As I often do, I tie things together from different and varied places. Today, it's my urban sociology class, and this article on the Audacity of Despair. (Trust me, they do eventually come together.)
A few things before we make the jump: "Urban" means more than 2500 people live in a town, according to the US Census bureau. "Rural" is anything less than that which isn't near a major city. "Suburban" areas are still urbanized, and belong with cities, not rural areas, in any analysis like this one. And a "metro area" is the large sprawl of suburbs that spread out from a major city, like Los Angeles, New York, or Denver.
Come with me past the fleur-de-Kos?
First, let's go to college.
This morning, after I thanked my urban sociology class for voting (youth vote, hurray!) and began to start the planned lesson, I stopped. All those shining, excited faces - I had to address the election from the point of view of our class topic - urbanization.
I asked my students, "How do we tie urbanization to what happened yesterday? How would you do that?"
My students responded variously, listing the effects of urbanization that make Democrats more likely to win (all of them correct):
- More diversity means more tolerance of those who aren't like us.
- More tolerance leads to a more progressive mindset.
- Progressives tend to vote Democratic.
Then I asked them, why is urbanization related to this event?
They know that over 50% of the world is now urban. And from previous classes, one of them remembered that the United States is 80% urban. So maybe it's because of urbanization - the more rural areas aren't voting progressively.
Then I asked about one battleground state: Colorado. The Republicans, I said, were kind of counting on Colorado. What's changed? In 2008, Colorado went blue for Obama but the last time it went blue before that was in 1992. And for the rest of the recorded votes for the last thirty or so years, Colorado has been blood-red. So the Republicans were counting on Colorado being in their column for Mr. Romney this time. What happened?
One of my internet-equipped laptop-holding students volunteered the knowledge that Colorado was 83% or so urban. But, I said, it's been pretty much that level of urban for a while. Here's an idea - we know that a lot of people don't vote. How do we explain Colorado going for Mr. Obama? Also, it's got quite a few businessmen, so shouldn't they have voted for another businessman (and businessmen tend to be urban)?
Keeping the topic on urbanism on that was a little difficult, but the class finally agreed that the Denver metro area's spread (along with several others) may serve the 1%er base to some extent, but the changes caused by urbanism among people who aren't in the 1% may still make Colorado part of the reliable electoral firewall for the Democratic party from here on out.
I then threw the net a bit more widely. How is urbanization related to the federal budget? I asked.
One student - one of my whiz kids - raised her hand and said, "Because people in cities are more likely to be tolerant, and because they don't have others they can call on for help in bad times, they are more likely to support taxes for the social safety nets." Another student raised his hand and said "Yeah, and rural people don't understand that if you're in a city, you can't just ask your neighbor for help. Cities don't work that way."
Well, I challenged them, what about asking your parents or your family for help in the city? Why can't you do that?
The response, from all over the lecture hall, can be summed up to: Because our families don't live in the city. Or they live in a city that's 200 - 2000 miles away.
See? My kids get it.
So, then, let's look at this blog post.
In "Barack Obama and the Death of Normal," David Simon makes this very important point:
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can comfortably walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions.These are my students, these young men and women. These are the students who have learned that being urban creates this kind of world. And these students? Are for the most part completely comfortable with that. They will raise their children in cities, too, and their children will grow up comfortable, tolerant and progressive.
Meanwhile, as demonstrated yesterday, the rural worldview, the clannishness, the us-and-them mentality, is dying. It's dying because our young people are growing up in diverse, urban, metropolitan areas more and more often. It's dying because fewer and fewer people are staying in rural towns. The world is more urban than it has ever been in human history.
The Tea Party (and the GOP) and their members have been running on the rural worldview and all its attendant assumptions - whites are the majority, men are the majority, women should know their place, anyone not white should go away and go to prison - for a long, long time.
But as my student pointed out, the more urban we get, the more the social safety net is going to be important to us. The more urban we get, the more progressive the country gets. The more we urbanize, the more progressives we get.
Urbanization is often thought of as something totally negative. Here's a plus for all of us - it creates progressives.
Now, urban soc is not my specialization. But damn, I'm glad I'm teaching it this term, at this time, with these kids. I'm one damn lucky man.