9:00 p.m., June 28
Okay, so what’s the deal with having two guys who work one floor under the Secretary of Defense giving the keynote address at the National Rural Assembly?
Well, it made perfect sense. Hold on and you’ll see.
Navy Captain Wayne Porter and Marine Colonel Mark Mykleby were asked to write a new national security plan for the U.S. They did it about two years ago and you can read a (brief) version of it here. They thought the country had lost its way after the Cold War, that America was trying to impose its will through force throughout the world and that wasn’t working.
They thought the U.S. needed a new way of thinking about itself in the world, so they wrote one. It’s called “A National Strategic Narrative.”
And it has a place for rural America.
Strength in the new world wouldn’t come with force and power, they wrote. The future would be won with strength and influence. And those would come with a country that was both prosperous and secure.
The best “defense” the country can have, they write, will come with good schools. And prosperity will be built with “access to and development of renewable resources — energy, food and water,” said Col. Mykleby.
“This isn’t a gloom and doom story,” Mykleby said. “There is a huge amount of opportunity out there. And there are huge opportunities out there in rural communities.”
“We need smart growth and smart power,” Mykleby told the National Rural Assembly, “and a new energy economy and a new agriculture economy. And smart growth has everything to do with rural communities.” — Bill Bishop
5:30 p.m., June 28
Whose Turn to Be Mayor?
Rural America has strong leaders because we get so much practice, said Nancy Straw, with the West Central Initiative in Fergus, Minnesota.
That’s no exaggeration. Straw figures that that her rural counties need one elected official for every 88 people. In the suburbs of the Twin Cities, there is one elected leader needed for 40 times that number of people. — Bill Bishop
5:00 p.m., June 28
Lots of talk about technology – and a wide variety, too.
Dylan Kruse of Sustainable Northwest gave a presentation of “distributive power” worthy of a poetry slam. It may be hard to get wild about electricity, but Dylan did it. “Rural America is the key to the energy future of the United States,” he said. Or was it shouted??!!
Kruse’s proposal is that there are plenty of ways for rural communities to produce energy – from thermal to wind to fuels. The wrong way to go about it, Kruse said, is to follow the central power plant model, where electricity is produced at a centralized location and then distributed.
Better, Kruse said, to produce power locally. It would cost over $300 billion to build transmission lines needed to complete the nation’s grid. And who really wants those lines running through their farms or ranches? Produce the power locally, Kruse said.
And, rural America needs to realize it has power. “Energy is power,” Kruse said. “Rural America has that power. Let’s use it.” — Bill Bishop
4:40 p.m., June 28
The Rural Assembly Has Its Elvis
Billy Altom was giving an already fiery talk about public transportation – yes, that is possible – when he whipped out his guitar and started singing “I Want a Ride.”
It was a rockabilly number about getting a ride on a bus on a rural route. The rider is in a wheelchair and can’t get from the high curb up into the Grey Dog. “Come on man, I want a ride.”
Altom’s call was for some kind of transportation equity between cities and countryside.
Rural America has about 20% of the population but receives only 6% of the transportation funding. “All public transportation ought to be available to all users all the time,” Altom said.
Or, if you like, you can just take the chorus: “There’s room inside and its nice and dry. I want a ride.”
Altom got a standing O.
— Bill Bishop
4:00 p.m., June 28
The opening ceremonies have concluded; the National Rural Assembly 2011 gathering is officially underway.
Introductory speaker Dee Davis, President of the Center for Rural Strategies, delivered an inspiring oration before handing over the stage to an array of rural advocates and leaders. Their rural “Truth to Power” speeches roused the 300-person crowd and previewed of what’s to come in the days ahead.
“This is an urgent time,” Davis said. “A lot of you know that we’re facing some pretty tough issues, and what happens in the next few months is really going to determine what American life is going to be like in the cities and in the country for probably decades to come.”
“I know how much power is here, I know how much experience. And I also know the incredible successes that you’ve had,” Davis said to the Assembly’s participants. Their key concerns — and the gathering’s primary themes — were delineated for all to see on the banners hanging behind Davis: education, health, natural resources, and investment.
He continued: “Having those experiences and having those insights and having those values [from our lives and work] doesn’t make us different from people in the cities and the suburbs, it makes us alike – more alike than different.”
The Assembly, Davis said, is an opportunity to come up with “solutions that matter, not just for our communities, but for the whole country.”
Building an Inclusive Nation, indeed. — Alex Bloedel
3:20 p.m., June 28
Broadband Working Group
Round-table participants are discussing the myriad issues surrounding rural broadband access. Among the most pressing topics were the benefits and drawbacks of wired vs. wireless Internet, ground-up community concerns and engagement, and top-down infrastructure and policy issues.
Concentrating not only past successes and failures, facilitators, like Edyael Casaperalta, Program Associate for the Center for Rural Strategies who led this group, push discussion toward plausible future solutions for different regions.
Bottom line: despite the common perception that rural communities do not have the economies of scale necessary to justify broadband wiring infrastructure, broadband access is integral to rural economic development and needs to be facilitated.
There will be events at the Assembly centered on broadband each day of the conference.
— Alex Bloedel
1:30 p.m., June 28
Midwest Rural Assembly: Sustainability and Innovation in Rural Communities
“Our hope is to focus us first,” said Jim Kleinschmit to some fifty community advocates and policy-makers present at the Midwest Rural Assembly’s first group meeting. Kleinschmit directs the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s (IATP) Rural Communities program. “As important as it is to be part of these national groups, [those of us from the Midwest need to] share stories among ourselves,” he said.
The regional group session focused on top-down policy issues such as entrepreneurship, infrastructure, and sustainable development.
Primary speaker and discussion leader Colleen Landkamer was appointed as Minnesota State Director for USDA Rural Development by President Obama in 2009, though she has worked in rural policy and advocacy for two decades.
Since July 2009, just after her USDA appointment, Landkamer has worked to invest $2.9 million in rural Minnesota in diverse areas including infrastructure, housing, and job creation.
In the spirit of much of the discussion, Landkamer called for “creative, out-of-the-box thinking,” citing a need for “being creative with how we build our businesses in rural America [and] how we look at infrastructure.”
Emphasis was placed on increased visibility of rural issues and injecting this innovative thinking, a heavy dose of it, into policy discourse. “I see great minds in this room. [The answers generated here] cannot stay in this room. [We can have] great conversations, great
ideas, but it’s got to permeate out,” Landkamer said to the group.
To that end, Landkamer was highly enthusiastic when asked about President Obama’s White House Rural Council, established recently on June 9. “[I’m] really excited about the rural cabinet,” she said. “We’ve never had a president who has taken a stand like that. I see [its establishment] as a huge opportunity, and it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to lose. The more buzz there is about it, the better off we are.”
After the introductory speech and several participant comments, the larger group broke down into smaller topic-specific discussions among those at each table. Issues addressed there included a call for forward-thinking, structural changes in agriculture and food production made by Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, Program Director of the Main Street Project’s Rural Enterprise Center, the non-partisan 501(3)(c) arm of the League of Rural Voters. — Alex Bloedel
Daily Yonder’s Bill Bishop, Alex Bloedel and Shawn Poynter covered the three days of the National Rural Assembly in St. Paul, MN, a gathering of 300 rural advocates and national leaders June 28-30.
Also, Center for Rural Strategies has compiled a library of up-to-date materials on rural transportation, youth, broadband, native nations, education, environmental justice, and more.