After Election Day 2020, as the will of voters became clear, America could see clearly that a new South is emerging. A Democratic presidential candidate carried Georgia for the first time since 1992, and then two Senate run-offs in the Georgia flipped the majority blue. Florida voters approved a $15 minimum wage. Alabama and Mississippi voters took on Jim-Crow legacies in state constitutions and state symbols. And voters of color and first-time voters turned out in record numbers.
At the same time, the South has not changed enough. The region still widely elects legislators who are hostile to constituents’ basic needs such as healthcare, good wages, and affordable quality childcare. More than half of Black Americans live in the South, and—as COVID-19 has made all too clear—a legacy of structural racism and inequitable policies have led to disproportionate suffering and death among Southern Black, Brown, and poor families. Even before the pandemic, the South comprised more than 45% of the nation’s poor children. Nearly 30% of all Americans who live below 138% of the poverty line—on less than about $28,400 annually for a family of three—are in the South. Our region has the majority of states that have failed to expand Medicaid, and—not coincidentally—the highest rate of uninsured people, the worst infant and maternal mortality rates, and a majority of rural hospital closures in the nation.
Yet despite the current groundswell of support for confronting the entanglement of race, wealth inequality, and injustice, too many Americans and institutions simply write the South off as a permanent underdog when it comes to creating public policy that would benefit everyone.
However, if all of us—Black, Brown, and white—work together, we can achieve the kind of needed change that so many of us seek. That’s why more than 190 Southern organizations, grassroots leaders, and scholars—representative of the kind of infrastructure we need to make progress in our region—have now united around a SouthStrong campaign. SouthStrong is working towards an economic and pandemic recovery that prioritizes public health and safety, as well as good jobs and workers’ rights; access to high-quality childcare and education; free and fair elections; and an equitable taxation system that asks those who make the most to contribute their fair share.
We believe deeply in our assets—the greatest being our people and communities—and that if we are given the kind of attention and support that we merit, we will thrive. SouthStrong offers this blueprint as a guide to the many public policy options that would help us make dramatic progress toward an economy and society that works for everyone. We hope you will share this vision and join us.
These are the policies we need to build a strong, inclusive, and equitable South.