The best of Facing South in 2016

For politics watchers, there was hardly a dull moment in 2016.

While the presidential election dominated headlines, the South also saw important developments on critical public policy issues, like the Obama administration's decision to cancel plans for offshore oil and gas drilling along the southern Atlantic Coast through 2022 following protests from environmentalists, business leaders and elected officials from coastal communities.  We also witnessed a surge in organizing to fight back against anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant and other regressive policies, to bring new voices into the political process and to call for transparency and inclusion in our democracy.

Facing South was there to report on these and other developments. To close out 2016, we recap some of our top stories of the year.

Immigration and a changing South

In a year when politicians sought to score political points by fanning fears about immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other newcomers, Facing South stepped up our coverage of immigration and immigrant communities.

We focused on local organizing efforts that blocked the deportation of a Central American teen living in North Carolina and highlighted the parallels between this immigrant detention and the criminalization of black youth — a story that was also published in The Nation.

Facing South spotlighted the growing clout of immigrant voters in states including Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina. According to an Institute for Southern Studies report, 1.6 million young Latino voters will turn 18 and become eligible vote in Southern states by 2020.

And in the crucial political battleground of North Carolina where Asian Americans have become the fastest-growing racial demographic, the Institute partnered with several Asian American organizations to produce a report documenting the growing role of Asian American voters in the state's tight elections, which was covered by public radio.

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Elections, voting and Southern politics

2016 began with the presidential primary elections in full swing, and political developments only escalated from there. While the presidential race dominated news coverage, Southern voters also faced critical decisions in down-ballot races and ballot initiatives. Meanwhile, gerrymandered district lines and attacks on voting rights further threatened the political power of historically marginalized voters of color. Our political reporting was picked up by other news outlets including Mother Jones.

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Money in politics

From the presidential to the local level, the overwhelming influence of money in politics is distorting our democracy and diluting the power of the people. Unfortunately, 2016 was yet another record-breaking year in terms of secret money spending on elections, including millions of dollars flooding into crucial state judicial races in North Carolina and West Virginia.

Corporations and other monied special interests also weighed in on another issue: so-called “bathroom bills.” North Carolina's notorious HB2 made national headlines with its city vs. state battle over non-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals, and it also spurred a boycott that's costing the state millions of dollars in lost economic activity.

Facing South exposed the special interests behind HB2 and tracked the economic toll of the law, which also played a major role in North Carolina's state elections. Our research was picked up widely and even featured in a New York Times editorial.

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Energy and the environment

With manmade climate change accelerating at an unprecedented rate and with outdated systems of energy production continuing to take a serious toll on the health of people, communities, and ecosystems, 2016 proved to be a big year for the fight to build a more sustainable energy future.

Drawing on our long history of reporting on energy politics, Facing South covered hopeful developments in the battle over coal ash disposal, the fight against expanded oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico, and efforts to block the building of spill-prone pipelines through ecologically sensitive areas.

Our research and reporting was picked up by other news outlets including North Carolina's Fayetteville Observer, the Louisiana Weekly, and Democracy Now!

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Southern history and racial justice

As William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." The South's legacy of racial injustice — and the people's movements that have long fought to right this wrong — made headlines once again 2016.

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Workers' rights and the economy

As the U.S. overall and Southern states in particular continued to experience uneven economic development, urgency increased around organizing workers and demanding livable wages, union rights and other protections.

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