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A New Southern Strategy?

August 7, 2009

The Institute for Southern Studies, with support from the Hill-Snowdon Foundation and the New World Foundation, just put out a report on Social Justice Organizing in the US South.  It’s worth a read, especially if you live or work in one of the six states it profiles: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina.  But even if you don’t, there are findings worth thinking about.

From an economic justice standpoint, the South stands out.  North Carolina has the lowest union density in the country (coming in at 3%) and its neighboring states aren’t much better.  The region’s trademark “hospitable business climate”–relatively low taxes, absent or non-existent environmental regulations, and a persistent anti-union stance–has allowed it to become home to a surprising number of Fortune 500 companies while still containing eight of the ten poorest states in the nation as well as appalling and increasing levels of income inequality.

On the racial justice front, the stats tell a story too.  Over 40% of the US’s African American population is in the South.  And nine of the ten states with the fastest growing Latino population are in the South too.  Don’t get me wrong–absolute numbers of Latinos are still relatively low.  The story here is the rate of growth.

But the piece that stood out to me was this: one of the biggest weaknesses identified by the report’s writers was a lack of social justice infrastructure.  What’s that, you say?  The “people, groups and networks that strengthen organizing through funding, training, networking, technical help, policy and research assistance, and other support.”

So it’s not the community organizers themselves that are lacking; it’s just everything other than passion and personality that they’d need to be successful.

…which is discouraging.  But there are some bright spots.

North Carolina has made headway with statewide and regional support organziations, the NC Justice Center and the Center for Participatory Change among them.  Georgia has a strong network of academic institutions.  The explosion of new organizations in post-Katrina New Orleans with the potential to step into the gap is promising.

But those bright spots aren’t bright enough or numerous enough to create any kind of comprehensive coverage.

This report is a good first step toward creating a new Southern Strategy, focused on addressing the racist and classist realities that previous Southern Strategies exploited.

Now we wait to see if any funders take the bait.

Jonas

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