My name is Dana Sweeney, and I am the newest addition to the Alabama Appleseed team. Continuing the efforts of many Appleseed advocates before me, I will be working as a statewide organizer to put an end to predatory lending practices in Alabama. I will be driving near and far to connect with Alabamians on this important issue, to build coalitions of active citizens that support fair lending practices, and to hold payday lenders accountable for cynically churning profits out of poverty.
My path to this work (and to this state) has been winding, but fortifying. I did not grow up in Alabama: I grew up in the salt marshes of southeastern Georgia reading books and dreaming of the wide world beyond the small town South. For many years, I imagined travelling to faraway places and living in huge metropolises—New York! Los Angeles! London! Beijing! It seemed to me at the time that those were the places where all the excitement was, but fortunately, my visions of extravagant elsewheres were eventually replaced by a deep sense of rootedness in the Southern spaces where I am from.
When (with the generous support of several scholarship programs) I had the opportunity to attend college, I initially hoped to attend school someplace far from home. I got far, but not that far: in August of 2013, I packed my bags and drove about 400 miles west to a new, unexpected, sweet home: The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
While there, I studied English in the classroom, but the most important lessons of my college career came when learning about, from, and with the communities that I was beginning to call home. I began to see how our communities are haunted by the unconfronted ghosts of our past. I began to see how fear and uncertainty have the potential to steal away the best of ourselves, and to steal us away from each other, too. I began to see how injustice has, in so many ways, calcified into complacent normalcy in Alabama and across the South. But I also began to see something else: that no place changes without people committed to changing it. I began to see that no transformation is possible here but by the hard, patient, loving work of people who refuse to give up on the possibility of a more just Alabama that we can all share in together. I began to see that inequities can only persist when we cease to believe that we have the power to change them.
Putting these realizations into practice, I started working however I could to build supportive communities, to spark needed conversations, and to address issues that I saw around me. My journey has taken me in many different directions over the last several years: I have fought for (and won) student voting rights as a Vote Everywhere Ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Foundation, I have grown a literacy-focused creative writing and poetry performance program serving students across western-central Alabama, I have provided free tax preparation services to low-income communities through Impact Alabama, and I have marched on foot from Selma to Montgomery alongside young civic leaders and Civil Rights Movement veterans alike. My experiences have been varied, but they have a few consistent threads: they are all rooted in my conviction that Alabama can do and be better, all driven by my belief that we are capable of making change and being changed together, and all made possible by working in community with others across generations and difference. These are values and commonalities that I will carry forward into my work with Alabama Appleseed.
I am so excited to listen to, learn from, and be with communities across Alabama as we build a coalition to address the predatory lending crisis in our state. These days, I no longer dream of moving to shining cities far away like I did when I was a kid. Instead, I dream of staying put, of rolling up my sleeves and scrubbing the dirt off the small Southern towns that made me, of revitalizing our communities and building a shared, just, prosperous future right here. That future begins with each of us, but it is up to all of us, and I will be working every day at Appleseed to move us closer toward it together.