Sarah and I were in St. Louis recently for a Spring Break vacation. While we were there, we met up with a friend of mine from my days at the University of Missouri for breakfast. After some discussion about the comings and goings of our individual lives, we eventually turned to politics. He got on me for being so hardline about the need for Southern progressives to talk like they are Southern progressives, instead of relying on the sort of conservative rhetoric that has traditionally produced short-term victories at the expense of long-time movement building. At one point in our discussion, he said the following:
Friend: So let’s say you had the opportunity to go to China and build an independent trade union there. What would you tell the workers there? Why should they join your union?
Me: I would tell them that they should join the union to have a greater say in their workplace, so that they could bargain for rights and wages and benefits, etc….
Friend: Do you know why you will be unsuccessful?
Me: Because they might not be used to independent trade organizations?
Friend: No. It’s because you don’t speaking fucking Mandarin! That’s the problem with the way that you are approaching things, Douglas; you aren’t speaking the language of the people that you’re trying to organize.
I thought about that for a second and dismissed it as crap. One of the consequences of speaking out as progressives in areas that have been traditionally hostile to progressivism is that we may have to give up the short-term victories that we are used to in the South. But when we start winning, it will be on our terms. It is always better to build a sturdy foundation at a very slow pace than to build a weak foundation that will blow away at the next strong wind.
But then again….maybe my friend has a point to a limited extent. Maybe there is a way that progressives can reach Southerners with methods that regular folks can understand without diluting the potency of the message. How might we be able to do this?
Two words: The Bible.