You’ve Built the Community.
It’s Time to Raise the Town Hall.
So here we are, with 52 “Bitter Tuesdays” come and gone.
The most important element of this milestone, to us, is the fact that we didn’t name them “Bitter Tuesdays.” Y’all did. Since we began The Bitter Southerner a year ago, it’s been clear to us that all of you would be part of — and would hugely influence — whatever this thing became.
This week marks the first anniversary of our first story, “We Are Bitter.” From day one, you good folks were extraordinarily vocal in your willingness to be part of our little tribe — and in your expressions of appreciation for our work.
“I have yet to find a publication that so capably and gracefully captures the nuance, soul, tragedy, and beauty of the region like yours does. I just wanted to thank you for that.”
When you receive messages like that, as we often do, you feel a responsibility to keep doing what you’re doing. And that is our intention, because this thing we created, The Bitter Southerner, now seems to matter to a lot of people.
On our very first Tuesday, we said, “The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.”
We have presented more stories about cool, smart, groundbreaking people — and the work they do in the South — than we ever had a right to expect we’d be able to tell. And you responded overwhelmingly. Sometimes, reading the responses to our stories, we found ourselves feeling like we were at a big Saturday afternoon barbecue. It felt, to us at least, as if The Bitter Southerner had become a place of sorts, a place where certain Southerners — those of us who have come to feel like strangers in our own homeland — could come to meet others like them.
Y’all got it. You understood immediately and instinctively why this matters.
Cover photo by Aaron Coury. Video by Joshua Rosenbaum.
We got through the first year on sweat, grit, begging and the extraordinary generosity of talented writers and photographers and readers who wanted to contribute … well … just because they wanted to be part of the crew, too.
And that’s why, today, we intend to stand up The Bitter Southerner as a proper business, one that offers fair value to its customers.
We thought about raising capital in traditional ways, but the truth is, we really didn’t want to figure out how many times we’d have to say the word “synergy” to get some venture capitalist to invest.
We’d rather do business the old-fashioned way — with you. You already know the value of our goods. Today, we just open up the doors to the store. The next five days will determine whether we can keep this business going.
We hope you’ll come on in.
We are inviting you to do enough business with us in one week to give The Bitter Southerner a strong enough foundation for the future. Of course, before we ask you for money and tell you what we propose to give you in return, you have a right to understand what you’re supporting.
All four of us recognized this fact a while back, so we did what came naturally to us, even though it seemed a little weird. Butler, Kyle, Dave and I had spent a fair number of years laboring in the corporate trenches, so we found ourselves drawn to the old vision-and-mission exercise.
We took several hours on a Sunday afternoon in the late spring, and we went to work on Step 1: Vision. This is what we came up with:
The Bitter Southerner envisions a South whose people are known for their creation, innovation and forward thinking as much as they are known for their grace, hospitality and conviviality.
We liked that picture. It felt good when we closed our eyes and thought about it.
But the mission part — the part where you lay out how you’re going to achieve the vision — proved harder. And of course, it took a kid who’s 24 years younger than me to help crystallize our thinking. The Alabama rocker Lee Bains III didn’t mean to do that, and we didn’t ask him to, but as I talked to him about what drove him to create his music, it became apparent that we were both kinda traveling the same road. If you want to read the full quote, please go back and check out our story on Lee and his band, the Glory Fires. But for our purposes today, we’ll just pull a small piece of it:
“It doesn't matter where your parents were born or what religious tradition you follow or what type of person you find attractive; if you say you're a Southerner, then you're a fucking Southerner, and we need to hear about it.”
Lee’s words focused us on two very critical realities:
The reality that our home, our South, the place that made us, must absolutely be part of who we are — and that to deny it is folly. Every person desires the ability to claim their own home, their own communities, their own roots, as part of their identity. Like it or not, home makes us who we are.
The reality that we have — over the last three or so decades — allowed “the South” to become defined in extraordinarily narrow terms. We wish the Thompson and Robinson families well, but the sparkly pinks of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and the olive drabs of "Duck Dynasty" are not the only colors on the Southern palette. And it’s gotten to the point where those of us who either won’t or just can’t fit these narrow stereotypes can no longer claim our Southern identity comfortably and with pride. Thus, we are bitter.
We realized that our goal — at its very core — is to create a place in which every Southerner can proudly claim his or her roots. This is our mission:
The Bitter Southerner exists to support anyone who yearns to claim their Southern identity proudly and without shame — regardless of their age, race, gender, ethnic background, place of origin, politics, sexual orientation, creed, religion, or lack of religion.
To do our part, we will focus our work on the two things we do best: telling stories and convening discussions, 24/7 in the online world and every chance we get in the real world — for the sake of the story and for the love of the South.
And in the process, we’ll have a drink or two.
Once we got it written down, it felt just right to us. We hope it feels just right to you. But we know that carrying out such a mission will require us to shoulder some big responsibilities — and that we cannot not bear them without more resources and without income.
That’s where y’all come in. If you want to help build this new Southern community, we will need your continued enthusiasm.
And we will need you to do business with us.
Back when we turned the corner into 2014, we told you that we had two priorities:
To pay our contributors — the writers and photographers without whom The Bitter Southerner cannot continue to exist.
To pay ourselves.
The model we’re using to get there depends on our ability to do business with you. So we ask you today to join The Bitter Southerner Family. When you join, you will get real, tangible merchandise and experiences in return. This is a capitalist enterprise with a social purpose. We want you to get value for your money.
We believe there is great promise in asking you to formally join our little tribe and in offering you the chance to buy products from independent businesses and artists in the South whose work brings you a little joy.
We have explained as clearly as we can our goals for The Bitter Southerner site and The Bitter Southerner community.
We invite you to join this effort to help shine an ever brighter light on the South that we know, the one whose people are known as widely for their creation, innovation and forward-thinking as they are for their grace, hospitality and conviviality.