The story of the South has been written through the coverage of its seemingly larger-than-life politicians, and Texas is no exception to that. There’s James “Pa” Ferguson, a “wet” (anti-temperance) Governor who was impeached from […]
“The senators are your voice here on all matters. They are the only ones we’ll be hearing from today.” – Lieutenant Governor Forest to women and women’s allies in the North Carolina Senate Gallery.
When the person who oversees the North Carolina Senate tells the public that its voices do not matter, how can we believe in the foundational tenant of “democracy”? On “Independence” day, we are told to celebrate these foundational elements of what our country hypothetically values. The concept has been debatable for as long as it has existed since on Independence Day many people were not independent. Yesterday, though, as I stood among 600 pro-woman supporters at the North Carolina General Assembly, I was reminded of the power of people; today I will celebrate that act of patriotism and celebrate North Carolina’s feminist army. I was reminded that our fight happens every day that we are a part of the social fabric of this state and this nation, a fabric of an American flag that is sewn together with threads of patriarchy that have yet to be fully loosened.
You can also find this piece at The Century Foundation’s Blog of the Century.
Some have recently suggested that changing demographics in the South (defined here as the states of the Confederacy) herald an end to Republican dominance in Southern elections. Citing Barack Obama’s 2008 wins in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina they have argued:
For Southerners, the message was unmistakable: The future has arrived. The Solid South is dead.
Not long after reading that, the U.S. Supreme Court put a southern-sized dent in the Voting Rights Act, which was written and passed to keep mostly southern states and their entrenched political structures under the eye of the federal government.
The idea of a “dead” solid south got me thinking. And the voting rights decision made me convinced.
The South is being driven towards political competitiveness by large-scale demographic changes. But it’s not here yet – and in fact (to borrow an analogy) rumors of the demise of the Old South are greatly exaggerated.
This is a blog post done jointly by Douglas and Sarah.
For Southern progressives, this has been a thrilling week. The main reason for that was the citizens’ defeat of Senate Bill 5 in the Texas State Senate. For those of you who live under what has to be a fairly comfortable rock, the Republicans that dominate Texas state government sought to push through a piece of legislation that would effectively shutter most of the abortion clinics in the state. Anyone who has been to Texas knows at least one thing: it is really big. The distance from Booker, in the Panhandle, to Brownsville in South Texas is 827 miles; from El Paso in the west to Orange in the east in 856 miles. Given that there are already communities in the Texas Panhandle or the colonias in Presidio County that require a 200+ mile drive to the nearest abortion clinic (and that is if you need an abortion early in the pregnancy; it can be over 300 miles if you need an abortion later in your term), it would severely curtail access to reproductive healthcare for Texas’ poorest women.
Texas women knew this, and they did not sit back quietly while their rights were legislated away. They organized, they rallied, and they made their voices heard throughout the entire process. The first notable action was the “citizen’s filibuster”, where hundreds of women filled the State Capitol and testified against this bill for over 10 hours. When that process was shut down, the State House voted to pass on the legislation to the State Senate. When it became clear that the Senate vote would be the last stand for Texas women, State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) stated her intention to filibuster the bill. Women and progressive activists filled the Capitol, while Sen. Davis gave it her all for over 13 hours. When the Republican presiding officer ended the filibuster on very dubious technicalities, other Democratic state senators stood in the gap, using parliamentary procedure to point out that the Republican majority was essentially trying to subvert democratic processes by ignoring certain senators, and abusing the parliamentary procedure. That is when the other hero of the night, State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio, who attended a funeral for her father earlier that day), did a mic drop for the ages:
“At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”
The rest was history. The crowd outside burst into a spontaneous roar that took up the remaining time left in the special session. While the Republicans attempted to say that the final bill was passed before midnight (even going to the extent of changing the times of the bill passage in the official ledger), the large social media presence surrounding the proceedings called them on their shenanigans. Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had to do something that so few Republicans in the South ever have to do: admit defeat. They were not gracious about it, of course, but the victory over them was in hand.
A great moment! Something worth celebrating! Surely, this rare victory for Southern progressivism was being lauded in real time by the major networks and news outlets, right?!
You would be wrong. Progressive struggles in the South are often fought in the shadows, and nowhere has that been made more plain than in the aftermath of the recently completed special session of the Texas legislature.
In the Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder case, the Supreme Court found that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was unconstitutional. Section 4 sets out the formula by which the electoral processes of certain jurisdictions are placed under the purview of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which is further laid out by Section 5 of the VRA. Essentially, those states, counties, cities, and special voting districts (such as water and conservation districts, etc.) who have had a history of discriminating against people of color had to submit any changes in their electoral processes to the DOJ, and changes would only be approved once the DOJ was satisfied that the change did not impair the democratic participation of communities of color.
In the 2012 election cycle alone, Section 4 and Section 5 of the VRA worked in tandem with one another to block restrictive voter ID programs in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Texas. In the South Carolina case, the courts found that thousands of Black voters would have been disenfranchised by the institution of a restrictive form of voter ID. It makes sense; the people who are the least likely to have a valid photo ID on them are the typically poor, students, or the elderly. Even if photo IDs are offered for free, people who do not have them still have to travel to their nearest DMV to obtain them. This puts a burden on those who cannot afford transportation.
The vote in support of repeal came from the usual conservative five (Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Chief Justice John Roberts) versus the usual liberal four (Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor) who voted to uphold Section 4.
I love being a Southern progressive.
I was born and raised in the South. My family on both sides originated in northeastern North Carolina, and many relatives still reside there, as well as in my home state of Virginia. I drank well water until I was twelve, and spent many afternoons playing at the Sessoms Produce Stand that my grandmother worked at until her death in 1997. And, unfortunately, I came up with an….intimate knowledge (and hatred) of the Confederate flag (if you ever meet me, I will regale you with a particularly hilarious story about the time I brought home a magnet with the old Georgia state flag from a field trip).
My progressivism is shaped by my experiences and the things that I have seen. It is shaped by being a Black man in the South. It is shaped by having grown up in a working-class family. It is shaped by driving around places like Alabama and Mississippi and seeing human beings living in apartment buildings and houses that appear to be on the verge of collapse. It is shaped by witnessing the shunning of GLBTQ people in communities simply for being who they are. It is shaped by the constant war against women’s agency being waged in statehouses throughout the South and elsewhere. It is a tapestry of humanity and life that forms my progressivism, and fortifies it.
As Flavia Dzodan once said, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!” The same should go for our progressivism as well.
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.