Grassroots Rural Groups Are Getting It Done

One of my favorite things in this confusing world is when a group of rural people get themselves organized and practice a little direct democracy. This can be a protest or a public meeting of some kind. It can be a picket line or a rally. It can also be an accountability session with some seemingly obscure federal bureaucrat.

It’s this last category of active democracy—engagement with agency officials and administrators—that I’d like to focus on in today’s Keep It Rural. In this case, the good people at People’s Action have developed a working relationship with top-level administrators at the Department of Commerce. People’s Action leaders and members, both from rural and urban groups, are working to make sure that implementation of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) delivers on a better economy and infrastructure.

As they describe it: “People’s Action wants to make sure every cent of ARP funds benefit impacted communities: the ARP is a long-overdue down payment on recovery. This money, if spent right, can help lay a new foundation for cities and rural communities hit not only by Covid, but also by decades of neglect and the impacts of structural racism.”

Through this effort, rural groups from Indiana, Iowa, Alabama, West Virginia and other states are discussing their priorities for ARPA implementation. Examples from these groups include:

  • Alabama-based Hometown Action – preventing ARPA funds from building more prisons rather than funding support for poor and working class families.
  • Hoosier Action from Indiana – Developed a toolkit and campaign for rural communities to direct state and local funding through ARPA for high speed internet, childcare, healthcare, public utilities, jobs, affordable housing, small businesses, substance use treatment, and more.

As we have discusses in previous editions of this here newsletter, federal policy and budgets can often be beyond the reach of rural communities. Potential funding often eludes rural places that need investments the most. While not headline grabbing or “sexy,” it’s efforts like this Commerce Department engagement by the rural contingent of Peoples Action that gets the job done. My hat is off to you rural community organizers. Keep up the good work!

There’s a saying that “sometimes all you have to do is ask.” Okay. That’s not really true, but it is a good start. You have to ask, and then follow up, and then show up. And get organized while bringing demands based on lived experience and facts.

But it starts with the gumption and confidence to ask. Some public officials, even high-level Department of Commerce officials in Washington, DC, actually do listen.

Rural Reading List

Check out some great articles this week, including one from yours truly. Yes, yes. I still do occasionally publish more formal commentaries rather than just talk smack in newsletter format:

Commentary: Democrats Should Keep Their Focus on Needs of Poor and Working-Class Americans

My buddy Jake Davis (a fellow rural Missouri boy) and me talking about how Democrats can do some things about inflation to help rural people.

The Cranes Are Returning. Will the Tourists Follow? 

The Daily Yonder co-publishing an important story on the rural outdoor recreation economy, featuring Nebraska’s Platte River Big Bend Region in the Flatwater Press.

As Guest Workers Increase, so Do Concerns About Wage Cheating

A Center for Public Integrity/Associated Press investigation into the migrant worker H2A and H2B programs, this one focused mostly on bosses cheating workers in the Louisiana and broader Gulf of Mexico seafood industry.

How a Rural Hospital Broke Language Barriers to Provide Covid Vaccines to Immigrants

From Side Effects Public Media, a look at innovative rural health care service delivery for international residents moving to South-Central Indiana.

One More Thing: Spring Fever, Courtesy of Loretta

I’m a person who loves a stocking cap. I don’t mind soup season, cloudy winter skies, icy precipitation, snow, road and school closures, or frozen soils. Wood stove season is a wonderful thing in my world. Long underwear is my jam.

That said, spring greening is on the way here in the Western North Carolina Blue Ridge. The jonquils (i.e. daffodils) are rocking. Redbuds and magnolias are starting to show their colors down the hill. The poplars and oaks and maples and hickories around here aren’t yet leafing out, but it’s only a matter of time. The birdsongs are back. The cardinals have arrived.

This past weekend, I caught the spring fever. I started some seeds, cut some potatoes, weeded the beds, and spread some compost. I would have planted stuff in the ground, but it looks like we have a last gasp of sub-twenty-degree weather coming this weekend, unfortunately. Patience. Patience.

Anyway, if you have “spring fever” like I do, I would recommend a quick listen of some classic country music. In this case, there’s nothing better than Loretta Lynn’s 1978 hit, “Spring Fever.”

That’s all for now, Keep It Rural readers. Hopefully you’re getting a little spring in your corner of rural America, even if the weather is fleeting.

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