In October 2018 I pulled up to a community center in Jefferson County, Georgia to meet with a group of senior citizens and talk about the importance of voting. Many of them had heard of the Black Voters Matter bus—what we call the “Blackest Bus in America”—and they wanted to go outside and see it. So we wrapped up the program, went out to the bus and had an impromptu pep rally, singing and dancing to the music of James Brown and Al Green.
My new friends asked if they could ride the bus down the block to vote early as a group. After folks had hopped on and just as we were pulling away, staffers from the center stopped us. Someone had seen the “black” bus and called a local official, who told the center to unload the seniors immediately.
These were fully competent adults who wanted to go vote. The official had no legal right to stop our trip. Sadly, this is only one of countless examples of politicians choking the black vote through apparent fear and intimidation.
When people hear stories about Jefferson County and other places in the South, they assume these are staunchly Republican states and always will be. The truth is the South is the fastest-growing region in the country and is becoming more racially and politically diverse. The South has 10 of the 15 most rapidly expanding cities in the nation. This growth is driven primarily by young people, LGBTQ people and people of color. In 2018 and 2016, millennials and other younger generations outvoted baby boomers and other older cohorts. These young voters tend to identify as independents, but they also tend to support progressive policies and candidates.
In 2019 Democrats won total control of Virginia’s government—both chambers of the legislature and the governorship—for the first time in more than two decades. Kentucky elected a Democratic governor over a Republican incumbent who had modeled himself after Trump. And a Democratic governor won a second term in Louisiana. The South, even the Deep South, is not as red as many people believe it to be.
In 2018 we witnessed an increase in Democratic turnout in the heart of the Confederacy, including Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi. Part of the surge was inspired by younger, more dynamic candidates such as Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke. There is tremendous growth potential for progressives to win in the South, especially for candidates willing to expand the electorate and bring in new voters.