Nuts & Bolts: What If … Black farm ownership returned? The impact on elections considered

Nuts & Bolts: What If … Black farm ownership returned? The impact on elections considered

It’s another Sunday, so for those who tune in, welcome to another discussion of the Nuts & Bolts of a Democratic campaign. If you’ve missed out, you can catch up any time: Just visit our group or follow the Nuts & Bolts Guide. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.

Coming later this summer, Marvel will unleash What If..? a series on Disney+ that follows the comic book of the same name. Just like the comic book, What If…? will ask the question: What if this had happened? What would happen if the universe was different? If Thor died? If the Avengers never assembled? What If in comics have been popular—DC has “Red Son” asking what would happen if Superman had landed in the Cold War USSR, not America. This week, I’m going to look at a few hypothetical “what ifs” to see what the impact really would be in our elections.

What if … Black farm ownership could give Democratic candidates six to eight senators, instantly.

In the early 1900s, Black ownership of farmland began to grow, and by 1920, black ownership of farmland, especially in the Midwest became a staple way of life for many who fled the Old South and looked to build wealth for their new family. In 2020, we experienced the outbreak of COVID-19, and suddenly, everyone is working from home with Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

What if … rural communities throughout the Midwest became poisonous to young adults looking to build their career as they flocked to the cities. With COVID-19, however, more and more workers are doing so from home every day. What if rural communities with high-quality broadband became fantastic targets for immigration of a more Democratic voting community, how would that impact states and elections?

A few months ago, I was in the town where I grew up, a small, population-800 town in Kansas. The community had grown, but not by much. It now offered a few things that were new. A grocery store operated and owned entirely by the local government (gasp! socialism!) and gigabit internet everywhere. Along with their county, they were begging residents from anywhere: come live here! Why not? With incredibly cheap property taxes, gigabit internet, public-owned grocery stores, and homes with farmland going for nothing, where people can finance using USDA programs for near-zero down and low rates, why wouldn’t people consider moving? Throughout the Midwest, this is the same situation that exists everywhere. Communities long left for dead are now seeing a resurgence and families realize they don’t have to live by where they work in order to do well. 

If this was a bigger trend, what could happen?

Black farm ownership peaked in 1920. Around that time, the Ku Klux Klan and other groups led a “swift and severe backlash” to terrorize independent Black farmers, she added. These vigilante efforts went along with a set of US government policies—detailed in this great 2019 Atlantic article by Vann R. Newkirk II—that effectively expropriated Black-owned farmland, pushing it into the hands of white people. During the 20th century, the price of farmland rose by a factor of 52—making it yet another vehicle for wealth-building that African-Americans were systemically denied access to. The steady rise in land values, which has continued into the 21st century, makes it prohibitively expensive for new farmers to break into agriculture, meaning that white dominance of farmland maintains plenty of momentum.  

You see, one of the problems that remain is that farmland is in a place where it is in the hands of almost entirely white, conservative populations. The USDA hasn’t always been truthful with the problem that diversity in farming has right now. Population shifts, however, can change that. Forget buying up the farmland, then. “What if..” a Democratic population in counties could pass regulatory rules that provide for better, higher quality farming or land use? Mixed-use areas, and more expansion in residency? Just as importantly, could you see the Black and brown community using the USDA and other agencies that have a history of being used for racist policies, to change outcomes? Certainly, that is true.

So what if you could put 100,000 new voters in these states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana. That’s assuming you could get 600,000 voters to take a loan and move, which would be almost no cost to the government, against the average state valuation (RPI) which I’m going to put together and say: homes for ~$90,000 that meet those requirements. Let’s say you get two voters per household—sometimes you will get more, but not everyone will have a full house all to themselves. Okay, so 300,000 home purchases. $27 billion. True, a large number. End result: 12 new Democratic senators. Twelve governors. It isn’t lighting the fire more than the cost spent on the election 2020 of $14 billion, and you would permanently change the landscape.

In “What If” land, environmentalists would be encouraged to do exactly this to take over state legislatures in red states with low population, to advocate for laws against the environment. Black ownership would return—right now 77% of white families own their homes compared to 43% of Black families, cutting off generational wealth. 

Why this what if won’t happen.

This is easy to see how to make something like this occur. The opportunities that are available for a progressive left. Still, there are plenty of reasons why it will not occur. Right now, asking left-leaning voters to move into monochromatic white states is going to be difficult. They will move into a hostile environment, and unless several are coming along with them on the first move, they will be the one taking the risk.

The other reason this doesn’t happen is, frankly, institutional racism. BIPOC communities could quickly and easily form complete communities in the Midwest—but they aren’t informed of how to do so. As an example, the Biden administration has provided new opportunities for people in trouble to buy and apply for rural loans. Still, the stigma about those communities stays, and so the idea of relocating to the midwest or areas of the south are unlikely. 

What If…

The idea of tackling “What If” came from someone who reads this series. If you like the idea of doing a few “What If” options, leave it in the comments, and I can explore those options as well!

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