Learning from the South: What Does Solidarity Look Like?

So how do you like it? Lots of Americans awoke from the last election to get their first taste of non-representative government. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by almost three million votes, remember. The electoral college unfairly privileges some states over others, we've been reminded. Worse, in government now are people who oppose government. And they're set on reversing regulations and rolling back the social functions of the state, to the detriment of the poor and the benefit of the powerful. Especially corporations. It's all propped up by brutality and a fervent populism.

None of any of this comes as a surprise to people in the US South. Southern progressives, LGBTQ people, and people of color in the South, especially have been living this reality for decades. Our guest today has some insight into what southern resilience and action can look like in the age of Trump, and what the rest of us have to learn from the South. Cazembe Murphy Jackson works with Black Lives Matter, Atlanta; and as the national organizer for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which for more than 30 years has been working across movements to end systemic oppression.

Laura Flanders:Cazembe, welcome to the program. Glad to have you.

Cazembe Jackson:Thank you, thank you.

Laura Flanders:So is that fair to say that you in the South woke up and sort of "Same old, same old"?

Cazembe Jackson:I think that's partly true. I think when we woke up and we realized that Trump was in office, part of it was like "Okay, this is something that we've been dealing with." We call it the New Confederacy. We've been dealing with this kind of action for a while. But also there was a sense of urgency and responsibility that we were going to actually be called into action to lead other folks who are not in the South about how to deal with the same kind of administration.

Laura Flanders:So when you talk about you've been dealing with some of these phenomenon over the years, what do you mean? How do you describe it?

Cazembe Jackson:I think on a state level in particular, we are used to really repressive kind of legislation. In particular in Tennessee and in Georgia, Mississippi, we have super majority Republican legislatures that typically pass laws that are aggressive against queer and trans people, bathroom bills, that kind of stuff. In Tennessee there were bills of things where they didn't even want students to be able to say the word "gay" in school. But also against living wages, most states are right-to-work states so we can't really form unions and stuff-

Laura Flanders:Medicaid expansion.

Cazembe Jackson:Exactly. All of these kinds of things on a state level, and so we knew it would be a little different going to a federal kind of level, but I don't know that any of us were actually prepared for the extent of things that's happening right now.

Laura Flanders:So how much patience do you have with northerners going "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Panic, panic"?

Cazembe Jackson:You know? I think there is a level of patience, because at the end of the day in order for us to actually be successful in the resistance we have got to kind of be open to folks who have different levels of experience with this kind of repression. So I think I'm learning to be more patient because-

Laura Flanders:Well that's very kind of you. I think about it as a media problem, in the sense that our media has so refused to cover the South that during the period of the Obama Administration, the 2008 election, you would have though everything in the whole country had gone Democratic. Not so.

Cazembe Jackson:Yeah, definitely not. Yeah, I agree with that.

Laura Flanders:So being southern kind of gives you an edge? Being a southern progressive kind of gives you an edge? Being a queer, trans, LGBT activist of color gives you an edge looking into all of this? How so? And tell us a little bit about your life.

 

Cazembe Jackson:I would be remiss to not add into that description, also a missionary baptist; kind of adding all of those things in, it's like I come out of a tradition of storytelling, testifying, singing, and really building genuine relationships with people. I think that is the thing that has really informed the way I organize, but also the way that we organize in the South. Even when we go back to thinking in the Civil Rights Movement, one of the reasons that the bus boycotts were able to be so successful was because people had built genuine relationships with one one another so they knew who needed a ride.

Laura Flanders:Now go a little deeper into that. Is that simply a strategic choice? A tactical choice? Or is through really because your lives depend upon it?

Cazembe Jackson:I think it's both. I think it's both. I think it is a strategic choice in that "How can I expect for you to resist?" Especially as the repression gets more intense, how can I trust that you will actually fight for our interests if I don't actually know you? So strategically it makes sense

But then I think also it's a very southern, it's a very black, it's a very baptist thing to do to share meals, to help raise our kids together, to help really get to know each other and spend time outside of our organizing work also, so that we just really have these genuine relationships.

Laura Flanders:And also in the trans and LGBT movement, the whole idea of coming out, that connecting with people, knowing people, is how we do our politics, or how we emerge as full people.

Cazembe Jackson:Yeah. Especially when I think about the South, I live in Atlanta but I think about the smaller rural towns in the South in particular. Because isolation is a real thing when we talk about queer and trans folks in particular, and Southerners On New Ground in the beginning was really good about making sure that queer and trans folks had a community.

Laura Flanders:Tell us a little bit about how your gender identity has changed over time, and how it relates or doesn't relate to your socialist identity. How does one inform the other?

Cazembe Jackson:Yeah, I definitely think that there all related. And I think the part that is the most related is why it took so long for me to actually be brave enough to explore my gender. I think that capitalism, patriarchy, all of these things have us lined up in these very restricted boxes that make sense because it's easier to dominate people in these boxes.

For me, I'm from Texas and I lived most of my life as this tomboy wearing Doc Martens with dresses; and driving my parents crazy, because they wanted me to pick a lane which was ... You know? "Get a perm. Straighten your hair. Wear nice dresses and a face full of makeup," and for sometimes I did. So I've always kind of been at this intersection of boy and girl, man and woman, and a lot of the times I call myself mixed gender. But it makes sense for people who don't have a deep understanding of gender identity for me to continue to identify as a trans man, because they get it and they understand why my pronouns need to be "he" when I say trans man.

But I think the identity for me when I first started to ... For a long time I identified as a butch lesbian, or what we say in the black community, as a stud until ... You know? 2010 or so is when I started really thinking "Maybe there's something else to this." Because I'm not butch; obviously, at the end of the day I'm not. But for a minute I thought "Well in order for me to be a man, and for people to respect me as a man, and to use my 'he' pronouns, I need to denounce everything feminine about me. I need to move as far away from women, and anytime that anyone says 'she' or 'her' when they refer to me, I need to be extremely angry and make them stop."

Actually I feel most free in this body that I'm in right now, understanding that there are some feminine parts to me, and I celebrate them.

Laura Flanders:I think the future will be more fluid. You hope?

Cazembe Jackson:I think it's already more fluid. I think it's already more fluid. There are so many people who I know who won't pick one side or the other: the non-binary folks, or gender non-conforming, or whatever. I know so many people who are like "Don't call me a woman. Don't call me a man. Call me a fem. Call me masculine. Call me this or that," so I see it changing already.

Laura Flanders:Yeah, I mean, I would really love to meet the people who love the binary.

 


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