Tennessee Congressional Candidate Odessa Kelly Wants to Stand Up For the South

Historically, Southern politics has suffered a blighted reputation for corruption, graft, and exploitation, not only for the most obvious reasons, like slavery and segregation, but also due to its anti-union/open shop policies, weaponization of extreme poverty, lower budgets for education, and higher prison populations. However, the South also has unique outlets for change through the politics of family, local community, and the church—the kinds of bonds that were used to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Poor People’s Campaign. Do you think this more vocal sector of progressive politics still exists in the South?

Absolutely. The same things you saw coming out of the ’50s and ’60s, the movements that were trying to change those narratives, is what you see from many today. There is, obviously, corruption in government and oppression and systemic racism, systemic class warfare, built into a lot of government policies throughout the country. There’s a bigger gap to close in the Southern states. That is a testament to civic education, and how money and corporate greed are undergirding a lot of what we see going on.

For instance, we’ve had several governors, including the one we have now, Governor [Bill] Lee, who have yelled from the top of the hill: “Bring your corporations to Tennessee! We have the highest percentage of low-wage workers! And they’ll work for nothing!” That’s class warfare. That’s what a lot of people have to understand. This is not just about people who are in our bottom 10%, who are in poverty. We are talking about people who have college degrees, maybe a graduate degree, who are getting up every day, working the 9-to-5. These are the individuals who are being oppressed.

But at the same time, the good model is happening here as well. January 6th happened because of what happened on January 5th. Because [Raphael] Warnock and [Jon] Ossoff and a bunch of white, Black, brown, Muslim, Christian, gay, straight, atheist people got together in Georgia and said, “This is what a community looks like. This is how we want to define America.” And they voted those individuals into office.

You have said in other interviews that the recent corporate takeover of Nashville and Middle Tennessee is a microcosm of every major metropolitan center across the country, with their declining salaries, shrinking benefits, increased rent/property costs, higher healthcare costs, more corporate subsidies but fewer public programs. What do you think is the most effective step we can take on the local level to reverse the decades-long trend of rampant neoliberalism?

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