Tag: Politics

Power of the People: Remembering Senator Martin Nesbitt

I didn’t know him personally, but I had watched and listened to him. And I was moved. In a time when complacency and silence plagues much of mainstream political discourse, even in public service capacities, I had always been moved to listen to Sen. Martin Nesbitt speak. Not only did he speak, but also people listened in my home state of North Carolina. In a time where we are still fighting against the stereotypes associated with using a southern accent, he did not hide his drawl.  As I think about how quickly and what a shock his illness and death occurred, I continue to return to Joan Didion’s words in The Year of Magical Thinking: “Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”

While life certainly changes fast, one thing that will steadily stay in my mind about Sen. Nesbitt is his work for keeping the people, the grassroots, at the forefront of the political and policy conversations for my state. He made strong statements in the North Carolina General Assembly during points when it would be easy to be silent, to feel silenced, to feel like it would do no good. Yet, he did not forget to speak up and speak up loudly. He will be missed. As I think about the upcoming elections and moving North Carolina forward, not just in a “is this candidate electable” way but in a “is this candidate electable AND gives a damn” way, I think about Sen. Nesbitt’s work; I hope that we carry his work with us as we press forward.

Rest In Power: A Remembrance of Chokwe Lumumba

When it comes to politics and policy, I would not consider myself to be a particularly cynical person. Far from it actually; my faith in the power of social movements and grassroots change would not be as strong as it is if I did not hold to the notion that we will see an ultimate victory over the inequalities and oppressions that plague our society. I believe in people, and I believe in communities.

However, it would be accurate to assume that I do not have much faith in politicians or the political parties from which they emanate. I am, after all, old enough to remember a Barack Obama who said that he would walk a picket line as President and repeatedly affirmed his support for a public healthcare option. The breadth of politics today has become a game of Team Blue vs. Team Red, and opposition is based less on ideas than the jersey you wear when you take the court. After all, if it were a Republican Congress and President that had signed a bill that slashed food assistance for low-income families, funded the government on the backs of government employees, and ended unemployment benefits that are still necessary in a sluggish economy, many of the Democratic cheerleaders for “bipartisanship” and “compromise” would be a bit more muted in their praise.

So suffice it to say that when a city councilman named Chokwe Lumumba announced that he was running to be the mayor of Mississippi’s capital city, I was skeptical. Having met Chokwe through her work at the ACLU of Mississippi, my wife told me that he was a legit radical. As I looked him up, that much became evident: student radical who once occupied buildings at Western Michigan University in protest of the paucity of Black faculty; former second Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika; founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; and the lawyer for the Scott Sisters. There was no doubt that this was a person who went the extra mile for his community. Yet as I observed his campaign, I came to the same conclusion that I am sure a lot of other people came to:

He won’t win.

How to Win Elections and Fix Bad Policies: A Leftist Blueprint for Remaking the Democratic Party

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

The status quo in the Democratic party is an unholy mess. This is true at all levels of the party, but especially so in the South, where most state parties are in an unacceptable state of disarray. Our nation is at a juncture where leftist politics and policy have started to re-enter the realm of the feasible. Certain progressive dream policies like Medicare for All and raising the minimum wage are now actively debated and discussed after the failures of pro-corporate policies have become manifest. And yet, the dysfunctional nature of the Democratic state parties in the South risks the best chance since the demise of the postwar consensus and the rise of neoliberalism to fundamentally move this country’s politics to the left.

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.

As Bold As Our Recipe Flavors: Our Progressive Southern Stories Must Be Heard

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 Tapestry of Southern Progressivism: Why we must embrace the politics of diversity for a new South.

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.

People Over Politicians: Why a shift in labor’s priorities is needed.

Ashley Byrd, News Director for South Carolina Radio: We are going to stay on the topic of job creation. And, uh, let’s start with this: Boeing is bringing more than 8,000 jobs into South Carolina. So here is a two part question first to Ms. Colbert Busch: Did the NLRB overstep its bounds when it tried to block Boeing’s approach to expansion in South Carolina? Yes or No, and why?

Elizabeth Colbert Busch: Yes. This is a right-to-work state, and they had no business telling a company where they could locate.

If the first thought that ran through your mind was, “Sounds like a standard Republican answer to a question like that,” you would be right. But, of course, Elizabeth Colbert Busch was the Democratic nominee for Congress in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. In response to the Republican candidate, former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), stating that Colbert Busch “wants to be the voice for labor unions in Washington, DC”, she said the following:

First of all, um, Mark, what you’re saying is just not true. Things can be taken out of context, and everybody knows that. I am proud to support and live in a right-to-work state, and I am proud of everyone who has supported me.

Incredible, huh? Here is something even more incredible: the person who said those things, and who did not mention “labor” or “unions” once on her economic issues platform, received at least $32,500 from labor, with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers being her second biggest contributor at $10,000.

Labor also gave $68,000 in 2009-2010 to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). Yes, that would be the same Blanche Lincoln that played a large role in blocking the Employee Free Choice Act and who now works for Wal-Mart as a “special policy advisor” (read: lobbyist). You know, the same Wal-Mart notorious for its anti-union policies. It is not altogether surprising, though, given that Wal-Mart gave her $83,650 in donations over the course of her last term in the U.S. Senate.

Something is not adding up here.

Doing Yoga on the South Lawn

          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.

Use Your Words: Why conservative rhetoric will never build a more progressive South.

I was visiting Cottonmouth, which is a fantastic progressive blog in Mississippi, when I came across this video calling for the expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA):

The ad seemed real polished, and it seemed like it would connect with many low-income and working-class voters. I say many instead of most or all because of the following passage from the same video:

They’re saying no to 9,000 new jobs and almost $1 billion of economic activity in our state, and they are leaving 200,000 of our neighbors in the cold. Working families, not freeloaders; preventing them from getting decent medical care.

I just cannot understand this.