For the last two weeks, progressives have been glued to the confirmation hearings of a not-so-secret cabal bent on rolling back the gains of the Obama era. A Department of (In)Justice, a Department of Health that won’t guarantee health coverage, and a Department of Energy whose head won’t rule out cuts to energy efficiency and renewable energy are just a few of the opponents that await us. As we resist the tyranny of a Trump presidency shaped and executed by policymakers who have used state power to undercut our most vulnerable communities, we must center those vulnerable voices and their site of resistance: the American South.
At the center all of three of the aforementioned fights are policymakers who have experience legislating hate, not just tweeting it like their commander-in-chief. Take Jeff Sessions, whose public record of racial animus has been rightly laid out for public scrutiny since he was announced as the nominee for Attorney General. His greatest hits include pursuing a voter fraud case against activists registering black voters in Alabama in the 1980s and keeping an Alabama judgeship vacant for the entirety of President Clinton’s second term rather than appoint one of five qualified Black candidates. Oh, then there’s his opposition to restoring the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, his opposition to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, and a complete set list of public statements and policy stances that discredits his latest tune, “I care about civil rights. I care about voting rights. I have heard your issues. I get it”.
With the confirmation of Sessions and Trump’s other cabinet nominees, the targets on the backs of the most vulnerable among us will only get larger. And many of those vulnerable people call the American South home. This is nothing new; daring just to live while fighting state-sanctioned bigotry has made our communities important spaces of resistance. That’s why we need to center their leadership in the policy fights ahead.
In Jackson, Mississippi, an economic development network known as Cooperation Jackson has been organizing to promote sustainable community development, economic democracy, and community ownership. The antagonistic political context in which we find ourselves is the norm for Cooperation Jackson. Facing the state’s historic (and Tea Party-flavored) Republican supermajority has sharpened the network’s political analysis and strategies of resistance. They are currently leading a project to scale these strategies, drawing inspiration from the anti-compliance strategies used by the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s. One such strategy is to build cooperatives in various cities to meet the basic needs of their communities, but also transform their local economies into engines for the public good. This builds on their existing Community Land Trust, which purchases vacant lots, abandoned homes, and commercial buildings in West Jackson to be used for sustainable community efforts instead of private interests.
In the broader South, Southerners on New Ground have been organizing for intersectional queer liberation across race, class, gender, culture, and sexuality since 1993. With a membership of over 2,000 and 100 member leaders in their core states, they have been building power within marginalized communities that have faced historic state violence. One of their signature projects is a leadership development program for queer organizers in the South that’s hosted in Charleston, South Carolina, Richmond, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina. The goal of the program is to build a movement that centers the particular needs of queer Southerners.
These are but two of many community-driven organizing efforts that have been holding space for and building power with marginalized communities in the face of state violence. As we prepare to defend affordable health care, police accountability, and environmental justice, it is imperative that we elevate and support the existing work of those from whom every breath is an act of resistance.