It takes more than good intentions to transform the South. It takes money.
What the hell is a Scalawag?
The combined political events of 2020 demonstrated just how deeply our movements need to challenge structural white supremacy at the local level. As we ground our future organizing in building and expanding independent Black political power, here are some groups on the ground across the South already doing that work:
An introductory note from D'atra "Dee Dee" Jackson, Director of BYP100:
I come from local and state organizing, and there's a particular way that you're able to focus on everything that's happening in a state and dig deep—especially with relationships. In places like North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to an extent, there's a decent amount of movement infrastructure for us to be in partnership around the elections. I feel really proud of North Carolina in particular. Through safe sites, PPE distribution—it felt like there was a real investment for Black organizers to be working together and resource one another to be able to do the work.
There are strides forward in that and record voter turnout, and record early voting turnout of young people voting against fascism, but also at the national level it is certainly daunting that so many neighboring counties to larger cities seemed to enthusiastically support a white supremacist administration.
The work moving forward has to be about expanding our reach to rural parts of the state and less resourced areas. Ultimately, even incremental local progressive wins will be hard to really shift things because in so many states [our movements] don't have statewide power, so that does sometimes make me feel weary.
I'm really hoping this year we focus on continuing to build a more unified left. There's so many ways our society prevents us from being in real partnership, but here in the South we know without coming together we won't be able to cover enough ground and gain the real reach we need in order to win. We also need to have a more serious understanding of power and challenge some of these romanticized ideas of the other side of a revolution, where we are skipping through prairies, it feels so far from where we actually are.
If we really do want decision making power over our lives, we have to change these structures and build them anew. I'm too tired and too disappointed… [so] what is the impact that we really need to be making on the lives of Black people in this moment? Building power helps us do that.
Black Youth Project 100 is a nationwide organization of Black people aged 18-25 with local chapters across the South, including North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Members organize to build Black political power in their respective cities, from policy shifts to reduce harm to Black communities to developing campaigns, like She Safe, We Safe, aimed at ending gender based violence against Black women.
Alabama Rally Against Injustice, led by Black women, has hosted thousands of Alabamians in marches—from joyful celebrations on hallowed ground through downtown Birmingham to blocking traffic in the suburbs like Hoover, which was founded by white Birmingham residents who fled when the city elected its first Black mayor. Hoover is also where government officials today refuse to release video footage of police shooting and killing Emantic Bradford Jr., a young Black man, in a shopping mall on Thanksgiving in 2018. Alabama Rally Against Injustice leads boycotts, bail relief efforts, and coordinates basic resource drives and networks for those most vulnerable in a state ravaged by poverty and injustice. Many of these women are mothers. They do work, paid or volunteer, for Alabama Arise, a non-partisan policy nonprofits; Faith in Action Peacemakers, a faith-based gun violence reduction group; and Be a Blessing Birmingham, an organization supporting homeless folks. This year, as Alabamians were activated by the movement for Black Lives, Alabama Rally Against Injustice was integral to focusing energy during a summer of unrest and raising awareness and resources to address public health crises caused by oppressive systems. — Katherine Webb-Hehn, Scalawag State Politics editor
The Center for Rural Enterprise & Environmental Justice, founded by Catherine Flowers, is an effort to address the root causes of poverty in Alabama, serving as a model for how to address infrastructure issues in rural communities across the South
Read: Black futures and Black places—The future of water in these places depends as much on the durability and reimagining of community institutions like the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise as it does on the future violence (fast and slow) of the state against these communities.
The Shut Down Etowah campaign is made up of individuals and civil, immigrant, and human rights organizations based in Alabama and across the country that are committed to ending the human rights abuses at the Etowah County Detention Center.
Read: Peaches' Mother Daydreams in the Bath—poetry by Che Justus, a featured author for the 100 Thousand Poets for Change series to support the campaign to shut down the Etowah immigration detention center.
The Knights and Orchids Society supports the Black Queer and Trans community across Alabama and the South, in order to obtain justice and equality through group economics, education, leadership development, and organizing cultural work.
Dream Defenders is a group aimed at the abolition of police and prisons as part of their policy, geared towards people of color who share the goal of multi-racial organizing, among other goals.I really respect groups like the Dream Defenders and how they are building with youth across Florida—and groups like Southerners on New Ground. They have been able to expand across the region in a way that feels authentic to the history of Southern organizing, and culture of Southern organizing while also being able to contend for power from city council to the statewide level around police violence and gentrification. — D'atra Jackson
Read: Detainment centers are not equipped to handle the coronavirus, experts say—Earlier this year, anti-prison activist group Dream Defenders published their own demands for action to decrease Miami jail populations in response to the pandemic in a report titled Freedom from Cages is a Public Health Issue.
The Miami Workers Center is a strategy and action center whose purpose is to build the power and self-determination of south Florida's most oppressed communities, and help to build a progressive voice and platform that can nurture the growth of movements for social change in Florida and in the United States.
Read: Imagining another world in post-Irma Florida—Community organizations around the state and the country that have organized from a transformative or anti-capitalist stance during and after hurricanes. In Miami, the Democratic Socialists of America and the Miami Workers Center were among those to mobilize quickly after Irma hit in 2017.
Power U Center for Social Change centers and develops the leadership of Black and brown youth to advance campaigns towards ending gender violence, building youth civic engagement, and ending the school to prison pipeline in South Florida. The events of this year, as right-wing and ultra-conservative violent and repressive forces gain more visible and legitimate political authority throughout Florida and the country, have especially highlighted how important it is to build and strengthen organizations that invest in the leadership and development of Black youth to step into their full dignity. This year I watched Power U youth members advocate to reallocate funding away from cops in schools and into reproductive justice and mental health support. Power U also engaged their members and supporters in understanding the races impacting high school aged youth, getting out the vote to help forge a more accountable school board which holds enormous power in Miami Dade County over the lives of young people. From their Principles of Unity: "Power U believes that the systems of White Supremacy, Capitalism, and Heteropatriarchy are the roots of oppression in our society." — Zaina Alsous, Scalawag contributing editor
The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement is a racial and social justice advocacy group that provides tutoring to at-risk students.
Read: Meet Mokah Johnson, heading up a new wave of activism in Georgia politics—"If I am going to be a politician, I am going to be a politician who brings people together. I want to be the politician who tries to work across party lines. Let's put our differences aside and do what we can to help the people."
All Voting is Local is a national effort that fights to eliminate needless and discriminatory barriers to voting before they happen in order to build a better-functioning democracy that works harder for those historically kept out of the electoral process.
Read: Don't discount the majority of your state: Reaching rural Southern voters—Hesitance to outsiders makes deep partnerships and relationship-building even more crucial for organizers trying to win trust in areas where others have historically not made appropriate efforts. "When I go to do this work in those rural communities, I of course go with deference and respect—but also an understanding that we have established groups and organizations that do the work," Aklima Khondoker, Georgia State Director, All Voting is Local.
Care in Action is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to fighting for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States.
Read: These are the women fighting (and dancing) to transform Georgia politics—"We need more dancing! The movement must be fun!" Care in Action is the political arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. NDWA represents 2.5 million domestic workers nationwide, and Care in Action has mobilized members to get out the vote for Stacey Abrams in 2016.
The New Georgia Project is a nonpartisan effort headed by Stacey Abrams to register and civically engage all eligible, unregistered citizens of color in the state.
Read: 'All organizing is the work of science fiction'—"When we look at a place like Georgia, and particularly Middle Georgia in the heart of Georgia's rural Black belt, the only reason that there are 100,000 eligible Black voters who were on the rolls and didn't vote is '16 and '18 is because campaigns have done a really poor job of talking to, directly investing in, [and] mobilizing Black voters. We didn't know about the widespread voter suppression, rampant voter suppression, how long it's been happening, how sophisticated the tactics that they use are, and how they all sort of combined to make this scheme." Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project
Cooperation Jackson builds solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi, anchored by a network of cooperatives and worker-owned, democratically self-managed enterprises.
Read: Young Black Missisippians join May Day protests for workers rights, COVID-19 protections—Cooperation Jackson pushed back against white supremacists, continuing the long history of Black freedom struggle in Mississippi with the Peoples Strike call to support both workers and the unemployed during COVID-19.
Mississippi Votes is an organization of intergenerational synergy centering and led by young people invested in the progression of the state.
Read: Black disillusionment is real, but Black liberation is possible—Arekia Bennett has organized and empowered youth across Mississippi over the last 10 years. She serves as the Executive Director of Mississippi Votes, a statewide, millennial led, civic engagement non-profit organization that has engaged over 500,000 young people across the state. Since 2018, Mississippi Votes has registered around 15,000 new voters, many of them between the ages of 18 and 39, and many of whom were formerly incarcerated and or in prison. Mississippi Votes also advocates for policies to expand voting access in Mississippi.
The People's Advocacy Project is a community resource and training incubator for a transformative justice model of accountability and harm reduction. It works to create community-driven systems of safety and response to crime. The incubator has also worked to build greater electoral justice by preventing voter suppression.
Read: 'Visionary and Pragmatic'—A Black Feminist Guide to Electoral Politics—"What does it look like to now create governing structures that are rooted in feminism and particularly Black feminist thought?" Rukia Lumumba, Founder and Executive Director, in conversation with Charlene Carruthers, Brittney Cooper, and Barbara Ransby on how Black Feminism shaped the Democratic platform in the presidential election.
Black Voices Black Votes is a civic engagement program created by the National Black Workers Center Project, founded in 2012 to marshal a national network of Black worker centers, local hubs to support, educate, and organize laborers to improve their working and living conditions and build a political voice in their communities.
Read: How COVID-19 has changed the game for Black community organizers—There are now eight Black worker centers and NBWCP affiliates, including three centers in the South representing Mississippi, New Orleans, and North Carolina. The first Black worker center, Black Workers for Justice, was founded in Rocky Mount in 1981 by Raleigh's Ajamu Dillahunt in response to two Black women going on strike at a local K-Mart in protest of unsafe working conditions and low wages.
Durham Beyond Policing is a grassroots coalition and campaign for policing and prison abolition started in 2016 after the City of Durham spent over $71 million to build a new police headquarters in the downtown area. This group has organized for several wins in the last few years, including a Community Safety and Wellness Task Force where representatives from the City of Durham, Durham County, and Durham Public Schools will research and propose new systems of safety without police or prisons, a rejection of surveillance technologies that cause over-policing, and a temporary stay on approving new tasers for the Durham Police Department, pending review of research on its lethal use and escalation of force, mostly against people living with mental illness. — Danielle Purifoy, Scalawag Race & Place editor
Read: Op-ed: Stay-at-home policy isn't effective without economic security and education—"It is kinder, smarter and more cost effective to help marginalized people get their needs met than to criminalize them for endangering themselves and the public good."
North Carolina Black Leadership and Organizing Collective (NC BLOC) is a network composed of Black-led organizations, business and community leaders who are dedicated to implementing strategies focused on advancing Black communities, prioritizing community based programming, and are dedicated to Black liberation.
City Waste Union has been organizing this year around sanitation workers who have been fighting for livable hourly pay and PPE.
Read: Black New Orleans City Waste workers build power against a crisis—The striking workers are treating their strike like a job in itself: waking up at 4 a.m. to get to their picket line, just like a normal work day. They're making sure every striker has a ride there—and lining up transportation if they don't. They spend their time building community support, talking to press and supporters, and exercising and playing basketball. They're out on the strike line for seven hours each day.
House of Tulip is a Community Land Trust creating housing solutions for trans and gender non-conforming people in Louisiana.
New Orleans Workers Group organized much of this summer's protesting in the city, around jobs and higher wages, against racism, gender and LGBTQ oppression, and for solidarity with immigrants.
MOVE Texas is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, grassroots organization working to build power in underrepresented youth communities through civic engagement.
Read: How Georgia and Texas organizers are reimagining the culture of voting—"It's fighting math, fighting the anxiety around wait times and helping to keep people in line is very important. Also, fighting for increased access to polling locations. Fighting for campus polling locations so young people who often don't have access to transportation can still make their voices heard. That side of things is really critical."—Charlie Bonner, Communications Director
The Working Families Party bolsters local candidates representing working class interests.
Read: The new-new and old-new of 'unprecedented' times—On Wednesday, organizers with the Working Families Party led a teach-in underscoring the significance of grassroots movements mobilizing to demand that every vote be counted before a winner is declared in the presidential race. Mississippi, Alabama, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana all don't begin to count mail-in ballots until Election Day.
Social media to follow:
- @abolish_and_reclaim is an abolitionist workshop series aimed at building infrastructures and skills in Durham to create autonomous emergency first responder networks.
- @antigravitymag is a free, monthly magazine published and distributed throughout the New Orleans metro region.
- @bhamstands serves the Birmingham Community to provide a platform for unheard voices, artists, and groups.
- @cantpaywontpaydurm and HEDS Up: Housing and Eviction Defense and Solidarity are a queer and trans housing justice collective organizing eviction defenses and tenant organizing to combat evictions in Durham.
- #FreeThemAll: Black and Brown activists have been holding space outside the Durham County Jail every Friday since about July to show solidarity and build community with folks locked up as part of the #FreeThemAll movement.
- @houseofpentacles is a Black, Trans Media Collective training Black trans media creators and publishing their content.
- @nolablackyouthfund redistributes resources for New Orleans youth.
- @smash_solitary or Smash Solitary with Solidarity is a weekly series of youth-led jail solidarity protests on Sundays in Raleigh—affectionately called the "Gay Circus" by those inside the Wake County Detention center.