Progressives aren’t Progressive in Rural American Cultures
Old, White Southern Oregon “Democrats” Stall Politically Progressive Forward Momentum
While researching Rural American Cultures (RAC) in Southern Oregon, a dominant cultural norm that emerged in the findings was in the patterns of active efforts on the part of “old-timers” and “insiders” (old white conservative men and women) to silence young people and other marginalized groups. It stunned me, being from the San Francisco Bay Area — until it also deeply pissed me off. What I observed and documented around me were barriers erected intentionally, over and over, that slowed, staggered, or stopped dead democratic participation on the part of young people and other marginalized groups.
Peter Sage is one of those “old-timers” or “insiders” whose relational practices as an “activist” intentionally excludes and discourages the participation of young people, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ in the Southern Oregon Democratic party and political forums beyond. The retrograde racist messages that Mr. Sage spreads — like similar old-timers do on the ground and in person in RAC—represent the outdated thinking of many who call themselves progressives in Southern Oregon.
The quote below (from a 2017 post) demonstrates the kind of assumptions that keep Rural American Cultures (RAC) locked in a past that is lethal for young people, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ humans. It also highlights how old-timers refuse to directly stand up to and call out their white supremacist brethren, preferring instead to mindlessly embed their racist assumptions in “explanatory” narratives about immigrants:
“There is a tide of immigration and race mixing and global trade, and there is a resistance to it, simultaneously. New people in America are causing the familiar anxiety that America has experienced in earlier times of high immigration. …Democrats will be the party of inclusion, but their challenge is to create sufficient policy and messages to demonstrate to native born Americans that these new people are a benefit and not a threat.”
In the big scheme of things, this sentiment seems pretty tame. I mean, look at Facebook or LinkedIn if you want real vitriol, right? But, vitriol is often on the down low, at the relational level in RAC, and these kinds of assumptions just stand — unchallenged, unquestioned, unexamined — to be consumed mindlessly in interpersonal communication patterns where they are embodied by the humans subject to them.
The severe lack of dissent in RAC means no fresh ideas flow into relational practices — no new assumptions replace outdated racist ones — until someone from outside the RAC bubble stands up, pushes past the poisonous relational goo, and speaks up, modeling what’s possible.
My response in 2017 to Mr. Sage is below. It was written the day after a shooter sprayed the Las Vegas Strip with more than 1,000 rounds of gunfire, killing 58 and injuring hundreds. Two days earlier — on the public property across from my research site (and home) in Southern Oregon — small explosives and rapid-fire automatic weapons smashed the silence of early morning. And, just a week earlier while on a hike in the deep quiet green of Water’s Creek, the blast of multiple automatic weapons and small explosives violently ripped the morning in two — along with my sense of security and safety — while putting all the creatures who live in that magnificent natural place on notice that white humans run the show, even in the wild places of Southern Oregon.
Thanks for the post, Peter. [Original post]
Seems the upshot of your argument is that Dems (and like-minded progressives) need to do the work of convincing white supremacists — and those who stand silently with them and their guns — that “these new people” are “a benefit and not a threat.”
First, THIS democrat is not trying to figure out how to have open borders. Rather, THIS democrat believes in the ideal of a multicultural democracy, and she’s willing to fight for it. Many conservatives in this country prefer to live in a white ethno-state, and they are clearly willing to fight for that. The conservatives are fine with the violence that comes with their fight, even if they’re not pulling triggers, just doing business as usual with blood on their hands.
Progressives need to call out the silent enablers who nurture a white supremacist gun culture. RIGHT HERE IN JOSEPHINE COUNTY. Then, it is the CONSERVATIVES who have to step up. Dems can’t fix this on their own. Conservatives who are tired of the blood on their hands need to be adults, take some responsibility, and help implement some solutions. At the very least, get the hell out of the way while others do that work.
Second, you write that “New people in America are causing the familiar anxiety that America has experienced in earlier times of high immigration.” New people are not causing the problem. The problem is with the people who channel that anxiety (whipped up by Fox News, Breitbart, the White House, etc.) into hate, oppression, marginalization, and physical violence against anyone different.
The time for anxiety and fear of new people is past. None of us has time for that. The world is not like it was in the 50s or 60s. It is 2017, and it is time for the old people, the “Native-born” Americans, to stop desperately clinging to the past. Stop protecting your old territories (physical and intellectual). Stop discouraging and excluding young people who have enthusiasm and ideas — and who understand the world they live in is nothing like the retrograde version old people are trying to pull them into. Stop being so damn selfish and recognize the world has moved on. You had your time.
Finally, backlash is a funny thing. It seems that if we just get rid of what’s causing the backlash, we’ll solve the problem. That strong and adverse reaction to difference, that backlash, WILL NOT BE SOLVED by putting the burden of it on the backs of those who are the targets of the backlash. It CANNOT be solved by progressives/Dems when legislative options are blocked. And, strong, clear, direct messaging created by the Dems compete with the guns in Joco, who try to cow them into silence (and mostly succeed).
And, let’s be direct: targeting people with [white supremacist] posters and guns and intimidation terrorizes new people and those who are trying to help. The victims of people who cannot deal with difference are not responsible for stopping it. The responsibility is squarely on the shoulders of silent conservatives who stand and watch while their portfolios get fatter.
It is time that Democrats and like-minded progressives in Josephine County call out those in this community who would stand by with blood on their hands and tell us we need to be polite. I’m done being polite. I’m from San Francisco, and it’s lousy with activists there. Everyone has a voice and they use it. Here, people speak in whispers about what’s happening. People with a conscience are quiet. (Not everyone, of course, but the silence is still deafening.)
It’s time to make some noise. Let’s stop buying in to the lie that it’s the “new” people who are causing the problem. It is time to call out the old people, the old white people, the old white people with guns, LOUDLY AND FOR AS LONG AS IT TAKES. It is time for conservatives to take responsibility.
Cathy B. Glenn, Ph.D. is an independent critical researcher, creative, and cultural worker whose areas of expertise are power, culture, and change. Formerly Private Principal Investigator for The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies, she is now Educational Content Director and Developer for The Relational Democracy Project. She spent 5 years functionally outside capitalist demands, and it changed her fundamentally as a human being.
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