I greet you from the medieval stronghold of the American South, where it’s as bad as you’ve heard. They could be worse.
Red state lawmakers have perfected the art of voter suppression, which you probably know. They’ve also turned the blue cities of the South into political irrelevance, which you may not do. These cities serve as the economic engines of their states: According to Mark Muro, the policy director for the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Project, the counties that Joe Biden won in 2020 account for 71 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Some of those counties are in red states and they’re growing.
Come help us grow. The new Gerrymanderde district lines are based on current data. With your help, we can outsmart dastardly GOP calculations about where residents reliably vote Republican. Once you’re here, you can also help us register voters in disenfranchised communities and drive them to the polls on Election Day.
Changing what happens in red states is the surest way to change what happens in Congress, but scolding on social media from your blue state won’t change anything here. To lawmakers, the only opinion that matters is the opinion of the people who vote in their district. If you want to change Joe Manchin’s mind about climate change, you need to move to West Virginia.
So everybody come down and help us flood the Capitol and all these red state houses with constitutive concerns. Maybe you can stand in a few squares and wave angry signs while you’re at it. Local media likes to report on protests, and in many places down here a ‘protest’ is seven people and one smart board.
Don’t you believe that hardcore right-wing people can be moved by public outcry? Just think what happened in Tennessee when video obtained by Phil Williams, the chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5, caught the president of the ultra-conservative Hillsdale College claiming that American teachers were “trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges of the world.” country”.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, who was present at the speech, made no attempt to denounce his friend on this point, and it appears his complicity will cost him the 50 charter schools he invited Hillsdale to attend here. to open. Republican lawmakers applauded when Mr. Lee first announced the partnership. Now, faced with an incessant protest from teachers in response to the video, pro-charter lawmakers are waning their support. “When the General Assembly meets again in January, any hope that Hillsdale will operate in Tennessee will be shattered,” the Republican chairman of the Tennessee House Education Administration Committee said last week.
Many people have pointed out that Red State officials are shooting themselves in the foot as they merrily cut law, ignoring the undeniable reality of a warming planet, and trying to create a Christian theocracy in a nation based on a firm belief in the separation of church and state. Smart red-state kids will grow up and leave, goes this theory. Out-of-state companies looking to locate in a low-tax, low-regulation state will think twice before moving to a place where their employees don’t have the same rights as citizens of other states.
I disagree with these predictions. History certainly confirms them. During the Jim Crow era, black people left the American South in such numbers that we now call their exodus the Great Migration. Six million Americans fled to escape virulent racist violence and economic oppression.
But here’s another thing history confirms: leaving in search of something better doesn’t guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for. Racism, for example, doesn’t magically disappear once you cross the Mason-Dixon line. I myself left the South once, determined never to return. But it turns out that what I love about my homeland is bigger than what drives me to despair. And I don’t think I’m the only one.
All the tropes about how awful the South is—ruled by thoughtless ideologues, drenched in rage, and littered with weapons—all are true, but these aren’t the only truths that hold true in this tragic, fractured, history-haunted place. In this verdant, verdant land laced with creeks and rivers that smell so deeply of to live.
I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes. How could you not? This troubled region only makes headlines when the troubles turn feverish.
Still, listen to me.
Southern hospitality is real and generosity is endemic. You can count on almost anyone you meet here to give you a lift when your car breaks down, pick up your sick child from school so you don’t miss your shift, help you clean up when a tornado hits, even to bring you dinner when your dog dies. They will not ask if you are a liberal or a conservative. They won’t ask where you go to church, or if you go to church. They just come in.
We also tell a good story here. The sluggishness of living in the south without air conditioning has left a legacy of stories that continues to this day, even if screen doors and attic fans have mostly gone the way of ice delivery. (Sweet tea isn’t going anywhere. Also the best barbecue, but that goes without saying.) The storytelling gene is so strong here that eavesdropping on strangers can become your favorite pastime.
And the music! My God, the music! The South has been the nursery and testing ground for almost every original music genre that this country has produced to date. When people are isolated long enough, or heartbroken long enough, or beaten up long enough, they often turn to art.
No one moves south for great music and barbecue, or even for its lush landscapes and rich biodiversity. Those are reasons to go on vacation somewhere, not to move there. But here’s a more serious reason: if you come, you’re not alone.
There are more people like you here than you might think: social justice organizations, voting rights advocates, nonprofit media that hold power to account, environmental groups, criminal justice reformers, and more. Some people on the front lines make good problems, as civil rights hero John Lewis advised, and some people just quietly work for change. But they’re all fighting for everything they’re worth to stop the mean, ignorant people from making life hell for everyone else.
It may seem that the entire region has been turned into the ninth circle of hell by its lying leaders, but there are reasons to believe that it is not too late for us. We are fighting for our lives here and we could really use your help. Come down and help us drive the despots out.
Margaret Renkl, a contributing opinion writer, is the author of the books “Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South” and “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.”
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