I live in Alabama. This state has one of the highest poverty rates overall, as well as one of the highest rates of extreme poverty (defined as those making less than $2 a day). The […]
(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.
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.
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.