve suffered through gridlock in Congress, with tension and bad feelings on both sides of the aisle. To solve this dilemma, Presidents Obama, Trump, and now Biden issue “executive orders.”  This is not a healthy state of affairs because, in my view, it gives way too much power to the executive branch of the government.

What’s particularly alarming is this: the media remains hopelessly divided. We have two versions of the truth. Does the average Bubba or Mary listen to Fox News or MSNBC in order to get the truth, or is truth no longer a value? Many folks don’t know who to believe.

Another point of contention today concerns the yawning gap between the rich and poor. For example, one person, Jeff Bezos, has more money than several countries, yet he opposes having his company in Alabama unionize. What’s wrong with this picture? 

How can folks make ends meet with the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour? No wonder that cities like Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, and Phoenix have thousands of folks living in tent cities, not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Nearer to home, this also occurs in cities like Auburn and Opelika, where families depend on the available food pantry to stay alive.

I wonder why Gov. Ivey and the Alabama Legislature resist the expansion of Medicaid, which would have two main benefits: it would provide better health care to over 300,000 Alabamians (including new mothers and veterans) and bring 28,000 jobs to our state. Is this refusal really in the best interest of Alabamians?

Dylan addresses representatives in his song by saying: “Come senators, congressman. Please heed the call. Don’t stand in the doorway. Don’t block up the hall. For he that gets hurt. Will be he who has stalled. The battle outside ragin’. Will soon shake your windows. And Rattle your walls. For the times they are a-changin.”

Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.

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