When I first moved to Alabama from North Carolina, I was surprised when I bought my first set of groceries at the local grocery store. I bought the same items I would usually buy, but something was different. These same items, it seemed, cost much more here, no matter what store I went to. When I travel to North Carolina, I stock up on pantry goods at the discount food stores to bring back with me. As my students in my class and I have been researching local circumstances of poverty, we have been delving into the politics behind such. Two states apply their full sales taxes to home food consumption, with no additional rebates to offset any costs: Alabama and Mississippi. These Deep South states are also ones that hold some of the most regionally-vulnerable populations in regard to poverty. Grassroots organizing has a place in this issue that affects people on the local level of their homes.
First, I think that it is important to recognize the issue with taxation on food even existing. Food is a basic necessity that every human must have in order to survive on the most basic of levels. People do not need to study Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand that as a base root of survival. If people are hungry, many other side effects occur that prevent them from being able to function at their utmost abilities. When someone has not eaten adequately, a grumbling stomach also turns into issues with thought performativity. Food should be a non-negotiable political priority. Instead we have politicians who have yet to work together in Alabama to pass the Food Tax Bill to help ameliorate this issue.
When states do tax groceries and tax them to the fullest percentage, such as Alabama and Mississippi, it makes me wonder about our states’ already-vulnerable populations. What about a single parent who has several children? When groceries are already increasingly becoming more expensive, whom does the tax benefit? A person does not only have to worry about if they should or should not purchase an item, but a person must worry about the tax rate with the items. The salience of a grocery tax, though, is not just a matter for vulnerable populations. It should be a political issue for everyone.
Perhaps the grocery tax should become a galvanizing political issue that pushes people into organizing on the very local level. These prices affect people within their own homes, in their communities, and across their states. For instance while Alabama has been renowned for its low taxation policies regarding business, it has also been a state renowned for taxing its working poor. An Anniston Star editorial board article notes: “For the 17 percent of Alabamians who live below the poverty line, the boast is a hollow one because low-tax Alabama is No. 1 when it comes to taxing the working poor. That well-worn story is one that can’t be told enough.” The state also has the fifth greatest income inequality in the nation.
Access and availability to food should not be a political issue. People, though, should feel compelled to do grassroots organizing regarding the tax level with groceries in states in Alabama. I would like to pursue this issue in some way while I live here. The harsh reality that feels difficult to think about is the larger issue in the state is regarding taxing the working poor: Politicians, on the whole, want to see these populations continue to suffer. Otherwise, greater progress would have already been made on this very essential issue in the state. It is that harsh reality that progressive organizers and politicians in the South must come up against, time and time again, across states. When politicians do not want the vulnerable, marginalized populations to gain any access to power or social justice, we have an even greater fight to fight. It does not mean, however, that we will not continue fighting and organizing.