After two semesters of courses and teaching composition classes, I am finally returning to regularly going to yoga classes. I’m finally returning to doing both yoga and meditation on my own. In these moments I am able to slow down my world, listen to my breath, and focus on what my body is saying to me. After I end my sessions, I return to the world with a renewed, focused mental clarity. I then start thinking on how the lessons I learn in these sessions relate to other aspects of my life, especially with regard to progressive work in the South. I feel like so many progressive folks I have seen, especially while living in Alabama, feel worn down and seem defeated, despite working their damn hardest at times. I wonder, though, what would happen if we started doing more internal reflection, focusing on our local progressive groups’ heartbeats, breaths, intentional inner thoughts.
I have been thinking a great deal this week about the importance of visibility in social justice and progressive political movements in the South. As my team at Neighbors for Equality has been preparing ideas for future work in North Carolina, we have been discussing visibility. Last year we wrote and helped encourage others to embrace the power of the written word. While I think that oral conversations are vital for our visibilities in the South, I also think that we must also embrace and encourage the written work as a public act of dialogue. If progressive voices are not present, they are silent, and a community appears to be monolithic. If progressive voices speak loudly, we are present, and we hold the potential to shift and sustain a public dialogue. We become visible.
Most of us experience a variety of conversations on a daily basis without giving a second thought to what exactly we are doing. We share information with others, exchange stories with one another, and engage in dialogue. We can do such through a variety of mediums now, such as in-person and online. While having a conversation is a ubiquitous aspect of our society, we often give little thought about its possible impact and power. Conversations, though, hold powerful implications on abilities to not only affect people’s opinions on issues, but also create a stronger sense of community for organizing efforts.
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.
South Carolina is the last state in the country to still segregate HIV+ inmates into separate areas, away from HIV- inmates. The last three states in the nation to continue with this policy were South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. Alabama’s policy was deemed unconstitutional just last year, after a court battle. Mississippi changed its policy in 2010 after activists and attorneys pressured the Department of Corrections commissioner Christopher Epps to rescind the policy (which he did, very much to his credit).
Segregating HIV+ inmates is bad policy for some pretty obvious reasons.
Meagan M. O’Nan is a guest blogger for The South Lawn. She is a spiritual leader, life coach, and Mississippi native (among many other amazing things). The original blog piece, a personal narrative that wrestles with coming out in various ways in Mississippi, can be found on Meagan’s blog.
― Ambrose Redmoon
I have a lot of emotions about today and tomorrow’s Supreme Court hearings getting started. The majority of what I am feeling is anxiety. Anxiety is the combination of fear and excitement wrapped together. I really am hopeful that the fear will subside, so that anticipation and hope can step forward. But that means I have to be willing to see the best in all people: myself, my parents, my family, my friends, the State of Mississippi, and beyond – gay and straight alike. That’s a risk for me, but I am willing to put aside my fears so that the truth of who we really are can seep in.
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.