Southern Summit Boosts Social Justice Organizing in the South

Southern Summit Boosts Social Justice Organizing in the South

by | Jul 8, 2024 | Capacity Building, Movement Building

Southern states pose some of the greatest challenges to the country’s advancement for racial, economic, and other justice movements. Home to the largest regional population (38%), the US South is home to the largest Black population (56%), the highest number of people living in persistent poverty (54.9%), has lowest labor unionization rate in the country (6% as opposed to national average of 12%), and ranks low accomplishment in education/literacy, lowest life expectancy, and other measures of human progress. Right-wing movements have gained footholds in the region and advanced laws that used the South as a testing ground, later exporting them to the rest of the country. Advancement of social justice in the country is not possible without confronting and defeating the extremist forces in the South.


Plenary titled “Power: What Does It Mean for Liberation” at Southern Summit


Despite all the challenges, the South has also witnessed some of the strongest social justice movements that lifted people all over the country. These included the Civil Rights and the Black Freedom Movement. Specifically, North Carolina has given rise to many social justice movements, including the birth of the Sit-In Movement and the launch of the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) in the 60s, and the birth of the Environmental Justice Movement in the late 70s.


“The Landscape of the South” plenary speakers at the summit


In the last ten years, Southern Vision Alliance has emerged as the largest social justice intermediary organization in the South. Providing fiscal sponsorship to more than 40 grassroots social justice organizations, SVA provides movement infrastructure to groups that focus on anti-racism, worker rights, LGBTQIA justice, youth justice, anti-Islamophobia, environmental justice and other issues. As part of our tenth anniversary celebration, SVA and 11 partners organized the first-ever Southern Summit, in Durham, NC from June 26 – 29. Titled “Reclaiming Democracy and Defeating Fascism by Worker and Community Organizing”, the summit brought together front-line justice organizations to do landscape analyses of the threats and opportunities faced by our people, and chart future strategies to defeat reactionary forces and advance a vision for a New South.



LGBTQIA Organizers convene at the Southern Summit


The summit was a huge success with more than 475 people hailing from 10 Southern states attending the gathering. Discussions were organized for sectors of the movement, including Alternatives to Policing, the Future of Southern Worker Organizing, Housing Justice, Reproductive and Gender Justice, Fight for Voting Rights, Youth Power and Education Justice, Queer Liberation, Environmental Justice and Disaster Organizing, Black/Brown/Muslim Organizing in the South, AI Policy, and Disability Justice. In addition, skill-building sessions were offered on topics like Fundraising for the Movement, Conflict Resolution, Language Justice, Mapping the Right, Digital Organizing, Telling Our Stories/Movement Journalism, and other topics. Overarching plenaries on Southern Landscape Analysis, Building Collective Power, and Defeating Fascism connected the broader movements in the South. The summit concluded with a vision and strategy session and a call to reconnect in one month.

We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the attendees, including this one:

“I’m still synthesizing takeaways. Personally, the biggest gift is reconnection. Fueled by reignited Inspirations, and grounded in opportunities to develop work that feels contributory to the movement, I am grateful & honored to have been amongst this collective. The panels were fruitful, the performances were unforgettable, and the breakouts were relevant. My highlights included watching as brilliance sparked and ignited unimaginable possibilities for Southern Organizing.”

Participants of the “Black, Brown, Muslim Organizing in the South” session at the summit


The Southern Summit energized social justice organizers throughout the South who attended the gathering. People realized that the conclusion of the summit was not the end of our work but the beginning of our next phase of organizing to win power in the South and the county! The prophetic observation of W.E.B. Du Bois rang true during the summit, “As the South goes, so goes the nation!”


Cultural performance at the summit

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