No Tyson in Tongie! Race, Class, and the Fight for Quality of Life in Kansas

Authors: Daniel Alvord, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas, Cecilia Menjivar, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas, Walter Nicholls*, Urban Planning and Public Policy, UC Irvine
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Rural Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Immigration, rural, protest
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Galerie 3, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In September 2017, Tyson Foods, Inc. announced plans to build a new chicken processing plant in the small, eastern Kansas town of Tonganoxie. Within just two weeks of the announcement, however, the town had effectively mobilized to prevent the plant from being built. This paper examines the mobilization and framing of the “No Tyson in Tongie” protest to understand why and how the town rejected the meat processing plant. Drawing on content analysis and qualitative interviews, this paper analyzes the meanings that residents and movement organizers attached to the anti-Tyson movement. We argue that plant jobs and immigrant labor have been so closely associated that the anti-Tyson movement effectively mobilized fears of how immigrant newcomers might change the town if the plant were built. Specifically, the town mobilized a two-pronged effort to establish and maintain social distance from immigrants. First, town residents mobilized against the kinds of jobs associated with immigrants that would be brought to the town. The anti-Tyson movement pushed back against the association of their town with low-income immigrant jobs. And second, the town mobilized against the immigrants themselves that would come to the town. Residents effectively channeled fears of over-burdened infrastructure and institutions to assert that the town would not be better off because of the plant. Our case suggests that many populist struggles in rural America are driven by concerns about declining social status of white rural communities.

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