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Stop Writing Off The South

The Southern United States has been a liberal punchline for as long as I can remember. Our states are written off as unsalvageable hellholes, with our low education rates and high poverty levels mocked and ridiculed. Recently, liberal pundits even mocked Southern states for having high rates of COVID-19. Joke after joke about sawing of the South has also been made, with suggestions like getting rid of Alabama or allowing Florida to drift into the ocean. While it is easy to generalize these states as having a deep conservatism, the South is filled with a progressive majority which has been stifled and silenced by oppressive conservative governments and policies.

When one dismisses the South, they are also dismissing the many groups who live there and are oppressed by conservative policies. The South has the highest percentage of African Americans in the country. One in six Texans are immigrants.  Queer people, like myself, also call the South home. When many people think of queer history, they often think of the Stonewall riots in New York City, or when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. However, many Southern cities, like Atlanta, have a queer history of their own. Atlanta’s vast growth in the 60s and 70s attracted a large number of queer people to move there. Atlanta’s first nightlife magazine was called Gay Atlanta, and was first published all the way back in 1937. The gay community in Atlanta have been entrenched there for a very long time, and Atlanta has one of the oldest and largest Pride parades in the United States. In 1969, two months after Stonewall, Atlanta police raided a screening of the film Lonesome Cowboys, which featured several gay characters. This sparked massive resistance and galvanized the gay community. Today, Atlanta is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country, with Advocate Magazine calling it the “gayest city in the country.”

This dismissal also erases the existence of Southern cities, which have a populace that is just as progressive, if not more so, than cities elsewhere in the country. These cities often pass progressive legislation that is blocked by the Republican state governments. As an example, despite the wishes of cities in North Carolina, the deeply conservative state government prohibited them from becoming sanctuary cities. So, if the South really has so many progressive people in it, why is it so deeply red? The answer is simple: voter suppression. 

Social media has been littered with accounts of people in the South, mainly Black people, who have been forced to wait in eleven hour lines, or have had their voter registration purged from their state’s database. The 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County v Holder, freed areas with a history of voter discrimination from federal preclearance on all changes to election procedures. In other words, they are not required to have the federal government oversee major changes in the election, such as changing voting requirements. This set the stage for massive voter purges, with 17 million people being removed from the voting rolls in that region between the years of 2016 and 2018. My home state of Tennessee suppresses voter registration groups by fining them if they commit even minor mistakes in filling out forms. Georgia’s voter suppression was well publicized, as Republican Brian Kemp, who was overseeing the 2018 election, purged over 300,000 voters in the year before to steal the governor's race from his opponent, Democrat Stacy Abrams.

Two of the most high profile down ballot races right now are Jamie Harrison vs Lindsey Graham, and Amy McGrath vs Mitch McConnell. These have gotten a lot of national attention, and have gotten a great amount of funding from Democrats across the country. My worry, however, is that liberal support of Southern campaigns is only focused on defeating a hated conservative figure, rather than rooted in a genuine faith in the South’s progressive capabilities. While these races are swamped with funds, other Southern campaigns running against Republicans have been struggling to raise money despite high polls. Marquita Bradshaw, for example, despite being massively outfunded in the Tennessee Democratic primary, ended up winning in a huge upset. She ran on policies like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, and even received an endorsement from the Tennessee Democratic Socialists of America. Georgia has been trending further left each year, and has two Democratic senatorial campaigns, with John Ossof and Raphael Warnock being tied and ahead of their challengers respectively. Races all throughout the South are closer than ever. The time of these states being written off by liberals and the left needs to end now. 

This means that we must care about the South at all times, not just when they have winnable elections. The Southern United States is one of the most at-risk areas for climate change. Louisiana and Florida, for instance, could be completely devastated by rising sea levels and the other effects of climate change. Our states have high restrictions on abortion, racist criminal justice policies, and more. The people of the South didn’t choose this, it was thrust upon them by an undemocratic system of voter suppression which likely won’t be shattered by electoralism, despite our best wishes. Beyond the results of the 2020 election, the voices of Southern progressives need to be listened to. Since our votes may not matter in an electoral college system, our voices must. Don’t use the guise of bipartisanship to compromise with the people oppressing “red states.” We need climate legislation now to protect us. We need Medicare for All to help those of us who are suffering from the opioid epidemic. Our politicians don’t represent what the people need, and we know it. Organizations throughout the South are protesting for Black Lives Matter, for environmental advocacy, and for Medicare for All. On and off the ballot, we need to support Southern progressives and progressive organizations, and stop writing-off the South.

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