Tag: Southern politics

He Also Ran: A post-mortem on my first run for public office.

I had not intended on running for any political office in Alabama. Why would I? I am a relative newcomer to the state, my political roots are elsewhere, and the prospect would have been difficult enough as a pretend socialist, to say nothing of being a real one. But as 2013 continued to unfold and I watched the Alabama Democratic Party lurch from screwup to screwup, I started to give the idea more thought.

“I mean, it ain’t like I would have to campaign campaign. I would simply place my name on the ballot, create a design for ‘signs’, and see where it takes me. And it’s a run for the State Democratic Executive Committee; how hard can that be?”

Anyone that knows me could tell you that this sort of minimalist thinking was not bound to last very long. But nevertheless, on January 28th, I announced that I was in it to win it:

https://twitter.com/DougWilliams85/statuses/428320914087092224

After I decided to run, I thought I needed to try recruiting a team of progressives and young folks to run along with me. So I went to College Democrats meetings and tried to give as fiery a speech as I possibly could to get people motivated to join me on the June ballot. I ended up recruiting three other young Democrats to run for seats in either Tuscaloosa or their home counties and, after collecting their $50 filing fee and paperwork, I headed off to the state party headquarters in Montgomery to officially file the paperwork to run.

The paperwork that I filed on February 6th to run for the SDEC.
The paperwork that I filed on February 6th to run for the SDEC.

My brief time spent at headquarters crystallized all the reasons I had decided to run in the first place.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Why anywhere is better than Birmingham for DNC 2016.

When one thinks of Alabama, what comes to mind first? Is it the Civil Rights Movement, which made the state ground zero for its organizing efforts? Is it that movement’s most recognizable leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Is it The University of Alabama or Auburn, which holds a combined 17 national championships in Division I-A football? Is it the steel mills that once served as the backbone of the state’s industrial power, or the space and rocket research that we are known for now? Maybe it is the musical tradition of this state, with natives like Lionel Richie, Percy Sledge, and Hank Williams, Sr.?

Nah. If you are a liberal or some other sort of left-leaning individual, Alabama is probably known first and foremost as one of the most conservative states in the Union. After electing Republican governors for most of the previous two decades, Alabamans helped House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), along with Senate counterpart Del Marsh (R-Anniston), storm the statehouse in 2010. That election gave the Republicans near total control of state government, with a supermajority in both houses and nearly all the statewide constitutional offices. In 2012, the defeat of former Lieutenant Governor and then-President of the Public Service Commission Lucy Baxley meant that there were no longer any Democrats holding statewide office in Alabama. And while there has not been any polling on the gubernatorial race here, it is safe to say that Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has this pretty well locked up. He will likely be assisted by the fact that, for the first time in Alabama history, there will be no Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. That’s right: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who became one of only two nominees for the federal bench since the Depression to be blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, will sail into his fourth term without even so much as a campaign.

The situation is pretty damn ugly for Alabamans on the Left. But news came through today that put smiles on many a Democrat’s face today: Birmingham is one of the six finalists to host the Democratic National Convention in 2016. This would seem to be great news. As the mayor’s chief of staff put it, “You have to look at Denver pre and post-convention, Charlotte, pre and post-convention, and then you’ll get a sense of what it means to a city in terms of economic impact and pride to those who live, work and play in those cities. And then there’s the impact that you can’t measure. It has both short-term and long-term effect.”

Who could pass up an opportunity to go after something like that? Positive economic benefits in the short- and long-term! A shot in the arm to Democrats across the Yellowhammer State! A commitment to make a play for the South!

This sounds fantastic! And yet here I am, proceeding to write about why Birmingham would be, in the words of Alabama native and never-was candidate for governor Charles Barkley, a TURRRRRRIBLE decision to host the DNC in 2016.

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.

How The UAW Lost Chattanooga.

(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.)

“Neutrality should mean ‘we’re not going to fuck with your shit’ not ‘we’re not going to fuck with your shit as long as you use the outhouse’” –Brett Banditelli

There is no question that the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) failure to organize at the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, TN is significant. It is the first time UAW has brought a strategic campaign targeting the so-called “transplant” automakers to a National Labor Relations Board ballot since it lost to Nissan in 2001.* Secondly, it is the UAW’s first new campaign in the South since that crushing loss. Thirdly, this election was touted as a new model by both VW executives and UAW leadership, seeking to create a “works council” at the plant in Tennessee similar to ones in existence at every other VW plant. More on that last point later.

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.

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.

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.