Tag Archives: KKK

Hope And Fear In Rural America

At this point in America’s political history, it’s a rare person who hasn’t seen those ubiquitous red and blue maps. Different states show different voting patterns, but there is one element the political maps all have in common: cities with a half-million residents or more are all bright blue, and rural areas are all red.

Suburbs may be turning purple, but not rural America.

A number of political operatives have been counseling Democrats to engage with rural voters, to try to bridge the cultural divide between “cosmopolitan” urbanites and “resentful” rural dwellers. My own response to those entreaties has ranged from tepid to cold–after all, wouldn’t it be a waste of resources better deployed on efforts to turn out the millions who didn’t bother to go to the polls in 2016? Given what I have read about the deep connection between rural voters and the GOP, outreach to those precincts seemed–and still seems–unlikely to change many votes.

That said, an eloquent column from the New York Times has made me reconsider.

George Goehl runs a federation of community-based organizations across the country that bring poor and working-class people together to win economic and racial justice, and he has a warning: when liberals and progressives ignore rural Americans, they clear the way for the White Nationalists who are already there.

This summer I visited a bunch of small towns across the country, and I saw signs that white nationalists are becoming more active. Just drive by the town square in Pittsboro, N.C., at 5 p.m. on any given Saturday and you are likely to seewhite nationalists rallying to protect a Confederate monument.

This weekend, I’ll head back home to southern Indiana, where members of the 3 Percenters, a far-right militia, showed up with guns and knives at the Bloomington Farmers Market earlier this year. The leader of the white supremacist organization American Identity Movement even paid a visit. I’ve been organizing for 20 years in rural communities and have never seen this level of public activity by white supremacist groups.

Goehl’s organization works in both urban and rural communities, and he warns against the assumption that rural minds cannot be changed.

As part of this work, our organizers had over 10,000 conversations with people in small towns across the country over the past year. We spoke with neighbors in Amish country, visited family farms in Iowa and sat on front porches in Appalachia — communities that have experienced hard economic times and went solidly for Donald Trump in 2016.

Although these communities may be fertile ground for the Trump administration and other white nationalist organizations, they are also places where people can come together across race and class to solve the big problems facing everyday people. That starts by recognizing one another’s humanity — and with honest conversations….

For those who have given up on rural communities: Please reconsider. So many of these places need organizing to win improved conditions. Despite the stereotypes, rural people are not static in their political views or in the way they vote. Single white rural women and young rural white people represent two of the greatest leftward swings in the 2018 midterms, moving 17 and 16 points respectively toward Democrats. They played a key role in Democratic wins across the Midwest.

Goehl concedes that a substantial number of rural residents are “as racist as you would expect,” and notes the resurgence of the KKK in rural America. On the other hand, he insists  that plenty of rural folks reject efforts to foster racial resentments.

In June of 2018, my organization’s affiliates staged nearly 780 rallies across the country to protest the family separation crisis. Half of the rallies were in counties that voted for Donald Trump. Small towns like Angola, Ind., and Ketchum, Idaho, with populations of 8,000 and 2,700 respectively, were among the communities that came together to support migrant families.

People followed those rallies with rural cookouts, deep in so-called Trump Country, to gather and talk about family and the plight of migrants, and pass the hat to post bond for migrant families.

It’s good to be reminded that no constituency is monolithic. Turning those red expanses blue, however–or even a pale shade of purple–still looks like a very steep climb.

 

 

Thanks For The Clarity

I found it incomprehensible that people could vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

However, although subsequent research found a very high correlation between “racial anxiety” (i.e., bigotry) and a vote for Trump, I did recognize that not every Trump voter was a racist; lifelong Republicans voted their party, people who hated Hillary Clinton held their noses and pulled the Trump lever, and there were some voters who wanted to “shake things up” and assumed that, if elected, Trump would “pivot” into something vaguely resembling a President.

Two years later, we owe him a debt of gratitude for clarifying who he is, and making it impossible to miss what is at stake in Tuesday’s election.

As the midterm election has neared, Trump has ramped up his White Nationalist street “cred.” No American who is remotely honest–or sentient, for that matter–can miss the message: a vote for any Republican is a vote for Donald Trump’s relentless war on blacks, Jews, gays, Muslims and any and all brown people who may be among those “huddled masses yearning to breath free.”

Trump’s racism has always been obvious, from his early refusal to rent apartments to blacks, to his vendetta against the (innocent) boys accused of raping a Central Park jogger, to his shameful birtherism and his insistence that “many fine people” are self-proclaimed Nazis. He has made unremitting attacks on Muslims. In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, a number of news outlets have published lists of his anti-Semitic remarks and tweets.

In the last month, his horrific, untrue characterizations of the desperate people in the caravan fleeing Honduras, his despicable “Willie Horton” ad, and his ignorant attacks on the 14th Amendment’s grant of birthright citizenship have all been transparent efforts to remind American bigots that he is on their side, and to mobilize them to vote Republican.

A couple of days ago, the New York Daily News reported on a speech by former KKK member Derek Black. 

“The government itself is carrying through a lot of the beliefs (white nationalist groups) have and a lot of the goals — things like limiting immigration, and as of today, the goal of ending birthright citizenship. That has been a goal of white nationalists for decades, like explicit: this is what they want to do,” Black told The News.

“They have a person in the White House that is advocating the exact white nationalist goal that is one of the cornerstones of their belief system,” he added.

Black said he has firsthand knowledge of leaders within the white nationalist movement who are convinced the country’s commander-in-chief is going to fulfill all their wishes.

“They’re very open within their groups that it is better if they do not advocate this openly,” he said, “because it might actually hurt some of the efforts in the federal government itself.”

Black said Trump — who last week proudly identified as a “nationalist” at a rally for Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — is bolstering the confidence of white supremacist groups whether he realizes it or not.

He realizes it. And so do those who agree with him.

It’s no longer possible for Trump supporters to claim they don’t see his bigotry, or to pretend that their votes for what the GOP has become are based on anything other than their rejection of civic equality for people whose skin is a different color, or people who love or worship differently.

On Tuesday, we will find out just how many of our fellow Americans endorse Trump’s enthusiastic public attacks on everything America stands for.