An Appeal to Young Southerners: Please, don’t leave us.

The South can be a frustrating place to live for young progressives. We regularly take two baby steps forward and one large step back. Mississippi legislators voted to remove and replace the state flag which bore a symbol of the Confederacy; the new flag, though, must include the phrase “In God We Trust.” Two years ago, Alabama elected a moderate Democrat to the United States Senate over a sexual predator of a Republican with a long history of racism; this November, the same Democrat may be voted out in favor of a xenophobic football coach.

It can all feel like too much to bear for millennials with hopes of progress for southern states. An inundation of tired ideas (from “Don’t erase our history” to “white lives matter”) can leave us pining for communities of more like-minded individuals.

The idea of a mass exodus of young people from the South is actually largely overstated, but they are moving from more conservative parts of the South to more liberal pockets– particularly Houston, Austin, Dallas, and Charlotte. That’s great for Texas and North Carolina, where we’re seeing political and economic progress. But that progress comes at a steep cost for other southern states like Mississippi and Alabama. If progressive voters don’t stay, the states with the worst rankings in healthcare, poverty, education, infant mortality, and quality of life will never elect officials with the vision to implement effective changes.

And there are broader implications for young Southerners leaving, too. Mike Espy recently said, “There is a new path to victory in the Senate- and it runs through Mississippi.” And he’s right. On a national level, real progress will be, at best, difficult to achieve as long as Mitch McConnell controls the Senate. But McConnell’s Kentucky, along with Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee are all battleground states that will play, both this year and in future elections, key roles in determining who controls the Senate. That means even if you have migrated to a place like Austin or Charlotte, federal policies will continue to lag.

I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard friends, upon seeing one dismaying headline or another, say, “I can’t wait to get out of Mississippi.” And I understand it, but I firmly believe that’s the wrong mindset.

So, please, don’t leave Petal, Mississippi, or Florence, Alabama. Stay and get involved. Organize for change. Vote.

We can’t do this without you.

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