by Jon Liss
Virginia New Majority is building toward a third Reconstruction. Say what? You read it right. After the Civil War, for a few short years, African American’s had the right to vote, and they ran the state in coalition with others. There were major advances throughout the South: public education was created, there were increased social welfare programs, state programs that protected against racist violence, and there were high levels of civic engagement. The rise of Jim Crow segregation, clan violence, and the denial of voting rights beat down Black Reconstruction.
Starting today, 20 organizers begin visiting 13,000 homes in the Norfolk area as part of Virginia New Majority and Right to the City’s Southern Solidarity Summer. After a great first few weeks in Northern Virginia, Southern Solidarity Summer has relocated to Norfolk, at the eastern edge of the Black Belt South. Some organizers are coming from as far away as California, five are from the Tidewater and Richmond regions, and two are from Northern Virginia. Over the next few weeks they will have conversations about how to keep drinking water toxic-free by preventing uranium mining in Virginia, and how to improve public education in Norfolk.
Most importantly, they will be listening to what the people of Norfolk have to say and encouraging them to vote this summer and fall as part of the process of building a movement for a democratic, just and sustainable Virginia. Our organizers will walk on hallowed ground. It was here in Virginia that the original land grab began as Native Americans were displaced. It was also here in Virginia that Africans first entered what is now the United States as property to bought and sold. Yet, it was also here in Tidewater that Nat Turner and dozens of others rose up in rebellion as they sought their liberty. And it was not too far away in Richmond where Oliver Hill plotted the legal strategy that ended segregated public schools.
In the 1960’s, there was a revived struggle for racial and social justice, a Second Reconstruction. It was led by African American people across the South and it transformed the United States. Civil Rights Acts were passed, social welfare programs and community empowerment programs were created and legal obstacles to voting were limited. This period came to an end as the funds needed to carry out the “Great Society’ were spent on the war in Vietnam and as this expansion of democracy collided with the residual power of white supremacy. Throughout the South, it was nearly impossible to build a multiracial movement that voted, marched and struggled together.
We are now beginning a Third Reconstruction. A simple demographic analysis shows that immigration is transforming Southern states. In Virginia, when you add progressive-leaning immigrant voters to a solid bloc of African American voters you can imagine a new state with a new politics. Such a state would run on wind and solar power; it would spend more on colleges and universities and less on prisons, it would have trains that quickly connect its cities, and it would ensure that the lest wealthy among us have food, shelter, clothing and healthcare.
Demographics, however, is not destiny. The voters who came together in 2008 and carried the state for Barrack Obama were an emerging electoral majority. A year later, that electoral majority was nowhere to be found as conservatives won throughout much of the state. An electoral majority reflects an ad hoc grouping that for a range of reasons voted for the same candidate during a particular election. If our goal is to create a new Virginia, we need something much deeper. We need a shared understanding of how the world works and how we want it to work. This shared ‘common sense’ doesn’t come from the sky but is forged through millions of conversations, thousands of shared meals and contentious meetings. In other words, it comes from struggle. This is the arduous, life-affirming and life-changing work of Virginia New Majority. Call it a Third Reconstruction, or call it the New Majority Movement. Call it what you may, but join with us.