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Southern Workers Gather To Build Workers Assembly Movement

Under the slogan “Build the Workers Assembly Movement! Organize the South!” nearly 80 workers from eight Southern states gathered in Durham, North Carolina, for a Southern Workers Assembly Organizing School over the weekend of April 29 to May 1. Workers came to the School from Atlanta; New Orleans; Charleston, South Carolina; Richmond and Tidewater, Virginia; Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Asheville and Eastern North Carolina; northern Kentucky; and elsewhere. Over the last year, the network of areas building Workers Assemblies across the South has grown substantially to include nine different cities, the development of several industry-based councils — including Amazon, health care and education workers — and interest in developing assemblies in additional locations as well. 

Despite Public Support, Southern Unions Still Face Barriers To Growth

Public support for labor unions in the United States is at an all-time high. According to a Gallup survey last fall, 68% of U.S. residents approve of unions — the highest level of support the polling firm has registered since 1965. Pew Research similarly found last summer that 55% of U.S. adults believe unions have a "positive effect" on the country, including 69% of adults under 30. But the latest federal data on union membership shows the share of workers belonging to unions actually declined in 2021. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unionized workers declined by more than 240,000 between 2020 and 2021, decreasing the share of hourly and salaried workers who belong to unions from 10.8% in 2020 to 10.3% last year.

Organizing Poultry Workers Starts With Learning Together

She's been denounced by Tyson Foods as a "radical union organizer," but Magaly Licolli doesn't organize unions — she organizes workers. Licolli is a leader in the workers' center movement that since the 1970s has been organizing labor difficult to formally unionize. An immigrant who developed a passion for popular education through her theater education in Mexico, Licolli served as the executive director of the now-defunct Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center, a nonprofit founded in 2007 to serve the region's poultry workers, where she worked with local community organizer Fernando Garcia. In 2019 Licolli co-founded Venceremos (Spanish for "we will win"), a nonprofit community center with a similar mission. Venceremos, like the NWAWJC, belongs to the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a coalition of over 30 similar worker-based organizations representing some 375,000 food workers in the U.S. and Canada.

In The Southeast, Climate Change Finds A Landscape Ravaged By Inequality

The southeastern United States sees more billion-dollar disasters than any other region in the country. The region also sees more different kinds of natural disasters than other parts of the country. In 2020, six billion-dollar hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, tornado events caused 76 fatalities and torrential rainfall, up 30% since the 1950s, caused severe flooding. And climate change is making everything worse by turning up the dial of intensity on the region’s existing environmental and social vulnerabilities. If, for example, flooding was a problem historically, climate change will make it endemic. If environmental racism already puts stress on people of color, climate change will make the burden even heavier. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Science, some U.S. counties could lose as much as 20% of their annual GDP as a result of damage from unmitigated climate change.

The Rural South Lost 13 Hospitals In 2020

For the Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center, the last straw was the COVID-19 pandemic, which strained the critical access hospital's already-precarious finances past the breaking point. In Florida, two hospitals closed inpatient non-emergency services after being bought out by the HCA hospital chain. In Tennessee and West Virginia, financial problems combined with the strain of the pandemic led two more rural hospitals to shut their doors. Of the 20 rural hospitals that closed in 2020, 13 were in the South, according to data from the Sheps Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which defines a closed hospital as one that no longer offers inpatient services.

Federal Judges Block Efforts To Ease Rules For Mail-In Ballots

In the final weeks of the 2020 election, Republican-appointed appellate judges have overturned rulings that required states to make mail-in voting easier during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tens of millions of ballots have already been cast, even as federal judges kept changing the rules.   These decisions could be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will include a 6-3 conservative majority if nominee Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed by the U.S. Senate next week as planned. So far, the court has ruled against voters in nearly every case it has reviewed.

Preempting Progress In The South

A new report from the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) at EPI and the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) describes the ways in which state interference—in the form of preemption—is impeding local democracy and hamstringing progress on a variety of economic, social, and public health issues for communities throughout the South. The report also describes how this interference is a continuation of long-standing state-imposed policies and practices rooted in anti-Black racism and how modern-day misuse of preemption disproportionately disadvantages workers of color, women, and low-income workers.

‘Starve The Beast’: Southern Campaigns To Divest, Decarcerate, And Re-Imagine Public Safety

In La Casa Azul, “The Blue House” in East Point, Atlanta, organizers with the Racial Justice Action Center meet in what they call “the war room;" a room where they discuss political strategy, conditions, challenges, and ultimately decide which campaigns they want to take on. Founded seven years ago in order to train and support directly impacted people who want to organize grassroots campaigns to transform policies and institutions, the Racial Justice Action Center focuses on three prongs of the criminal justice legal system for reform: policing, courts, and jails.

ICE: You’re Not Welcome In The South

Last week, I dropped my kids off for their first day of school in our small Alabama town of not even 7,000 people. The kids were excited, but I was a nervous wreck. My kids — ages 8 and 11 — are my heart and joy. Would they have everything they need?  Like every dad, my mind raced through a million scenarios. My oldest is starting middle school. What haven’t I anticipated? What might come up and wreck his whole day, setting the tone for the school year?  None of these came close to what families faced just a few hours west from us on their first day of school.

The Importance Of The Fight For The South–And Why It Can And Must Be Won

By Bob WIng and Stephen McClure for Organizing Upgrade - The importance of the fight for the South is a matter of considerable controversy. Whatever the rhetoric it's safe to say that most progressives outside of the South have put little time, energy or money into this struggle since the height of the southern Civil Rights movement. Many have outright given up on the South, considering it either a reactionary lost cause or simply unwinnable. We beg to disagree, and in this essay will make the case that failure to the fight for the South downplays the centrality of the Black struggle in U.S. politics, strategically surrenders the upper hand to the far right and the Republican Party and cripples the fight against poverty. The South is a dynamically changing region and the fight for it is absolutely crucial to defeating the far right and winning a progressive future. Specifically, we argue that as regards building the progressive movement into a powerful force in this country, the South is crucial. (1) Defeating the right and building a strong progressive movement in this country needs the leadership, experience and energy of African Americans, a growing majority of whom who live in the South. (2) Targeting the Southern racist rightwing in its own backyard, on issues of race, poverty, militarism, climate change and democracy, is a crucial part of a broad movement to defeat the right nationally in public opinion, on policy and in elections.

The Latest Challenges To The South’s Felony Disenfranchisement Laws

By Olivia Paschal for Facing South - While all Southern states have laws disenfranchising people while they are incarcerated and on probation or parole, Florida stands out with one of the nation's most restrictive felony disenfranchisement laws — one of only four states that impose a lifetime ban on voting for anyone convicted of a felony. The others are Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa. Because of the law, there are currently nearly 1.7 million Floridians — the highest number in any state — that have permanently lost the right to vote, according to a 2016 report by The Sentencing Project. Florida accounts for 27 percent of the national population of people disenfranchised due to felony convictions, and the 1.5 million Floridians who have completed their sentences but remain without voting rights make up 48 percent of the national total. But they could get that right back thanks to a ballot initiative now underway to amend the state constitution and allow people with felony convictions to vote once they complete their sentences, including probation or parole. This spring, the Florida Supreme Court approved the language for the initiative, which was drafted by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a coalition of nonpartisan civic and faith organizations. But for the amendment to appear on the ballot next November, its supporters need to collect and submit over 700,000 signatures to county elections supervisors, who will need to verify them by Feb. 1.

Challenging The Death Penalty In The South

By Rebekah Barber for Facing South - "I understand this is a controversial issue but what isn't controversial is the evidence that led to my decision," Florida state prosecutor Aramis Ayala said last week as she announced she would not seek the death penalty for cases in the Orange-Osceola jurisdiction where she was recently elected to serve as Florida's first African-American state prosecutor. The state's death penalty — which was found unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 2016 — was reinstated just days before Ayala's March 16 announcement when Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed legislation requiring a unanimous jury to sentence someone to death. Following Ayala's announcement, Scott removed her from the high-profile murder case of Markeith Lloyd...

Southern Communities Brace For Impact Of Big Oil’s Expansion Plans

By Sue Sturgis for Facing South - President Donald Trump kicked off this week with a Monday morning tweet hailing — and seeming to wrongly take credit for — Exxon Mobil's plan for a $20 billion expansion of its refineries, chemical plants and liquefied natural gas operations along the U.S. Gulf Coast. "We are already winning again, America!" Trump tweeted after the Texas-based company released the latest details of a plan first announced in 2013 in response to rising natural gas supplies. He went on to tweet, "Buy American & hire American are the principals at the core of my agenda, which is: JOBS, JOBS, JOBS." The company says the expansion, which includes projects at 11 proposed and existing sites in the region...

South’s Immigrant Advocates Build Networks Of Resistance

By Allie Yee for Facing South - Immigrants have been the target of hateful rhetoric and actions since President-elect Donald Trump launched his campaign over a year ago. Galvanizing his base with promises to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to ban Muslim immigration, Trump has dramatically shifted the tone of the national conversation on immigration and raised fears that he'll follow through on his harshest campaign promises. What a President Trump will actually do around federal immigration policy remains unclear. In a recent interview with Time magazine, he scaled back his rhetoric, expressing some openness to "work something out"...

The South Is Organizing — And There’s No One To Cover It

By Mike Elk for Pacific Standard - The striking thing about being a recent northern immigrant to the South is how often I walk into a bar and hear people talking about Bernie Sanders. As an outsider to the region (I’m a native of the East End of Pittsburgh), I sometimes find it incredible: Go into any bar in the South and all the young folks are feeling the Bern. While Sanders lost big in these states, he did win among southern Millennials — yet another indication that the South is changing a lot faster than some folks realize.
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