The notion that cities are oases of liberalism in deserts of rural conservatism is widely shared and backed up by voting data.
The numbers from the last presidential election bear the binary out: Urban Guilford and Forsyth counties broke for Hillary Clinton by 58 percent and 53 percent respectively, while the surrounding counties supported Donald Trump by percentages ranging from 54.6 to 78.9. More than three quarters of voters in Randolph County, where I went on May 6 to report on a protest against the Ku Klux Klan, supported Trump.
Scrape away red/blue electoral maps and the party registration of elected officials from city council up to the General Assembly, and you’ll discover the picture is not quite so cleanly drawn. Having grown up in rural Kentucky protesting everything from my favorite English teacher’s homophobia to nuclear proliferation, I’ve always known there are plenty of progressives in rural America, along with plenty of racism, homophobia and misogyny. Just as the inverse is true in the cities, there are many rural progressives who are out-voted and unrepresented on their government councils, and many on both sides of the political spectrum who feel so alienated by the two political parties that they don’t vote.
Despite advertising a rally and “cross lighting at dark” on its website weeks in advance, the Caswell County-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were nowhere to be seen on May 6. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering that the website clearly indicated the white supremacists would gather on private property. But Aimee Pippin, who organized a Unity Walk to counter the Klan, said many locals were convinced that the KKK intended to show up in downtown Asheboro.
Bystanders who watched about a 100 people — all dressed in matching red bandannas led by a group called Redneck Revolt, march through the heart of downtown Asheboro — might have been confused by what they witnessed. At the end of the march, when an anti-Klan protester went over to speak to a small group standing beside a man waving a Confederate flag, one woman heatedly denied any white supremacist sympathies.
“I just came out here with my nephew because he had never been to a protest, and I wanted him to see firsthand,” she spat. “Now I see what kind of people you are.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether she had expected to find the Klan or their left-wing opponents.
Although the anarchist-oriented Redneck Revolt is probably an unknown quantity to most of Triad City Beat’s readers in urban Greensboro and Winston-Salem, their ideological foes on the extreme right already dismiss them with disdain. A trolling comment from an internet user identified as “Mickey Knoxxx” is typical of the reductionist portrayal of the leftist attempting to organize rural communities.
“‘Militant leftists’ means goofy college kids from out of state,” the user commented under a story about the anti-Klan march. “Y’all aren’t even Southern, GTFO.”
Both are crude characterizations that are largely untrue.
Mitch Maden (the last name is a pseudonym assumed for security purposes) lives and maintains a small sustainable agriculture operation in rural Davidson County and supplements their income working for a social service agency in Greensboro. Ben Jones, another member of Silver Valley Redneck Revolt — which anchored the rally — works at an auto auction and is enrolled in the brewing program at Randolph Community College.
It’s certainly true that the rural organizers of the May 6 anti-Klan rally drew on relationships with allies in urban communities for support, but calling them “out-of-state” and not “Southern” is simply inaccurate. Ruann Elbassyouni, a political science student at UNC-Charlotte who grew up in Randolph County and whose family still lives there, pitched in to help plan the event. So did Rann Bar-On, an Israeli-American antifascist who works as a teacher in Durham. Bar-On, whose grandmother died in the Holocaust and whose grandfather fought in the resistance against the Nazis, helped mobilize members of the Industrial Workers of the World to turn out for the event.
The political left in rural North Carolina isn’t limited to the militant, class-based posture of organizers like Maden who view solidarity with immigrants, Muslims and LGBTQ people as an essential part of a fight against capitalism. Steve Woolford, who lives in a Catholic Worker communal house in rural Chatham County, carried a sign reading “No one should live in terror” at the anti-Klan march in Asheboro.
The Catholic Worker movement was founded by the late Dorothy Day, an anarchist and pacifist who is under consideration for sainthood by the church.
“I’m here as a privileged white guy who has many people in my life who feel terrorized by the Klan,” Woolford told me. “I know people who have trouble sleeping at night. They don’t know whether the rhetoric is all talk or whether they are actually going to commit acts of violence.”