What It's Really Like Being A Liberal In Arkansas (And Why Telling Us To "Just Leave" Is A Problem)

I am an incandescent dot of the brightest cerulean blue in the middle of a blood-red state.

Aug 5, 2013 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

With all the recent attention Texas has been getting, I thought I’d point out that there are actually other liberals fighting in other southern states, too. Unless something major happens, though, you probably won’t know it.
 
Thing is, it’s not easy. I, for instance, am an incandescent dot of the brightest cerulean blue in the middle of a blood-red state. (Actually, I’m in the northeast corner, but that actually complicates it; the middle is the more liberal bit.)
 
I live in Arkansas.  Arkansas was once a democrat-voting blue state and even produced a president history doesn’t hate.  But over the last 50 years, the state has sunk deeply into the GOP hand basket and anyone not riding in it is going straight to hell.
 
Let me lay out some basic demographics that might give you an idea of what we, the blue dots, are up against.  First off, my entire state has about 3 million people, which is only about one third the size of New York City. My state also has nearly 6000 churches. That’s one church for every 500 people.
 
Of the 3 million people who call this place home, 77% are white; the rest of the minorities get lumped together under “other” and make up the final 23%. This state considers itself overwhelmingly Christian, with 86% of the population claiming church affiliation. Probably you won’t be surprised to find out that of them, the largest group is Southern Baptist -- the group that only got around to saying, “Yup, slavery was bad,” in 1995, and which continues to preach that God set men in charge of everything and, less explicitly, that those men are white.  
 
Actually 80% of the Southern Baptist Convention is white. The rest of the Christian-affiliated people break down into groups even more conservative than the SBC. This is not exactly a foundation on which to build a progressive world view. From this perspective, socialism is evil and they don’t want taxes or welfare, but you can carry a concealed gun to church if you want. (Really.) And you can buy that gun at Walmart. (Oh, yeah. Arkansas is home of Walmart. Our bad.)
 
It’s assumed when you meet someone that that person is a conservative Christian who will vote based almost unilaterally Republican because “Jesus” and “abortion.” The people who represent this state in congress are all male, all white and nearly all Republican.  Our two Democrat congressmen are Representative Vic Snyder and Senator Mark Pryor. Both vote like moderate republicans, so it’s hard to take them seriously as Democrats. 
 
Since Clinton, our governors have been basically indistinguishable.  Both have been called Mike and both are Baptist.  Whether it’s a Huckabee or a Beebe is pretty irrelevant as they’re both carbon copies when it comes to political stances on women, poverty and pretty much anything else not dealing with rich white men. Rich white men get tax cuts, schools get closed, funding gets cut, anything Obama said is categorically rejected and meanwhile, the state sinks further into a miasma of educational and economic bankruptcy.  
 
Arkansas is ardently “pro-life,” if by “pro-life” you mean “anti-abortion and family planning services.” This state has exactly 2 abortion providers and both are Planned Parenthood clinics.  They also exist in the more affluent and progressive area in the midsection of the state.  There are more than 50 “Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” though, that offer adoption counseling, pregnancy coercion, guilt and “post abortion therapy.”  
 
But our state government keeps the minimum wage at $6.25 an hour, has cut unemployment insurance again as well as food stamp assistance for needy families, so if you can’t support the children you have to have, too bad.
 
image

America the Church.

 
At least, with one church to every 500 people, surely the faithful are caring for the needy, right?  No, actually. Most churches have more paperwork and rules than the federal agencies and are so difficult to navigate that lots of people just give up. And even if you do manage to navigate the maze, what are you signing onto in exchange for help meeting basic human needs?  Usually, it’s some form of assent to the morals of the group in charge of the food pantry or, in the more extreme cases, a continuing program in which you get boxes of generic macaroni and cheese and they get your soul. For Jesus. 
 
Did I mention that the churchy influence is everywhere? When the local state university -- state funded, public university -- had students petition to open a Gay and Lesbian Alliance student led organization, it became something of a media circus. There are plenty of other student associations for political, religious or other interests, but having a club set up “for the gays” got the whole region worked up. There were debates and petitions and the local news had a great time with it.  
 
Ultimately, I’m glad to say, the administration caved and GALA was allowed to form.  But they fight continually for equal treatment alongside the other student groups. 
 
As hard as I am on the church or religious aspects, I’m not even writing this as an atheist.  I’m a progressive, pro-choice socialist, yes, but I’m also a Christian.  
 
Hell, I’m even ordained. Want to guess how many churches in this area will “let” a woman preach? There are 3 female pastors in this area, 2 of whom have doctoral degrees and all have more impressive credentials than our male counterparts. None are full-time employees of any church. We do not get invited to the “preacher’s luncheons” or the “pastoral encouragement” groups. We don’t fit. We have to fight just to exist.
 
So this is what we’re up against in my corner of the world. This is why we get so pissed when people tell us “just leave.” Or, worse, write off the whole state.  
 
It isolates those of us who are trying to do something worthwhile, who are trying to bring the rest of these people into the current century. We are trying to build a world worth living in and telling us to leave won’t help. We shouldn’t have to explain why we want a better world for ourselves, our children and friends, our families and our communities.  Why do we have to justify our existence to those of you who could be helping?
 
When you say “Fuck [insert state here]” or tell us to secede, you’re not doing anyone any favors.  You make yourself look like an ass and you alienate people who would normally ally with you if you weren’t so busy writing us off just because we’re the minority. 
 
And yes, right now, we are the minority.  But we’re a passionate, vocal and active minority.  And we’re going to keep fighting, with or without you.  But we’d rather have you with us.