Our Strength Is Us: Starting the conversation on building progressive power in the South.

This article was written with the assistance of Sarah.

If the media acted in a way similar to Twitter, one would say that Southern politics has been trending as of late.

It was the subject of a series by The American Prospect, and an article by Molly Ball of The Atlantic. It has been a frequent topic on MSNBC. National Public Radio has a series called Texas 2020 that is currently running on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), who filibustered an anti-abortion bill in the Texas Senate and provided a spark to Southern progressivism that had not been seen in a long time, has made the media rounds, getting the most exposure of any Texas Democrat since Gov. Ann Richards (D-TX). All in all, the visibility of Southern politics on the national stage is as high as its been since an unknown Governor from Arkansas came from nowhere to emerge as the preeminent Democratic politician in the 20th century (even if his progressivism was, and is, far from preeminent).

But with all of the talk about the emergence of a new South, there has been something missing: a discussion about building progressive power in the South.

Red, White, and Shame: North Carolina’s Feminist Army Must Continue to Cut Social Fabric Sewn Together with Threads of Patriarchy

“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.


Rumors of the Old South’s Demise Are Exaggerated.

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.

Hot, Diverse, and Lonely: How the Outside’s ignorance hurts Southern progressivism.

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 defeatThey 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.

My thoughts on today’s Voting Rights Act ruling.

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.