Stop telling Southerners they deserve to die


November 20, 2020

Liberals and leftists are too quick to dismiss the South—to write it off as a hopeless wasteland. Northeasterners love to joke that the South should just secede again, or even worse, suggest that they deserve their high COVID-19 rates or any other form of consequence because of their political leadership. These attitudes are cruel and ignorant of the vulnerable populations across the region. There are organizers in the South working incredibly hard to elect new leadership, and they face tough and ever-changing obstacles. Instead of laughing at red states, let’s ask how we can help. 

Democrats in the North need a more nuanced view of the South. Red states are home to millions of people of color, Democrats and people who might be Democrats if we did the work to reach them. According to the Pew Research Center, “the 10 counties with the highest shares of [B]lack residents in 2018 were in Mississippi (seven counties), Alabama (two), and Virginia (one). In these 10 counties, about 70% or more residents were [B]lack.” To ignore the South is to allow our government to continue to ignore the disproportionate hardships faced by these communities.

But let’s say the South was only home to white Republicans—that doesn’t mean they’re deserving of any of the negative consequences we’ve seen people joke about. No one deserves a COVID-19 outbreak in their community, climate change disasters, food scarcity or unjust laws. The sooner we stop telling the South it deserves to be punished for their leadership, the sooner we can get some real change done. 

Democratic politicians across the South like to say that southern states “are not red states, they’re non-voting states.” This is partly because the Democratic Party and progressive organizations have not invested the time, money or personnel that it takes to win. But while this might help, the effects of rampant voter suppression cannot be overstated. Countless laws, many of which date back to the Jim Crow Era, have been enacted with the primary goal of silencing young voters and voters of color. Most Southern states require some sort of official photo identification when voting in person. Other factors like complicated registration processes, few polling locations and not enough time devoted to early voting lead to long wait times, making it harder for busy working people to clear the hurdles. Some citizens do not get the opportunity to vote at all as three states bar former felons from voting

But all is not lost. There are pockets of hope—some large, some small—for progressive policies and candidates throughout the South. It would be beneficial for Democrats to remember that and support organizers on the ground who have been doing the work for decades. To do this effectively, Democrats need to stop being classist and developing savior complexes, as this only results in more judgement and division. 

Georgia voted for Joe Biden just a few weeks ago—the first time it’s gone blue in a statewide election in nearly 30 years. Stacey Abrams has become a national hero for the left for her tireless work in the state, but she didn’t do this alone. Helen Butler, Nsé Ufot, LaTosha Brown, Deborah Scott, Tamieka Atkins and thousands of other activists made this happen through years of organizing. Georgia and other southern states are becoming more blue and we can all help by listening to those doing the work on the ground. 

In January, Georgia will have the chance to stay blue and give Democrats a Senate majority that they will hopefully use to pass desperately needed economic relief, expand voting rights and ensure the availability of quality healthcare. The run-off Senate seat race is Jan. 5 and the two Democratic candidates, Reverend Warnock and Jon Ossoff, are doing everything they can to get a majority blue Senate. So what are y’all going to do, mock the South or step up and help Georgia flip the Senate? Volunteer for Reverend Warnock here, volunteer for Jon Ossoff here, and donate to both of their campaigns and Stacey Abrams’s organization here.

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