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Left Behind

ELIZABETH CATTE HAS PROVIDED a powerful corrective to conventional wisdom about rural America. Too many urban progressives view rural America as outside their “bubble.” This is not only condescending but wrong. Like other Americans, rural Americans have always known their own interests, and rural progressives have a strong track record of organizing to protect them. Catte reminds us that the struggles against coal companies in Harlan, Kentucky, in the 1930s, and the struggles of teachers in West Virginia more recently, are all part of a powerful collective action narrative.

Her remembrances and her hopes of a rebirth of activism against “the plundering coal bosses,” however, come up against a economic reality to which no one—from the center left to the far left—has any good answers: We know how to organize against the bosses, but what do you do when there are no more bosses?

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“Rural spaces,” writes Elizabeth Catte, author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, “are often thought of as places absent of things, from people of color to modern amenities to radical politics. The truth, as usual, is more complicated.” With activists, historians, and political scientists as guides, Left Elsewhere explores the radical politics of rural America—its past, its priorities, and its moral commitments—that mainstream progressives overlook. This volume shows how these communities are fighting, and winning, some of the left’s biggest battles. From novel health care initiatives in the face of the opioid crisis to living wages for teachers, these struggles do not fall neatly into the “puny language,” as Rev. William Barber says, of Democrat or Republican. Instead they help us rethink the rural–urban opposition at the heart of U.S. politics. The future of the left, this collection argues, could be found elsewhere. With contributions from William J. Barber II, Lesly-Marie Buer, Elizabeth Catte, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Nancy Isenberg, Elaine C. Kamarck, Michael Kazin, Toussaint Losier, Robin McDowell, Bob Moser, Hugh Ryan, Matt Stoller, Ruy Teixeira, Makani Themba, and Jessica Wilkerson.

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