I’m starting this post before we actually have the ruling on Prop 8, but in our household we know how this will go. Extension of protections for same sex couples in California and beyond that […]
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.
In the summer edition of the journal Democracy, Richard Yeselson writes about the pall that restrictive labor law has cast over the labor movement. Yeselson takes us through a very thorough history of the construction of current labor laws, from the first right-to-work laws in the states through the Taft-Hartley Act, as well as the post-World War II labor unrest and progressive coalition building that provoked the ire of conservatives and business alike. It is a very compelling retelling of history; one of the best I have seen in an article about labor in a while.
He then goes into the cost of running comprehensive campaigns that seek to organize large numbers of unorganized workers. He makes the argument that, in addition to such campaigns being prohibitively expensive, the American workforce is so large and diversified that even large organizing successes will not make much of an impact in labor density. Furthermore, he suggests that labor growth occurs in spurts, and from the ground up, making the formulation of “a campaign in a union office in Washington” ultimately pointless.
After laying out all of these challenges, he suggests a way forward for labor unions in the 21st century. He calls this path forward “fortress unionism.” It entails:
- Defend the remaining high-density regions, sectors, and companies.
- Strengthen existing union locals.
- Ask one key question about organizing drives: Will they increase the density or power of existing strongholds?
- Sustain coalition work with other progressive organizations.
- Invest heavily in alt-labor organizations, especially Working America.
- And then . . . wait (for workers to demand a collective solution to issues at the workplace).
As someone whose primary concern is the growth of Southern labor, this strategy is . . . disconcerting.
While I have stressed the importance of southern progressives sharing about our incredible work at the grassroots level in the South, I also know that we need people to listen to us. We cannot shift the narrative if our thoughts and words are not seen or heard because of people perpetuating the negative stereotypes. When people from other regions (or within the South) automatically negate the South and prevent any chance of positivity being seen, we can struggle to share of our work. I have never understood putting a group of people down in any way, and these regional hierarchies form power struggles. How is it helpful to put the South down without offering some form of positive possibility for a situation? So while I want us to push these progressive works out into the rest of the country, I also want the rest of the country to listen to us. For far too long, Southerners voices have been ignored, silenced, or discounted, and we have been left out of the conversation. Listen to us and see all of our work down here, y’all.
The interweaving of education and poverty ring through in perpetuated stereotypes of the South, which I hope to tackle in future blog posts. It is important, though, to get our stories out about our educational institutions that produce great research, our minds that have breakthrough ideas, and our progressive work that is completed. I am not dismissing the stark realities of regional differences. I am not analyzing various arguments about why the South’s realities are what they are in comparison with other regions. I am simply making the case that despite these realities, we must not forget about the beautiful research, education, and progressive work being done here. We must build our progressive narrative from the grassroots, just as we have built the narratives of the glory of sweet tea or a crawfish boil or moonshine.
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.
I have been doing a great deal of traveling throughout the Southeast region this year, primarily between Alabama and North Carolina. As I was traveling recently, I began to think about the diversity of geographic features in our region. Invariably geographic features assist in the cultural production of an area. In the South, we have mountain ranges, beaches that span the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, swamps, marshland, farmland, foothills, and a range of geographic essences within each state, county, and town. In these thoughts about geography, I started wondering why people continue to paint the South as a monolithic entity when our population is as diverse as our geographic environment.