I’ve been thinking a lot about where I should be if I want to effect social change. We live in a world where travel is easier than ever. I can literally live anywhere and be okay. But, as someone who has a fairly socially progressive view of the world, I think there are some places that I would be better off living. On the surface, it seems like more progressive places like San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Portland would be the ideal place for me, but I actually think those are the worst places for me to move if I want the US to move forward.
Moving to San Francisco would be awesome. I have a ton of friends there, my drug use and views on sexuality would be welcomed, and the close network would make sure I was happy and comfortable. But moving to San Francisco would kind of be like going to Burning Man, except never returning to the default world. It would be a lot of fun, but it would really change things for the better. It would be a like-minded circle jerk, something fun and necessary from time-to-time, but not a good vehicle for social change. My vote and efforts in a place like Los Angeles (no matter how passionate I am about a woman’s right to choose, equality, Black Lives Matter, or ending the drug war) is not going to have a proportional effect on changing society, particularly at the state or national level. Too many people already agree with me in those locations.
I completely understand when people who don’t have my privilege need to leave for a city like San Francisco to be safe, but when progressives who are white, straight-passing, and college educated move to liberal cities their efforts for social change are watered down, and our allies who are queer, people of color, or lack economic means that are stuck in places like Alabama are going to suffer when we leave. It is selfish to move to liberal cities when you have the means and ability to live somewhere else and fight in the trenches. Now, I don’t think there is anything really wrong with being selfish, do what you gotta do to be happy, but maybe if political and social activism is something that is important to you then you should be places where that is actually needed.
So, what happens if privileged progressives move to non-liberal states?
Well, first, you may actually get to know some conservatives and understand where they are coming from. It is easy to just call them all stupid, racist rednecks, but that is simplistic, inaccurate, and helps nobody. When you talk with conservatives and understand their concerns you can better articulate why progressive views on things aren’t a threat to them and might make their lives better. You also humanize liberals in a way that makes it more difficult for people to stereotype and hate. If Rush Limbaugh is ranting about how evil and stupid liberals are but your conservative neighbors have a dozen liberal friends who aren’t like that they might start to realize Limbaugh and his ilk are full of shit. But that won’t happen if liberals flee conservative areas. If we want to live in a country where there is less partisanship we need to actually get to know people with different views (and fighting with your high school classmate on Facebook doesn’t count).
Second, you can provide support to those in need. In the south, there is a much greater need for people to help women get to planned parenthood and volunteers at LGBT centers. If you see voting as an opportunity for social change looks at it this way, President Obama lost North Carolina by 92,000 votes in 2012, but he won California by 3,000,000. If just 3% of the liberals in California alone decided to live in Raleigh-Durham, Wilmington, or Asheville, then Obama would have won that state as well. And, more importantly, if liberals move to conservative places maybe shitty laws like HB-2 can be stopped, and our friends who are unable to leave the state will be treated better. We shouldn’t treat safety as a place… if only you can get to San Francisco you will be okay… we need to take the battle to where people live so that they don’t feel like escape is the only option for prosperity.
Now, you don’t need to move to rural areas to make a difference in state and national elections (though, you might make a greater impact in local ones). You can find cities that have large populations, students, and fun things to do. You can even find places with sizable liberal populations. We don’t need more liberals in San Francisco, what we need is more liberals in Wilmington, Charleston, Atlanta, Birmingham, Tallahassee, Jackson, Dallas, Little Rock, Tulsa, Kansas City, Lexington, Cleveland, Santa Fe, Missoula, and Phoenix.