You’ve Heard it Before, but Really, Representation Matters
Welcome to November, KIR crew! Daylight savings time ends this Sunday, November 6, which means setting the clock back by one hour (I just spent five minutes figuring out which way it goes). Goodbye, early evening sunlight. Hello darkness, my old friend. Yes, that is an overused reference. And yes, the melodrama of this particular cover in unmatched.
As the days get shorter I’ve been spending more time “nesting,” which is what us millennials and Gen-Zers like to call having the basic necessities of a comfortable home (i.e. a working furnace, enough food, warm blankets, books and records to get us through the winter). Over the past week of improving some aspects of my life, the process has made me think about what quality of life means in my larger community, and why it’s important to live in a place that takes care of its people.
Just yesterday, Daily Yonder contributor Keith Roysdon wrote an article about successful rural economies, which are contingent on the quality of life in rural communities. Factors like education, accessible childcare, and diversity all contribute to this, according to a survey of young rural people.
For people who identified diversity in ethnicity, gender, age, culture, and ideas as important to quality of life, two Kansas organizations found “the first step [to achieve this] is to improve young rural residents’ connections to government and capitalize on grassroots movements.”
This last point interested me because it highlights a problem in our governing system: young people don’t run for office. Some do, of course, but the majority of current Congress seats are still held by Boomers. At the start of the 117th Congress in January of 2021, the average age was 58.4 years for Representatives and 64.3 years for Senators. This is despite the fact that half of the United States’ population is under the age of 40.
There are plenty of structural barriers to running for office. It takes a lot of money to run a successful campaign, and most local governing positions pay very little, if anything. Young candidates are deemed “too risky” or inexperienced, even though young perspectives are important additions to politics. And finally, the presence of older, rich, white, and male gatekeepers has made the process impenetrable for many, especially young women and people of color. This has led to what scholars call a “gerontocracy” – a society run by old people.
Without people who are representative of the population they serve, it’s difficult to make sure a community’s needs are met. In rural areas that are on average older than urban and suburban areas, making politics accessible to young people can be doubly important in sustaining that community’s population. And, according to that research done in Kansas, this can lead to better quality of life for people who haven’t previously been heard by the politicians that should advocate for them.
In a 2019 Niskanen Center interview, University of Michigan professor Kenneth Lowande said, “Women tend to advocate more on behalf of women and women’s issues. Members who have racial and ethnic minority heritage tend to advocate on behalf of minority communities. Then members who have military service tend to spend more time advocating on behalf of veterans.”
Ad-libbing on this, young people will advocate on behalf of young people, and rural people will fight for rural issues. A diverse Congress can improve quality of life, which is tied to healthy rural and urban communities. And isn’t that the goal?
Rural Reading List
What was once a trendy lifestyle choice has become a means of survival for tiny house dwellers in southern Colorado.
Shameless self-promotion: I interviewed Bridget Callahan from Sustainable Northwest about electric agriculture equipment in Oregon. This quote sums up our conversation nicely: “…if we’re going to be incentivizing electric transportation, we have to be thinking about what makes sense in rural communities.”
This article, first published in Investigate Midwest, is an astonishing investigation into the former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety Mindy Brashears actions to keep meatpacking plants open while Covid-19 cases soared between workers.
One More Thing: A Small Investment in the Future
It’s bulb season! I just planted snow crocus, daffodil, and hyacinth bulbs in my front yard and I am so pleased, even though I can’t tell they’re there yet. If you have a place to plant (some bulbs can go in containers, too!), make your way to your local plant nursery and pick up some flowers. Your future self will thank you.