Blogging for a Progressive South

Greetings, and welcome to Facing South -- a blog of the progressive South.

We are launching this blog with the hope that we inform, entertain, learn, and -- most importantly -- provide a space for Southerners and South-watchers to better understand the South, and kick-start the debate about prospects for progressive change in this fascinating region we call home.

These are subjects we've thought a lot about. The force behind this blog is the Institute for Southern Studies, a progressive "think tank/act tank" that's been working in the region since being launched by civil rights veterans in 1970. You might also know our magazine, Southern Exposure -- which Julian Bond kindly called "the single best resource about the changing South" -- or our biweekly-ish email news update, also called Facing South.

In recent months, a passel of progressive pundits have been saying it's time to write off the South -- that, contrary to Sam Cooke's soulful vision, "change ain't gonna come."

To make their point, the naysayers typically point to recent Electoral College votes for President, the makeup of Southerners in Congress, or the pieces of amusing or shocking news that readily emanate from the southland (unlike other places).

As important (or nauseating) as these indicators might be, we disagree with the conclusion. And we also think it's the wrong question.

Put aside, for the moment, that the South has six of the country's 15 fastest-growing states; holds 31% of the presidential electoral votes; has become a center of global commerce and immigration; and that, for at least the past decade, has set the tone for national politics -- making the South just as impossible to ignore now as when W.E.B. DuBois observed, "As goes the South, so goes the nation."

Also set aside the South's unbroken history of people and movements that have changed the country for the better, or that the region is home to half of all African Americans, who remain the country's most steadfast progressive constituency, to the right's chagrin.

The fact is, whatever schemes for progressive renewal are cooked up in New York, D.C. or the LeftCoast, Southerners committed to a better day will continue to fight, refine their message, hone their strategy, build their strength, and win victories -- at the ballot box, on the job, in statehouses, and beyond.

Progressives face much deeper questions than whether to court "the Southern vote" (by which the chattering classes usually mean the Southern white vote) by moving to the right, embracing NASCAR, finding religion, or learning a few country ditties (although that can't hurt).

Our "Southern Strategy," a progressive strategy, will involve nothing less than a Third Reconstruction: developing an integrated set of common sense ideas, institutions, movements and strategies that build a critical mass for fundamental change that's too strong to hold back.

Of course, it's happened before. As Leslie Dunbar, one of the unsung white allies in the Second Reconstruction of the black freedom movement, recently wrote: "Serious work was done in the South those days. The Southern civil rights movement reversed the tides of the South's history. Southern liberals, black and white, carried their share of the fight that ended the war in Vietnam. These years were the South's historically finest hour."

It's time to get serious again -- and have a good time while we're at it -- about reversing the tides of history and realizing our vision for a progressive South and country.

It won't be easy. But if we succeed, our best years may still be ahead.