So we’ve established that Southern progressives exist. Now I’d like to introduce you to our work. Below, I’ve listed a series of progressive campaigns that, in my less than humble opinion, deserve greater national attention. They range from anti-racist collectives to environmental non-profits. You’ll notice that this list is fairly specific to the Appalachian region. I write what I know. Additionally, I believe that the Appalachian region faces a set of very specific challenges that aren’t customarily met by broader Southern coalitions. Please suggest additions in the comment section!
American Center for Outreach
Based in Tennessee, the American Center for Outreach (ACO) formed in response to the state government’s 2011 attempt to prohibit Muslims from public prayer and mosque attendance, under the guise of anti-shari’ah legislation. ACO, organized and run by young Muslim women, rallies Tennessee’s Muslim community against Islamophobic hate crime and anti-shari’ah legislation and conducts outreach campaigns designed to educate non-Muslims about the challenges faced by Muslim Americans.
Affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee, this commission specifically addresses structural inequalities in its own parishes, with the intent of creating a religious community that truly reflects Christian unity.
Appalachian Community Fund
Formed in 1987 to launch anti-racist work in the Appalachians, ACF addresses structural inequalities in the region. Anti-racist work in the Appalachians is complicated by the region’s economic deprivation; for a resident of an impoverished coal mining community, the concept of ‘white privilege’ seems absurd. ACF funds outreach campaigns tailored for Appalachian audiences in order to educate local residents about white privilege and systematic racism in the South.
Campaign for Southern Equality
Based in Asheville, North Carolina (affectionately known as the San Francisco of the South), the Campaign of Southern Equality organizes on behalf of the Southern LGBT community. The Campaign intends to raise local visibility for LGBT Southerners, and organizes against anti-LGBT legislation. It also produces the LGBT Rights Toolkit, which is tailored to meet the particular needs of queer Southerners.
This non-profit organizes specifically on behalf of LGBT equality in Virginia. Though it’s based in northern Virginia, Equality Virginia addresses state legislation that would negatively affect all queer Virginians.
Hands Off Appalachia!
HOA organizes against strip mining and mountain removal. They are non-violent, and launched a divestment campaign targeted at UBS, a Swiss company that finances the majority of mountain removal mining efforts in the region.
Highlander Research and Education Center
Located in Tennessee, the Highlander Center is a participatory research center that provides training and networking opportunities for local residents engaged in social justice work. Former participants include Pete Seeger and Martin Luther King, Jr–perhaps you’ve heard of them. The Center supports racial and economic justice campaigns and even hosts the Children’s Justice Camp that prepares children ages 6-12 to actively engage social democracy.
Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival
A grassroots non-profit based in the West Virginia coalfields, RAMPS partners with Appalachian residents to organize against mountain top removal. They encourage non-violent direct action and fundraise to facilitate Appalachian participation in direct action trainings. RAMPS supported a direct action in my own hometown–the headquarters of Alpha Natural Resources.
SisterSong, a collective founded by women of color, supports Southern RJ Activists, a coalition of pro-choice Southern women engaged in grassroots campaigns to protect abortion and contraceptive access in the American South.
Formerly known as Georgians for Choice, SPARK organizes Southern reproductive justice activists to protect abortion and contraceptive access in the South. SPARK also actively partners with GLTBQ rights campaigns in the South, and like SisterSong, was founded by Southern women of color on behalf of all Southern women.
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
This organization is particularly active in my region of Virginia. They successfully organized against the Ison Rock Ridge Surface mine, which would have been located near the already vulnerable communities of Big Stone Gap and Appalachia.
Tennessee Equality Project
The Tennessee Equality Project organizes for LGBT equality, and supports the introduction of marriage equality in the state of Tennessee. It has county specific commissions, but none in the Appalachians.
West Virginia Free
One of Appalachia’s few reproductive justice collectives, WV Free is based in Charleston, West Virginia. It supports West Virginia’s only abortion clinic and provides educational programming on contraception and abortion. WV Free operates within a social justice framework, alert to the needs of West Virginia’s low income, rural communities.
And, introducing the baby….Pro-Choice Bristol. I recently launched Pro-Choice Bristol in collaboration with several friends. We are concerned by local hostility to abortion rights. Right now, we’ve organized to provide clinic escorts for the Bristol Regional Women’s Center. This clinic is the only abortion clinic in the area. Women travel from as far away as Kentucky to use its services. For residents of our surrounding mountain communities, the Bristol Regional Women’s Center is the only option for women seeking safe and legal abortion services. The clinic recently became the target of anti-choice picketers affiliated with a local extremist church.
Eventually, I’d like to see Pro-Choice Bristol expand. The Appalachian region is in desperate need of an abortion fund and access to affordable contraception. If you feel like you offer us practical support and advice, please leave a comment or contact me via Twitter. The South organizes, but we can’t organize alone. We need national support. A more progressive South means a more progressive America.