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The Battlelines are Drawn: Rightwing Neo-Secession or a Third Reconstruction


The heartless combination of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the House Republicans flatly shunning the immigration bill and the Trayvon Martin outrage should be a wake up call about the grave dangers posed by the far right and may give rise to a renewed motion among African Americans that could give much needed new impetus and political focus to the progressive movement.

The negative policies and missteps of the Obama administration are often the target of progressive fire, and rightly so. But these take place in the context of (and are sometimes caused by) an extremely perilous development in U.S. politics: an alliance of energized rightwing populists with the most reactionary sector of Big Business has captured the Republican Party with “the unabashed ambition to reverse decades of economic and social policy by any means necessary.” (1)

The GOP is in all-out nullificationist mode, rejecting any federal laws with which they disagree. They are using their power in the judiciary and Congress to block passage or implementation of anything they find distasteful at the federal level. And under the radar the Republicans are rapidly implementing a far flung rightwing program in the 28 states they currently control. They have embarked on an unprecedented overhaul of government on behalf of the one percent and against all sectors of the poor and much of the working and middle classes, undermining the rights of all.

The main precedent in U.S. history for this kind of unbridled reactionary behavior was the states rights, pro-slavery position of the white South leading up to the Civil War. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called out the attempts at nullification in his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” and the movement of the sixties defeated it. As shown in the ultra-conservative playground that is the North Carolina legislature, the new laws and structures of today’s rightwing program are so extreme and in such stark contrast to the rest of the country that I believe both their strategy and their program should be called “Neo-Secession.”

This nullification and neo-secession must be met by a renewed motion for freedom and social justice. The great scholar-activist Manning Marable, the leader of the powerful fightback in North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and others have called for a Third Reconstruction that builds on the post-Civil War first Reconstruction and the Civil Rights/Second Reconstruction. (2)

We are now at a pivotal point in this fight. The battlelines are drawn: Reactionary Nullification and Neo-Secession or Third Reconstruction?

Like the first secession, this second neo-secession is centered in the South even though it is a national movement with unusual strength in the upper Rocky Mountain and plains states in addition to the South. (3) Similarly racism, especially anti-Black racism, lies at its foundation even as the rightwing assaults all democratic, women’s, immigrant and labor rights, social and environmental programs. Progressives in the South are rising to the challenge. But, deplorably, most Democrats, unions, progressives and social justice forces barely have the South on their radar and rarely invest in it. This must change, and change rapidly.

A shift in progressive priorities and intensification of on-the-ground organizing are crucial to defeating the right’s neo-secessionist agenda as well as to forge a sufficiently powerful “Third Reconstructionist” political force to successfully pushback against the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party in the battles that must be waged against them along the way. We can righteously roast Obama all we want, but unless we can build a truly powerful force to his left that can simultaneously unite with moderates to break the political stranglehold of the far right, we will be spitting into the wind.

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North Carolina is a true purple state: Obama won the state in 2008 by less than one percent and lost it by two percent in 2012.

But through a combination of good luck and smart strategy, not to speak of state Democratic lethargy, Republican gerrymandering and the largesse of the rightwing retail mogul Art Pope, North Carolina has been the site of the Tea Party’s most dramatic political victories and its most draconian legislative and social agenda. Pope’s foundation finances ninety percent of the income of the state’s leading rightwing groups (6)

Yet, in 2012 the Republicans won the governorship and a majority in both houses of the legislature for the first time since the first Reconstruction. In fact they boast a supermajority in both houses. “Since then,” says the NY Times, “the state government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.”

In just its first two weeks the new legislature: (1) became the only state to nullify all federally mandated and funded extensions to unemployment, affecting 170,000 people. It also slashed the maximum unemployment benefit for new claims from $522 to $360 per week and the maximum length to 20 weeks. North Carolina has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation; (2) refused the federally funded Medicare benefit that would have provided health care to an additional 500,000 North Carolinians; (3) moved to enshrine existing anti-union, “right to work” laws in the state constitution; (4) passed voter ID laws, cutback early voting by half and eliminated same day registration; (5) legalized and subsidized fracking; (6) passed a bill to purge state commissions and Superior Court judges they don’t like.

Reverend Doctor William Barber II, the North Carolina State President of the NAACP and the main leader of the growing fightback, gives further details about what he calls the “vicious war on the poor”:

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>“Piling further indignities on the poor, they also want to require people applying for temporary assistance or benefits to  mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>

In addition, the legislature is moving to privatize Medicaid; slash public education funding to 2007 levels, end teacher tenure and place charter schools under separate governance; shut down most abortion clinics; and establish outlandish rules for ex-offenders to restore their voting rights.

This reactionary avalanche of neo-secession is being met by a burgeoning fightback. The North Carolina NAACP (http://www.naacpnc.org/) and the wide progressive coalition it has built called Historic Thousands on Jones Street (where the state capitol is located,http://hkonj.com/) is fighting for what Rev. Barber enunciates as a Third Reconstruction. This year they launched “Moral Monday”: every Monday a demonstration against the legislature is followed by civil disobedience in the state house. In eleven such events so far, more than 700 people have been arrested, usually supported by thousands at the rallies. HKonJ and its member groups have flanked Moral Monday with a statewide and sectoral organizing campaign. (8)

FIGHTING NEO-SECESSIONbattle for a Third Reconstruction takes place in a vastly different global and national context than Reconstruction I and II. In this era of imperial decline, social austerity and looming environmental catastrophe today’s radical reconstruction would encompass not only the fight for racial justice but also intersect with labor battles and anti-cutback efforts, fights for immigrant, women’s and LGBT rights, peace and climate justice in new ways. Getting there will be complex but the potential exists for a social change movement in the U.S. that is both broader and more radical on a host of issues than previous progressive upsurges.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SOUTHbattle for the South stands front and center.

Written off as redneck, ignorant Bible Belt country by too many liberals, the South is actually a heated center of  150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
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Even in Mississippi the Republicans hold only a three-seat majority in the state’s House. A proposed state constitutional amendment defining “personhood” as beginning at conception and prohibiting abortion “from the moment of fertilization” was defeated by 55 percent of voters in Nov. 2011. And the longtime Black and human rights activist Chokwe Lumumba was just elected mayor of Jackson, the state’s capital and largest city. (11)

Maryland long ago turned Blue, Virginia and North Carolina are now true battleground states. After North Carolina, Georgia was the most competitive state won by Romney. And Texas and Mississippi are within shouting distance—and a lot of smart, hard work—of becoming battleground states. Progressive political forces and mass rumblings can be heard in every Southern state. This is where a broad coalition centered around African Americans must be unleashed and the rightwing routed in its own backyard.

The South is also the site of some of the most exciting social justice organizing in the country. (12)

The defeat of the Personhood amendment and the election of Chokwe Lumumba as mayor of Jackson highlight the growing power of groups like Mississippi One Voice (http://uniteonevoice.org/ovms/), the Mississippi Black Leadership Summit (http://uniteonevoice.org/2013-ms-black-leadership-summit/) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (http://mxgm.org/chokwe-lumumbas-mayoral-victory-speech-tuesday-june-4-2013/) in Mississippi.

Virginia New Majority has burst on the scene with the state’s most dynamic political field operation and as a key organizing force in the Virginia legislature. It may be the first social justice group to embark on an exciting new strategy of identifying, training and fielding progressive candidates in key areas of the state. http://www.virginianewmajority.org/ Florida New Majority (http://www.flnewmajority.org/) has built one of the largest social justice electoral formations in the country as well as a potentially powerful alliance with the Service Employees International Union and other unions in this crucial battleground state. It is now making important new initiatives to develop its capacity to communicate regularly with the hundreds of thousands of people they meet at the doors as well with the organization of Freedom Clubs as a grassroots organization.

The battle for the South together with other purple and Red states is once again likely to determine the future of this country. Next year’s 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Summer provides an opportunity for people around the country to contribute to the battle in Mississippi and throughout the South. (http://www.crmvet.org/anc/1406msfs.pdf)

The 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington will be marked by a landmark rally in Washington, DC on Aug. 28, 2013. Hopefully the anniversary will give breadth and depth to the emerging political motion ignited by the regressive Voting Rights Act decision and the Trayvon Martin travesty. The emergence of a renewed mass African American-led grassroots motion would be a major step for the progressive movement as a whole as we take on the task of fighting to defeat neo-secession and forge a Third Reconstruction for jobs, peace and freedom. http://50thanniversarymarchonwashington.com/

http://www.storyofamerica.org/reconstruction3. Melissa Harris-Perry:http://newsbusters.org/blogs/nathan-roush/2013/07/08/msnbc-harris-perry-claims-we-are-third-reconstruction-after-voting-rig.

(3) Bruce Bartlett does a great job of tracing the origins of today’s struggles to slavery days:http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2012/05/04/Americas-Return-to-Political-Polarization.aspx#page1

(4) In order to promote political stability, the framers of the U.S. Constitution created a unique fragmentation of the government into three branches (plus the Federal Reserve the military) and a distinctively powerful division of power between the federal, state, county and city jurisdictions. Combined with the decision to disperse and stagger elections, this system makes the governmental system of the U.S. uniquely stable. But, in an unintended consequence that Mann and Ornstein detail, it also makes it vulnerable to sabotage and nullification by a powerful political force like today’s Republican Party which rejects the culture of compromise that is absolutely crucial to make tour very divided national governmental system work. 

(5) Bostis is quoted in Thomas Edsall, “The Decline of Black Power in the South,”http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/the-decline-of-black-power-in-the-south/?emc=eta1

(6) Much more on Pope at: http://www.southernstudies.org/person/art-pope

(7) http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/29/opinion/barber-north-carolina-protest

(8) A big question is how this increased street motion can not only be greatly increased but also translated into the electoral power necessary to strip away the Republican supermajorities and governorship in that state.

(9) Bob Wing, “Can We Defeat the Racist Southern Strategy in 2012?”http://www.organizingupgrade.com/index.php/modules-menu/community-organizing/item/728-can-we-defeat-the-racist-southern-strategy-in-2012

(10) Bob Moser, now the executive editor of American Prospect magazine, advances an interesting and optimistic analysis of the political potential of the South in his 2008 book, “Blue Dixie” and in a recent special feature of American Prospect magazine entitled “The End of the Solid South” (http://prospect.org/article/end-solid-south).

(11) Bob Wing, “From Mississippi Goddam to Jackson Hell Yes’: Chokwe Lumumba is the New Mayor of Jackson”: http://www.southernstudies.org/2013/06/voices-from-mississippi-goddam-to-jackson-hell-yes.html

(12) There are many more important groups but the following are the social justice organizations with major civic engagement operations I am currently most knowledgeable about. Each of the groups I highlight is grounded in racial justice, new majority and/or rising American electoral politics and strategies. 

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