Southern Cultures 11.4 (2005) 110-112
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This slender volume, edited by Anthony Dunbar and with a foreword by former President Jimmy Carter, contains twelve essays by well-known and highly respected progressive southerner activists and academics. While white southerners are often stereotyped as extreme right-wingers and hard-rock Bible thumpers, these essays are contrary evidence that the southern progressive tradition of dissent is alive.
In the first essay, Dan Carter, a historian at the University of South Carolina, warns of the "new American militarism" in the Bush-Cheney administration. This theme is echoed in Charles Bussey's "A Postcard from Norway: How America Looks from Here." Bussey, a professor at Western Kentucky University, wrote from Norway as a Fulbright Scholar teaching a course on the American South. Bussey notes that while many took Senator William J. Fulbright's 1966 book, The Arrogance of Power, as a cautionary tale, the Bush-Cheney White House has adopted it as blueprint to guide foreign policy.
Activist and author Janisse Ray is not afraid to tackle big issues. In "Beyond Capitalism" she reasons that global industrial capitalism is ultimately unsustainable because of its obsession with growth and the consumption of resources. Ray advocates "local co-sufficiency"; that is, a rejection of globalism in favor of localism—the strengthening of local economies and local producers through local consumption. This is not idle preaching by Ray, who has moved to rural Georgia with her husband to live as simple a life as possible. [End Page 110]
Turning to domestic issues, law professor Daniel H. Pollitt's thoughtful essay "Civil Liberties in a Time of Crises: The Dark Side" argues that in the tumultuous days following 9/11, the passage of the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were serious attacks on constitutional freedoms. It takes little creativity to imagine what could happen if these laws were abused by a malevolent administration. Laughlin McDonald, in his essay "Democracy Cannot Be Exported If It Is Not Secure at Home," notes another challenge to freedom—this time in the American South. In 2007, Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is scheduled to expire, and with it the requirement of federal oversight of local voting procedures in the South. Laughlin worries that if Section 5 is not extended, there may be a return toward Jim Crow style disenfranchisement of minority voters.
Gene Nichol, President of William and Mary College, challenges the reader to focus on the growing inequality within our nation: a movement he calls the "seemingly inexorable trend toward economic apartheid." Civil rights activist and author Connie Curry ponders, in her "The Intolerable Burden," the paradox of increased domestic spending on Mississippi jails and penitentiaries while shortchanging public education. These are patterns that adversely impact minority youth at risk. In a most unusual essay, historian Paul Gaston revisits his hometown of Fairhope, Alabama, and catalogs how this once-utopian single-tax community and retreat on the shores of Mobile Bay has been transformed into a solidly white Republican stronghold complete with boutiques, coffee bars, and multi-million dollar homes. The demise of the idealistic Fairhope may be a sad metaphor for much of the nation.
It is significant that the last two essays in Where We Stand focus on the South and its relationship to the nation. Historian Sheldon Hackney's essay on "Identity Politics, Southern Style" attacks directly the topic of white southern identity and the question of whether it is "unmeltable" in the national identity. John Egerton's "The Southernization of American Politics" makes the case that conservative southern politics has expanded outside of the region to become the bedrock of the New Republicism with its ideology of elitist privilege.
The papers are well written and generally interesting, and my moral values are in tune with those expressed in most of the essays. Yet after the book was laid aside, I felt unsatisfied. What was wrong? Like many, if...