Summer Program: “'No Tyson in Tongie!': The Battle to Protect a Rural Way of Life in Kansas”

Walter J. Nicholls (UC Irvine), Cecilia Menjívar (UCLA), Daniel Alvord (U of Kansas)
Commentator: Chris Tilly, Department of Urban Planning

Political mobilizations in small towns have come to play a disproportionate role in today’s national politics. This paper examines the conditions giving rise to small-town mobilizations through an in-depth case study of Tonganoxie, Kansas. Residents of this town mounted a massive campaign to block the opening of a Tyson chicken processing plant in 2017. The paper draws on interviews, observations, a newspaper claims database, and extractions from the “No Tyson in Tongie” Facebook group page. The paper maintains that a racialized cultural framework (“rural idyll”) among White middle-class residents helped them perceive the plant as an existential threat. Social networks, sustained through social media, enabled the same residents mobilize in a fast and forceful manner. We suggest that in “hybrid” towns (partially rural and suburban), the “rural idyll” is politically decisive. It unites recently settled and established residents in battles to defend a particularly racialized and classed way of life.

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Published: Friday, July 31, 2020

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