Voting, and Other Tools in a Civic Toolbox

As you all are well-aware, today is Election Day. The Daily Yonder will have live election results from across the country starting tonight at dailyyonder.com/vote, if you are inclined to follow along. 

While the Daily Yonder newsroom has spent the past several weeks preparing its election coverage, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the media in elections. Local newsrooms report information about candidates, ballot measures, and voting policies to their readers, and some do this better than others. Rural communities are often overlooked in regions that don’t have local news outlets at all. According to 2019 data from Pew Research Center, the local news outlets for 57% of rural residents who were polled don’t provide election coverage for their area. 

In Oregon, the nonprofit Rural Organizing Project is leading an initiative called the Rural Media Center, which connects with community-owned media to disseminate accurate voter information. I stumbled across their work this weekend in Hipfish Monthly, an alternative press that serves the lower Columbia Pacific region. 

The current issue features an election guide by the Rural Organizing Project, which breaks down what various local offices do, who can vote and how to do so with Oregon’s unique vote-by-mail system, and why upholding democracy is important for rural communities in Oregon and elsewhere. Hipfish Monthly is free, by the way. 

I especially loved the point this voter guide made about things to do outside voting. It suggested sharing information about ballot measures and candidates with your community, working with libraries or community groups to hold local candidate forums, and gathering with your friends and family to research and talk about the issues on the ballot. As they eloquently put it, “one of the beautiful things about voting by mail is that you can take your time to research the issues and candidates on your ballot.” This is SO TRUE, and I wish more people had the luxury. I took three days to fill out my own ballot and drank a pint as I did it. 

Even if you can’t gather with your loved ones to fill out ballots, there is plenty to do outside of voting, to care for our communities. 

Mutual aid is a ripe example of community care. I like thinking of mutual aid as the “small” things – checking in on elderly neighbors, buying local (whenever possible), taking care of the kids down the street. I believe these activities are what keep us human, anchored to our real-life communities in a time when more and more of our attention is taken by the internet.

Voting is one tool in the toolbox to build a better society. This poem by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre gives five more metaphors for what voting can do, from a cynic’s point of view. 

As we find ourselves waist-deep in the busiest season for news outlets, I want to remind you that polls don’t tell the full story, the internet is built to be an echochamber (learn how to counteract that here), and the media makes money off of clicks. I’ll be taking some time to “touch grass” away from the news tomorrow and I urge you to do the same. I might just buy lemonade from the kids down the street.

Art by N.o. Bonzo (free to use based on this quote: “Everything and anything I make is free to bootleg, pirate, distribute, put in a zine, slap on a flyer, wheatpaste up, or whatever.” )

Rural Reading List

Reports Look At Climate Resiliency In Rural Communities

This excellent Daily Yonder piece shows how rural communities lack access to grant funding for climate resiliency projects, even though they play a central role in the nation’s transition to renewable energy.

States Steer More Money Toward Rural Roads

Safe, reliable rural roads are vital to the nation’s economy, yet they’re often underfunded. Some states are trying to change this.

California Needs More Fire

Intentional fires have been part of California’s landscape for thousands of years. Why is it still so hard to prescribe burns in a state that desperately needs better wildfire management?


One More Thing: An Update on the Rural Partners Network

Earlier this year the USDA initiated the Rural Partners Network, which helps underserved rural areas access infrastructure funding and job resources. The program assigns USDA staff working in Washington D.C. to rural communities and places field officers in those areas. This is meant to usurp the red tape that usually gets in the way of rural towns accessing resources in D.C. 

Last week, the USDA announced the program is expanding to four more states and Puerto Rico. This means there are, or will be, USDA officers stationed in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. A full list of the communities served can be found here

When I first reported on this program in April, USDA officials said they were hoping to hire local community members for the USDA field station officer positions. I haven’t seen any information about who’s been hired in these communities, but I have an unfortunate suspicion that at least a portion of those new hires have not been local or rural. 

Have you seen or heard of these programs going into effect in your rural communities? If so, I would love to know what that’s been like. 

All the best, Keep It Rural crew. Until next week.


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