Tag: south

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.

Labor’s Trek: A discussion on the importance of building The Next Generation of Southern labor activists.

My labor education came pretty early in life. My father was a union steward at the job that he had held since before my birth, and I was always surrounded by union literature, clothing, and other paraphernalia. I vividly remember him being active in the rank-and-file drive to prevent NAFTA from becoming law, even continuing that fight after he was laid off. When my father officially reentered the labor movement as a labor educator in 1999, it solidified the union’s place in my life. As I spent my summers traveling with him throughout the Midwest to give steward’s trainings and new member/new hire trainings, amongst others, the images and the people we met along the way helped to solidify the notion that a union is as strong as its membership. There was one conspicuous absence amongst all of those workers that I met in my journeys throughout the House of Labor: young people.

I recognize that my entry into the labor movement was a lot easier than it is for most people. After all, not many people have a parent that is a labor organizer or educator. But as we search for ways to strengthen and grow the labor movement, especially in the South, we must make the integration of young people (my definition being 15-36) into labor a priority.

Bodies That Matter: Moral Mondays Promote Visibility and Momentum

“Such collective disidentifications can facilitate a reconceptualization of which bodies matter, and which bodies are yet to emerge as critical matters of concern”  

-Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter (xiv).

 Which bodies “matter,” and which bodies will emerge as a “critical concern” in North Carolina? While theorist Judith Butler was referring to disidentifications regarding people’s sex and gender with society, these words resonate with me when thinking of Moral Mondays in North Carolina. We are a collection of “disidentifications,” people who do not fit tightly into a box woven with society’s notions of various privileges. The variety of political signs present at Moral Mondays evidences this reality. Increasingly more people are fighting silence and gaining visibility through physically occupying a space. This collaboration between people with various issues has reiterated the importance of physical visibility and voice in organizing for southern progressivism, as well as making visible bodies that matter.

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Culture Warriors: Why creating a “culture of unionism” is essential for increasing labor density in the South.

(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.)

One of the difficulties of organizing in the South is that the struggles here frequently occur under a veil of invisibility due to the lack of pro-worker media down here. Barring major fights like the United Food and Commercial Workers’ (UFCW) fifteen-year long trench war against Smithfield Foods, where everything from cops on the company payroll to enterprise corruption lawsuits were used against the union, most of our battles do not gain much in the way of attention outside of the communities where they occur, and when there is coverage it is almost always skewed against the union. Even when unionized businesses hit hard times or close, the workers are never part of the story.

One Weekend at Camp: How 40 young people and a horrific injustice softened this blogger’s heart.

This weekend, I spent some time at the Southeastern LGBTQ Activist Camp in Jackson, Mississippi. This yearly gathering is a true example of the sort of coalition- and community-building effort that will be crucial to securing long-lasting progressive victories across the South. Working in concert with the GSA Network, GLBTQ youth organizations from across the South bring young people together for four days of trainings and workshops centered around building power in their communities, agitating against intersectional oppression, and fighting for policies that are inclusive of GLBTQ youth in their schools and their communities. The camp is a mix of rigorous training and lighthearted fun, which are both sorely missing from the lives of GLBTQ youth in the South. Everyone appeared to be getting a lot of mileage out of the camp, and enjoying one of the few safe spaces for GLBTQ youth that exists in the South.

Then the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case came down: George Zimmerman was not guilty.

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.

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.