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The Last Steep Ascent

I GREW UP QUEER in a white working-class North Carolina clan during the 1970s, that moment in history when the backlash to civil rights and feminism and unionism was beginning to gather itself into the regressive forces that became Republicanism and Democratic Clintonism. If I learned anything from the history I would huddle in my room and read obsessively—and later, from the black friends and boyfriends I could not bring home, and from my reporting on the politics and progressive movements of the South—it was this: our only hope for freedom was a radically different future.

Emphasis on “radically.” Not the kinds of victories that won legal rights—which labor, African Americans, and women had sort of done, and LBGTQ folks now, sort of, have too. No: the only hope, thin though it was, was in attaining real power. There could be no real progress without destroying the white corporatocracy that passes for democracy—the ultimate victory that the left’s brave and battered standard-bearers, among them those who figure in Elizabeth Catte’s moving essay, have so persistently failed to achieve.

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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.