EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article overstated SONG's focus on students. As well, it misstated SONG's main policy initiative as ending 287(g); it is actually to end money bail. We regret the errors.
Just over the mountains from Morristown, Tennessee, activists last April crashed a police picnic in Hendersonville to protest their city’s complicity with ICE. Bringing a brass band, organizers chanted, “¡El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!” Singing together, dozens of protesters disrupted the picnic until police disbanded the protest.
Renewed resistance in the South and Appalachia has taken many outside the region by surprise. Far from simply a fringe movement, calls to end ICE’s abuses are gaining momentum, even within such perceived conservative strongholds. This sea change is driven in large part by community organizers like Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an Atlanta-based, regional organization defending the rights of LGBTQ+ people of color in the rural South. To SONG and its sister groups across the South, silence is complicity. Letting ICE picnic in peace is not an option, so long as so many others are forced to live in fear.
SONG is a progressive organization that unites kindred spirits across the South. Stretching from Asheville to Atlanta, it is one of the South’s largest LGBTQ+-led organizations, and prides itself on being both bilingual and multigenerational. From the #Not1More campaign in Georgia several years ago to their “electoral experiments,” SONG sees itself as part of a much larger Southern legacy. And though LGBTQ+ history is suppressed across much of the South by “Don’t Say Gay” and similar such laws, southerners in SONG’s ranks lift up the legacy of those who came before them and refuse to remain invisible.
Everyone deserves to feel that they belong in their own hometown. With this in mind, its affiliated STAY Project, run out of the Highlander Center, aims to convince LGBTQ+ youth to remain in the red states of their birth, and to stand and fight rather than leaving the region as so many have before them. By providing a playbook for young organizers, SONG encourages southerners not simply to stay involved, but to see themselves as leaders in the fight for a more free South. From its DigiCommz working group, a network of local activists that makes up their regional communications team, to its numerous activist retreats across the mountain South, SONG sees students as a source of inspiration, not simply interlopers.