Living the Dream in Post-1523 Mississippi | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Living the Dream in Post-1523 Mississippi


Donna Ladd

— I'm feelin' some type of way about boycotts in the wake of HB 1523. On the one hand, I get it. People, musical artists, states, companies and sports leagues have the right, and maybe obligation, to boycott a state that passes laws allowing government-supported discrimination against a group of people. Both houses of the Legislature voted to pass it. The governor, elected by a majority of voters, signed the bill into law.

Now, we're facing two probable lawsuits that the taxpayers must pay dearly to defend, and which we will lose, considering that the U.S. Supreme Court is way ahead of us on discrimination. And we'll likely lose scads of revenue as potential tourists and performers and convention goers decide that, yep, Mississippi is still what she used to be. We deserve what we get. At least as a state.

But what's tough, and keeps me up at night, is the growing group of Mississippians—native and transplants—who are fighting to get this state to the new next level. Since we launched 14 years ago, it's been heartening to see how many Mississippians are speaking out, and not just for their "own" issue, but forming alliances to fight racism and homophobia and xenophobia and various other nasty -isms that the majority of our state politicians use to drum up right-wing fervor and, thus, votes back home.

Progressive thinkers here are working to leave hate-drenched politics behind, to get enough people motivated to vote to use our purple demographics to send a strong message at the polls that we're not playing that old-time religion of hate any longer. Many of us are in the capital city—a forward-thinking city that took a strong, emotional stand against HB 1523—and a lot of others are in our college towns and sprinkled here and there throughout the state, even in those gerrymandered districts that elect the dinosaurs. We're always stuck between the hateful lobby in our state and the world that thinks we're all a member of it. It's these determined Mississippians I worry about, and always have.

Being progressive in Mississippi has gotten easier, at least for those of us inside these wonderful bubbles of inclusion, but it's still damn hard. Even with our demographics, and the fact that we often turn up with "purple" political potential on polls—meaning we could tip "blue" with enough turnout—we're considered flyover country. Probably because of our (true) history as the worst of the worst on race issues, and because we keep electing Ross Barnett clones who pander to racism and fear of the "other," many non-conservative politicians don't bother to stop by and say hey. They just jet on over on their way to Florida or Ohio or somewhere.

Meantime, even when dull-as-dirt John Kerry was on the presidential ticket, Mississippi voters under 30 led the exit polls with their support of the Democrat with 60-plus percent—higher than all southern states, including Florida and Texas. And that was with very few political advertising dollars spent with our corporate media outlets that send much of it out of state.

Put it this way: Progressives in Mississippi are like any other beleaguered group: Perception matters, and we need attention for what we're accomplishing here, and an understanding of what we could do if supported more. This state is ripe with potential, on top of the kinds of creativity and passion that often explodes from a place steeped in pain. The flip side is that the negativity can destroy us from within, or send us packing to places that don't tell government workers that it's fine and dandy to discriminate against us for some or another "religious" reason.

We—as in thousands and thousands of us—fight the good fight here every damn day. We drive by Confederate flags flapping in front of buildings in a crumbling Jackson where state officials come in from out in the land of corporate cotton somewhere and pass horrendous laws that set us back 50 years with the scribble of a pen. We fight for our public schools, and our young people, and our right to be different from our ancestors. Many of us pray, too, every day for our state and our people and our future, as others condemn us and tell us we're going to hell.

But we fight anyway because we love our state. We fight because we know this nation can never be stronger than its weakest link. We fight because we love the people around us and are tired of seeing them left behind and neglected. We fight because Mississippians know how to fight, and we want it to be about something real and lasting.

Then the nation wants to boycott us.

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Sit here in downtown Jackson, like I do, and look out over the city toward the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the old Confederate statue in front of the archives, and down at the City Hall that Masons built where the council stayed up late one night to pass a resolution against HB 1523.

Walk in my shoes where we, quite literally, have to scrap for every dime to do what we do, and do it well, going deep to find the truth and letting the chips fall where they may, while others pour cash into bad media outlets afraid to offend that backward dude in the governor's mansion a block away. Listen to people who own clubs, and restaurants, and performance venues, who hustle like we do to support each other, to live and dream local, and hear the fear that we all won't, can't make it because of those hucksters who parachute in every spring and tell the world we're all hateful, so stay away from here.

Face the fear of having to pick up and leave your home state to do your thing somewhere else because you just can't make it work here any longer, because of the hate and what it takes away, and you will understand why many Mississippians fear the boycotts so desperately. I understand the reason, but cutting off our noses to spite our legislators can kill the dream we're all chasing, especially if the boycotts extend to the burgeoning progressive enclaves around the state where we just refuse to hate like many people want us to.

We talk a lot about "brain drain" in Mississippi. It's something we need to stop in order to promote economic development that can, in turn, help rebuild our cities, our streets and our public schools (if the ruffians in the capitol don't manage to close them first). We need to stop our smart people from leaving and get more of them to put down roots and big ideas here and build things and businesses and lives, to help reverse the effects of the past and, yes, to vote.

Most of the boycotts won't have an effect on the places where the most hateful live. Frankly, they don't care; when you live in a space where a vote is more important than spending millions to defend lawsuits over human rights, you don't care if we lose business. When much of your campaign funding comes from out of state, you don't care what happens to music venues in Jackson or that great, soul-changing performances may never come here. In fact, you're happy about it because our culture is immoral, you know.

World, I'm not telling you to not boycott us. I am asking, though, that you take the long view and ask yourselves if you can help progressive thinkers, young and older, in Mississippi grow and thrive. We're here for the fight, but it's just gotten a lot harder.

Follow @donnerkay on Twitter.

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