As right-leaning states become ever more extreme in their social policies and make life more difficult for residents who don’t share their political leanings, liberal states may want to begin planning for a political in-migration. For places like Vermont, this could be a boon to our economy; for places like Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida, it could be bad news.
My wife and I own a house in Brattleboro that we rent on Airbnb eight to 10 months each year (when my mother-in-law isn’t living there). Through those short-term rentals, I’ve seen firsthand the interest of some of these red state residents to relocate to a more welcoming place. A young couple from Texas this spring were typical in wanting to get to know our town and begin looking for real estate in the area.
It isn’t just the ever-more-blatant racism and oppression we are witnessing in many red states: statewide voter suppression laws, banning of family planning, criminalizing abortion, legislating a selective telling of American history. It’s also the denial of science and the failure to protect residents from the COVID pandemic. Bowing to pressure from the state’s Republican legislature, Tennessee’s top vaccine official was recently fired for promoting vaccinations to adolescents.
I can’t believe that these actions aren’t alienating and disenfranchising BIPOC residents in these states and many others. More and more residents may soon decide that “enough is enough” and begin looking for more welcoming places to live and raise their families.
The tragedy for those red states is that some of their most educated residents — those who would play key roles in future economic prosperity — may be among those emigrants.
This politically motivated migration won’t be the first our nation has experienced. Starting around 1916, “The Great Migration” resulted in some six million African Americans fleeing Jim Crow laws in previous slave states and relocating in northern cities. This migration fueled a new labor force that helped the Upper Midwest become the powerhouse of American manufacturing, while it brought blues musicians to Chicago (birth of Chicago Blues) and a new identity to the previously white Harlem region of New York City.
The political migration we may soon witness will be different from that of the early 1900s, though. The migrants will include more liberal whites as well as racially oppressed minorities. Many of the migrants will be college educated residents, both BIPOC and white, who choose to raise their families in places where racism is less overt, where freedom exists to control their own bodies, where vaccination is widely accepted, and where science is respected.
For some it will be about keeping their families safe. It’s a lot less risky to live in places where mask mandates were in place early-on during COVID and where the vast majority of residents are now fully vaccinated.
It’s no secret that many health care professionals were frustrated by lax COVID practices in these states — some were actually vilified in their communities for their efforts to protect residents from the virus. Vermont has the highest vaccination rate in the country and the lowest COVID fatalities. There’s a lot of envy when I talk with friends in red states.
Red state refugees will be a good thing for Vermont. There has been a lot of news in the past decade about how Vermont is aging and how we are finding ourselves without the young workforce needed to maintain economic prosperity. Political refugees can help to solve these problems and provide the catalyst needed for our collective prosperity.
In addition to political refugees, we will likely begin seeing climate refugees in the coming decades: California residents burned out of their homes; coastal homeowners fleeing sea level rise; New Mexico residents without dependable water sources; Oklahomans who have experienced too many tornados.
What should we be doing to prepare for such an in-migration? Communities in Vermont, including Brattleboro, need to create more workforce housing to support a population influx. We need to make sure our communities are welcoming to a more diverse population. We need high-speed internet that matches that in states these people will be fleeing. We need outdoor recreation amenities that appeal to younger residents.
Let’s figure out how to make Vermont — and the Brattleboro area specifically — as welcoming as possible. We will all benefit.