Fight Like Hell for Kentucky: our campaign to re-elect Governor Andy Beshear
SURJ has deep roots in Kentucky. Our founders are from the state and were mentored into the legacy of anti-racist white organizers by SNCC member and fellow Kentuckian, Anne Braden. For the last decade, our chapter in Louisville has been organizing white support for multi-racial coalition efforts to get cops of out of Louisville public schools, oust the judge who signed the no-knock warrant that resulted in the death of Breonna Taylor, and abolish cash bail in the city. Two years ago, we launched the Kentucky People’s Union in Appalachian Eastern Kentucky that is organizing working people around housing rights. And in 2022, we had 20,000 conversations with white working class Kentuckians as a part of a statewide effort that blocked a near-total abortion ban from being adopted into the state constitution.
Our work in Kentucky has been rooted in our members on the ground and flanked by our national base. This year, we’re contacting half a million white Kentuckians in working class, primarily rural areas to support the re-election of Democratic governor Andy Beshear.
Beshear’s opponent, Daniel Cameron, is a Trump-endorsed, far right candidate who is a career-long Mitch McConnell protege. He is running his campaign relying divide-and-conquer tactics of the far right, blaming the state’s problems on trans kids and teaching racism in schools while the GOP supermajority in the state legislature gives tax cuts to the rich.
Putting Cameron in office would be terrible for working Kentuckians, but also has national implications as his election would enshrine a Republican trifecta in Kentucky– a dangerous advance of the authoritarian right’s state-by-state take over that affects everyone.
In this election, SURJ is contributing to statewide efforts by doing what we do best: having long, values-centered conversations with white working class voters in rural areas that no other progressive group is contacting. While the Democratic Party turns out voters likely to support their efforts, we focus on persuading less likely supporters who, based on our previous campaigns, we know will support progressive causes when engaged.
SURJ members in Kentucky and across the nation meet people in their material suffering, listen and validate their experiences, and then call out the right’s divide-and-conquer tactics for what they are: distractions from the party’s failure to deliver on supporting the day-to-day lives of working people. Instead of centering the candidate, we connect over issues and offer the candidate as one right next step towards building a Kentucky that works for everyone.
And it works. In our work on the abortion amendment last year, 25% of people we spoke to who supported the ban at the beginning of our conversations were persuaded to oppose it by the end of the call.
From our work, we know that white working people are ready to support progressive causes, we just need to talk to them. Combined with the abortion victory last year, a victory this year for Beshear in this majority white working class state would be a back-to-back rejection of the right’s efforts to divide people along lines of difference or moral hysteria.
At SURJ, we organize white working people around on their shared interest- what they stand to gain- in rejecting the racism and division of the right and joining multiracial efforts for justice. We’ve done it in Kentucky before- and we’re doing it again this year.