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.
- YOUNG LATINO VOTERS: The rise of a new generation of Southern Latino voters
- A GROWING VOICE: Asian American Voters in North Carolina
- VOICES: What to the immigrant is the Fourth of July?
- REFUGEES WELCOME? The South grapples with refugee issues in the 2016 election
- VOICES: #BlackLivesMatter, #ImmigrantLivesMatter, this criminalization must stop
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.
- The great Southern gerrymander continues in 2016
- Trump helps Republicans strengthen power in Southern state legislatures
- Why North Carolina is the biggest battleground of 2016
- Growing Southern cities are increasingly targets of state pre-emption
- 'Sick and tired of being sick and tired': making the connection between disenfranchisement and disease
- The legislative backlash against LGBT equality across the South
- Women missing from North Carolina's county commissions
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.
- THE MONEY BEHIND HB2: How Art Pope helped create North Carolina's 'bathroom bill'
- Tallying up the mounting economic toll of North Carolina's HB2
- Companies opposing Mississippi's anti-LGBT law helped elect its proponents
- Business interests spend big on pivotal N.C. Supreme Court primary
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.
- Meet the Texas billionaire and GOP donor behind the North Dakota pipeline controversy
- Duke Energy invests in keeping a climate science-rejecting U.S. Senate
- N.C. produces flawed study to dismiss cancer-cluster fears near Duke Energy coal plants
- Another Gulf oil spill adds fuel to movement against new offshore drilling leases
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.
- Fables of the Reconstruction: Why Clinton's comments about Southern history matter
- The living legacy of Emmett Till's casket
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.