The South and rural America have long been strongholds of GOP support, but neoliberal policies are not just harming urban America, indeed, the South and rural America may be even more impacted. A bold message from the Democrats could lead to sweeping electoral shifts. If the Party is willing to abandon agribusiness, Wall St. and its other mega corporate partners.
Democrats Can Win the South, If…..
Let’s be honest, in the 2016 primaries Bernie Sanders was absolutely crushed in the south losing all 11 states by huge margins. HUUUUGE margins. So how could anyone think that a strongly progressive message could succeed in the south? Here are some reasons:
- The South has the highest rural-poverty rate of any region in the country and while turnout among these voters is historically low, none of them are benefiting from austerity policies or policies that benefit agribusiness (see the second half of this post). Turning non-voting poor and working-class people into reliable voters is a viable strategy, but it requires a plan to make their lives better. And while A Better Day is a start, it needs more credible and specific commitments to convert non-voters into motivated voters.
- In 1988 Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition won 11 primaries, the majority coming in the south: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia and needless to say, Jackson’s message was unabashedly progressive.
- As noted in Thursday’s post, progressives are already winning local elections in Georgia and Mississippi;
- Rev. Barber is creating a model through his Fusion Politics initiative, an effort that is successful energizing the poor, the elderly and the young of all colors with a message that is also fiercely progressive.
But how do you take advantage of these opportunities?
- Much work must be done between elections working with groups like Rev. Barber’s Fusion Politics and Poor People’s Campaign. In a Nation article, How the Left Can Win the South, Nina Turner is quoted saying: “You’re not gonna win people over in the South with a tweet or a Facebook post,” says Our Revolution’s newly appointed president, Nina Turner, a former state senator from Ohio. “It’s getting out there and pressing the flesh and listening to people’s hopes and dreams and To win over black voters, Sanders and his supporters needed to spend time in black communities, becoming a part of their politics—a trusted partner.”
- Also from the Nation, Justin Bamberg, a state representative from South Carolina pointed to the critical importance of working through the Black churches, a strategy made easier with Rev. Barber and his campaign’s religious/moral-centric message;
- The Nation also identified the core of Jesse Jackson’s campaign as offering direction to Democratic efforts: “Jackson was able to make specific appeals to poor white voters based around class issues,” Robert Greene, University of South Caroline says. “It wasn’t just about fighting racial injustice, even though that was at the core of his platform. He also spent a lot of time talking about economic injustice, to an extent that, even in the 1980s, most Democrats weren’t really comfortable with.”
- There will be moments when national organizations want to fund the South, but in between major elections, there’s nothing,” Jamelle Bouie says. “We can be working to build community engagement all the time. There’s a real danger in only building a structure around elections.”
In summary, to win the south, Democrats must learn a bit from Jesse Jackson and focus on both economic and racial justice, must work with and within the Black churches and in alignment with existing movements like Rev. Barber’s Fusion Politics and rather than focusing on short term election efforts, work for the long haul, work well in advance of campaigns and build trust with those from whom you want support during those elections. Click here to read the entire Nation article.
Democrats Can Win Rural Voters If….
Joe Maxwell is a fourth-generation hog farmer and former lieutenant governor of Missouri. In a Nation article, Democrats Can Win Rural Voters If They Take On Big Agriculture, he is quoted as saying: “People know they’re getting screwed, that the system is rigged, that wealth is being extracted from rural communities,” Maxwell said in an interview. “We can bring about economic justice for all.” And Maxwell knows exactly how to achieve economic justice and obtain the support of rural communities. He is a leader of Family Farm Action an advocacy group working on behalf of farmers. “There is no progressive organization on the political offensive fighting for rural America,” Family Farm Action writes in its mission statement. “We’re going to change that.”
While this sounds promising, how well does economic justice resonate in rural communities, especially in conservative states like Oklahoma? From the Nation: “Last year, while Donald Trump was dominating in Oklahoma, Maxwell ran a statewide campaign to beat a corporate-backed “right to farm” initiative that would have gutted regulations on agribusiness. He brought together animal-welfare groups, environmentalists, and farmers, and crushed the initiative by over 20 points. Even this year, Democrats have picked up two state legislative seats in rural Oklahoma, an small reversal of the carnage of the past eight years.”
It isn’t so much the abstract concept of ‘economic justice’ that resonates, it is connecting with the actual lived experience of farmers who know very well how multinational corporations have monopolized the farming industry from seeds to livestock, produce to dairy, and everything in between. Even a farmer’s financial institutions have consolidated.
“The effects go beyond the ability to raise prices when you’re the only game in town. For example, a proposed deal between Bayer and Monsanto, in the wake of completed mergers between Dow/DuPont and ChemChina/Syngenta, would lead to three firms’ controlling 80 percent of the US seed supply and 70 percent of pesticides, according to an issue brief from the Organization for Competitive Markets. “They’re controlling the seed, the genetics, and they sell chemicals,” Maxwell said. “Do you think they’ll create seeds that need less chemicals?”
In relation to livestock, the concentration of corporate power is at hand in the slaughterhouse industry. With corporate consolidation comes regional slaughterhouses that are increasingly distant to ranchers and where often there is only one slaughterhouse within a reasonable distance of the ranch. With only one possible resource, the rancher is at the mercy of the slaughterhouse.
In relation to poultry the situation is even more dire, with poultry producers not having seen an increase in the price of chickens in 20 years resulting in over 70% of poultry farmers living in poverty. For a Pew Charitable Trust report on this, click here. From the Nation: “Family Farm Action wants safeguards returned to farm communities, laid out in a farmer’s bill of rights on its website. These include subjecting agribusinesses to the same environmental standards as family farms, transparent labeling laws, increased access to financing for a capital-intensive business, and caps on foreign ownership.”
But far and away, the most important legislative priority among family farmers is to fight agribusiness with anti-trust legislation. Again from the Nation: “A major case involved the rigging of a key benchmark price grocery stores use to buy poultry, which cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. “If the legal definition of collusion doesn’t give the Department of Justice the ability to prosecute, then we need to change the laws,” Maxwell said. The organization also supports using the Sherman and Clayton Acts to break up concentrated agricultural markets.” Obama had made stronger regulation of agribusiness a campaign promise, but sadly under his administration the USDA did absolutely nothing. The proposed regulations are not even on the USDA website. No wonder farmers feel betrayed. Click here to read this very informative article of great relevance here in New Mexico.
As sad as this situation is, it is a clear opportunity on a state and national level. Retake Our Democracy’s Roundhouse Activism Team is researching state laws that can be proposed in the 2018 or 2019 Roundhouse sessions and plan to make these bills part of the priority legislative agenda that we are in the midst of developing. It isn’t just the urban poor who are being neglected and abused by neoliberal policies that allow for the concentration of power and wealth, at the expense of the majority. This injustice may be still more prominent among farmers and rural communities and it is imperative that the Democratic Party develop a convincing message that they intend to address the greed of agribusiness. Trump plans to cut agriculture funding 20%, a move that will not make rural communities happy. It is up to the Democrats to represent a clear difference.
We will have more on this in future issues.
Roxanne and Paul