Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A largely forgotten Southern history

Myles Horton & Paulo Freire at Tennessee's
Highlander Folk School. Highlander was
an organizational midwife to the
Civil Rights Movement.
I am a recovering electoral politics nerd, so I am less interested in what The New Yorker's George Packer has to say this week about the slipping grip the South has on partisan brinksmanship in Washington than I am in his comments on broader cultural politics:

Solidity has always been the South’s strength, and its weakness. The same Southern lock that once held the Democratic Party now divides the Republican Party from the socially liberal, fiscally moderate tendencies of the rest of America. The Southern bloc in the House majority ... has no chance of enacting an agenda, and it’s unlikely to produce a nationally popular figure.

As its political power declines, the South might occupy a place like Scotland’s in the United Kingdom, as a cultural draw for the rest of the country, with a hint of the theme park. Country music and nascar remain huge ....

Southern political passions have always been rooted in sometimes extreme ideas of morality, which has meant, in recent years, abortion and school prayer. But there is a largely forgotten Southern history, beyond the well-known heroics of the civil-rights movement, of struggle against poverty and injustice, led by writers, preachers, farmers, rabble-rousers, and even politicians, speaking a rich language of indignation. The region is not entirely defined by Jim DeMint, Sam Walton, and the Tide’s A J McCarron. It would be better for America as well as for the South if Southerners rediscovered their hidden past and took up the painful task of refashioning an identity that no longer inspires their countrymen.

In the gaps that open between doctrinaire red-state conservatives and torpid social progressives there is an understated legacy of left-wing populism in the South that needs to be rekindled for the sake of social change regardless of who has control of Congress.

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