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

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:06
Oral Presentation
Daniel ALVORD, University of Kansas, USA
Cecilia MENJIVAR, University of Kansas, USA
Walter NICHOLLS, University of California, Irvine, USA
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 mobilized narratives about threats to quality of life in the town and channeled fears of over-burdened infrastructure and institutions to assert that the town would not be better off because of the plant. This research furthers our understanding of contemporary conservative populist movements. Populist leaders have vowed to bring jobs – particularly factory jobs – to rural, white, working-class communities. While Tonganoxie largely fits this description, our case suggests that residents of those communities judge the worth of those jobs by who would benefit. Jobs that are stigmatized by their close association with immigrant labor are rejected as being undesirable for locals and harmful for the community.