The Sanders Campaign, Greater Appalachia and Young Workers

This article also appeared in CounterPunch.

Tenth in the Series: Organize the White Working Class!

The white working class is ready. Are you?

The 2016 Democratic primary gives us a way of assessing the potential for organizing among white workers. This may sound surprising since the corporate media created a narrative about how white workers supported Trump in the general election. But clear-eyed observers such as Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr, Mike Davis, Bill Fletcher, Jeffrey St.Clair and Jake Johnston have countered that story.

It was the Democrats that abandoned the working class with Trump merely holding on to the Romney electorate as Clinton underperformed Obama in almost every demographic including white workers. The corporate story about white workers in the general election obscures a far more important story for activists and organizers. In order to reverse the drift toward war and corporate rule, we will have to launch bold and aggressive campaigns that replace the discredited corporate forms of identity politics and meritocratic thinking typical of the Democrats.

The Clinton machine tried to assemble an unconvincing coalition, bringing working people and urban professionals together to support a fundamentally corporate and imperial agenda. This project failed, and will fail again, but that failure can open the door to grassroots democracy. The Sanders campaign strongly suggests that victory is possible. If activists and dissident political movements can offer visionary leadership and mount determined organizing drives then millions of white workers will join the movements for social justice and economic democracy.

Greater Appalachia

While an overall analysis of the primary or general election is beyond the scope of this article, we can learn a good bit by looking at “Greater Appalachia.” By this I mean the region of the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to northern Alabama. I realize this is not the typical way of describing Appalachia.[1]

Greater Appalachia is however appropriate for assessing the political potential of the white working class because this region is demographically far whiter than the rest of the country, solidly working class, and ethnically more Scots-Irish.

Southern Appalachia is a region of stubborn poverty. Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and New England, outside of the metropolitan areas, have, like the rest of the country, never recovered from the 2008 crisis. These areas are also distant from the urban political machines which have long histories of producing votes for machine politicians.

map-icon-democrat

The electoral map of the 2016 Primary in the New York Times captures the general trends. From northern Alabama to Maine, it shows that Sanders was very competitive where he did not win outright. Where Clinton did win, it was by narrow margins. It is reasonable to assume that had the DNC not rigged the primary for Clinton or the media not presented Clinton as the “presumptive nominee” or elevated Trump with billions in free publicity, Sanders would have done far better.  Sanders voters in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York voted later in the primary season persisting in their dissent  long after the narratives of Clinton’s “inevitably” were widely circulated by party elites and corporate media.

Clinton did worse and Sanders better in the Appalachian region of every state.

The Daily Kos, a news outlet friendly to Clinton, offered the following analysis.

“The Democratic primary exhibited an even starker division between each state’s Appalachian and non-Appalachian regions. While Clinton won every state except West Virginia, she performed worse in every state’s Appalachian region and Sanders easily won Appalachian Kentucky and North Carolina. Sanders also came very close to victory in Appalachian Maryland, Ohio, and Virginia despite Clinton easily winning the remainders of those states. Clinton won by a comfortable margin in southern Appalachia outside of North Carolina, but still performed dramatically worse than in the rest of those states.”

If we move north, we see support for Sanders in the rural upland regions of Central Pennsylvania and Upstate New York.

While the definition of Appalachian Pennsylvania is unclear, the core of the majority white working class mountain region that follows the ridges of the Appalachian chain in central Pennsylvania voted for Sanders.[2] In three of the central state mountain counties where Clinton does win – Fulton, Bedford and Union – the machine wins by razor thin majorities. “Sanders, for his part, performed strongly in the rural parts of the state, winning rural voters 50-48 and carrying Central Pennsylvania 50-49.

In upstate New York, Sanders wins all but three counties. In the Catskills, just outside of suburban NYC, Sanders wins Sullivan Country 56.1 to 43.9, Ulster County 62.6 to 37.4 and Dutchess County 51.5 to 48.4.

As a general indication of class consciousness, in NY, “Clinton won voters who said Wall Street does more to help the economy, Sanders won among those who said it hurts the economy.

It is interesting to note that many counties in New York flipped from voting for Obama in the 2008 general to Trump in 2016. Fourteen NY state counties flipped from voting for Obama twice to voting for Trump. Was this a sign of bigotry unleashed by Trump? Or was it the deep disappointment in Clinton, who, as former Senator from New York, had failed to keep her promise of jobs and economic development? Or both? We need more evidence.

Sanders went from strength to strength in New England, where he took three of four counties in Western Massachusetts and won all of Vermont, all of New Hampshire, and all of Maine.

The story is not just that Bernie would have won, although all the polls agree. The story is that win or lose, the Sanders campaign shows us what might be. And that assessment is positive enough to encourage anti-racist, union, community organizing, anti-war and environmental movement building among the white working class.

Young Workers of America Unite!

Young workers face the economic crisis head on. If the Sanders campaign is any measure, then young white workers and young workers from all backgrounds are fired up and ready for change.

Organizers, listen up!

In the 20 states for which we have data, nearly 2 million young people have voted for Senator Sanders, almost three times more youth votes than any other candidate in either party….More youth have voted for Senator Sanders than for Clinton and Trump combined.

Since I am using electoral data as a general indicator of what is possible, the white working class, the young white working class in particular, is ready for change.

The corporate order — in all of its extremism and excess — is in decline and disarray whether managed by an Obama, a Clinton or a Trump. Corporate politics can only offer more of the same: perpetual war and global empire, mass incarceration and mass surveillance and the hollowing out of all of our once democratic institutions from elections, to unions, to the Bill of Rights, to education.  The crazy corporate crusade to pillage the planet and impose inequality and austerity cannot be sustained.

Things fall apart; the extreme center cannot hold.[3]

As the white working class — and the whole working class — becomes increasingly unmoored from its tethers, some will soar and some will crash.  But as the great organizer Ella Baker said: “Give light and the people will find a way.”


  1. I make no pretense at offering a comprehensive analysis of the complex historical trends, cultural characteristics, and demographics that make up the either the traditional core of Appalachia, lying south of the Mason-Dixon line, or the northern upland regions of Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.
  2. The Daily Kos article cited above uses a broader definition of Appalachian Pennsylvania much more favorable to Clinton.
  3. Apologies to Yeats, The Second Coming

About Richard Moser

Richard Moser has 40 years experience as an organizer and activist in the labor, student, peace, and community movements. Moser is author of "New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era," and co-editor with Van Gosse of "The World the Sixties Made: Politics and Culture in Recent America." Moser lives in Colorado.
This entry was posted in American Culture, Electoral Strategy for 2016, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, Strategy, Uncategorized, White Privilege, White Supremacy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Sanders Campaign, Greater Appalachia and Young Workers

  1. Michael A says:

    But dont you think we went past the tipping point in 2000 and makes no matter who we vote for.?
    A revolution of the people every twenty years is what Jefferson said. The Wal Mart army, armed with the second amendment and whatever they can buy at WaMart or Cabelas is no match for this government

    Like

    • Richard Moser says:

      It is easy to lose heart but be freedom is dedicated to the idea that what we do matters. We need to find a better strategy and a better method but that is the task at hand.

      Like

  2. joeberry1493 says:

    All good and correct, but we should quit saying “white working class” but rather say”the white section of the US working class” and note that this section may now be less than 50% of the working class, though more important than that electorally, since the people of color section of the wc is less likely, for many reasons, to be active voters

    Liked by 1 person

    • Richard Moser says:

      Thanks for that and I will take a closer look at language. But I am writing about organizing and that means consciousness and identity which I take as a body of fact just as important as a more empirical demographic analysis. Take a good look at *Hillbilly Nationalists* for example. Also not sure if you had a chance to look at the other posts as background. There are more coming on the history of white workers in the 60s and 70s. The sanders Campaign is an attempt to bring it up to date. Also I am responding to the pervasive shaming and blaming that typified the bankrupt corporate identity politics of he Democratic party. I am trying to provide rhetorical and political strategies that will help organizers engage white workers, as we find them, that is as white people as well as workers and Americans and all the many dimensions of consciousness. We have still not passed beyond our invented identities so if we want to engage eurpoean-americans in struggles over class and race, white identity is a starting point for discussion and action.

      Like

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