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A Progressive Organic Farmer's Fighting Chance in Virginia

Having more real, rural progressives in Congress could fundamentally take the country back, but not if Democrats don’t start taking a chance on real change-makers like Flaccavento

Anthony Flaccavento (Photo: Courtesy of Flaccavento for Congress)

Anthony Flaccavento (Photo: Courtesy of Flaccavento for Congress)

For a while last week, I thought I was in the wrong place. While the nation’s eyes were on the Kavanaugh hearings, and half my women friends were in Washington, I was in southwest Virginia with a congressional campaign in rural America that big donors and DC Democrats don’t seem to care that much about.

Anthony Flaccavento, whom I’ve known for years on account of his work for bottom-up economics, is running in Virginia’s 9th, the long, southwest tip of the state. Our paths first crossed in the year-long strike over retiree healthcare for miners at Pittston Coal. Flaccavento was arrested with the picketers. Soon after that, he founded Appalachian Sustainable Development to help family farmers transition off tobacco. A farmer himself, he didn’t just tell growers what they “should” do, he enabled them to do it — and keep their farms — through driving organic produce to buyers and helping start year-round farmers markets where none existed before. He’s not just a do-gooder, he’s a real farmer and a producer, beef-farmer and supporter Will Clark told me, “Besides, we could do with some do-gooders in Congress, couldn’t we?"

Flaccavento’s race is winnable. The 9th was in Democratic hands before the Tea Party tide of 2010, and — read the local papers — even Republicans aren’t happy with the do-nothing, say-nothing performance of Morgan Griffith, a Freedom Caucus loyalist.  Flaccavento won the primary with a convincing 79% percent, boosting Democrats from 32% to 45% of voters. Polls have him within single digits of the incumbent — even as close as 6%.  

He’s running a bottom-up campaign that’s all about face-to-face. In three days, I watched him speak at his 93rd, 94th, and 95th town halls, speaking to students and teachers, miners, and Latino voters. He’s on track to hold 100 such meetings before November 6th. So far, he reckons he’s spoken to over 6,000 Virginians — and more, thanks to lots of door-knocking. Just before I arrived in tiny Floyd (census count 425), roughly half the town came out to hear the man they call “the Flacc.”

“It’s like rural progressives are coming out,” says co-campaign field director and Floyd local Meredith Dean.

But did I mention, the 9th district is as large as New Jersey? Campaigning here is hard, and between stops, Flacc’s dialing for dollars from small donors; because while Flacc’s got a fighting chance in what they call the fighting 9th, what he hasn’t got is big bucks or much of anything from big city Democrats. He says he’s raised over three quarters of a million to date, which sounds a modest sum, but he’ll take no corporate money. He’s got no PAC — fully 80% of his support has come from within the district, and that’s impressive.  

So what are the big city Democrats and the media missing here? As soon as I set foot in the 9th, I knew I was in exactly the right place. All the decisive players in the Kavanaugh debacle hail from rural America,  from Judiciary Committee Chair Grassley to Senate leader Mitch McConnell to turncoat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin was one of two WVA Democrats backed by the Democratic Campaign Committee for support this year and the one who voted for Kavanaugh. He’d received close to 9 million dollars, mostly from energy, real estate, legal and financial firms — less than 3% of it from small dollar donors — in the first six months.

The Democratic leadership has ignored rural America for decades. Having more real, rural progressives in Congress could fundamentally take the country back, but not if Democrats don’t start taking a chance on real change-makers like Flaccavento. He’s got a fighting chance in the fighting 9th, and we need more like him. A win like his just could be a tipping point.

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders is the award-winning host and executive producer of The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally-syndicated TV and radio program that looks at real-life models of shifting power in the arts, economics and politics. Flanders founded the women’s desk at media watch group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and produced and hosted the radio program CounterSpin for a decade. She is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species. Flanders was named Most Valuable Multi-Media Maker of 2018 in The Nation’s Progressive Honor Roll, and was awarded the Izzy Award in 2019 for outstanding achievement in independent media.

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