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“Calling a family meeting” – that phrase came to Rural Assembly Director Whitney Kimball Coe as she began to think about why it was critical to gather rural leaders, advocates, and allies this fall, even if it couldn’t be in person.
The result is Rural Assembly Everywhere, a virtual festival of speakers, panelists, artists, and happy hour discussions the week of October 26-30.
“Family meeting feels like an appropriate metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish with Everywhere,” Coe said. “We’re calling everyone together, from all places, all regions, all sectors, and backgrounds because it’s going to take all us committing to the future together, and we don’t leave family behind.”
The Rural Assembly is a coalition of more than 400 rural organizations and individuals across the country working to build more opportunities and better policies for rural communities.The Rural Assembly, like the Daily Yonder, is a program of the Center for Rural Strategies.
“Rural Assembly Everywhere is for anyone who feels an affinity for a shared and inclusive world,” Coe said. “This event is for rural leaders and advocates as well as the rural-curious. Our hope with Everywhere is to inspire, inform, entertain, and demonstrate—all in service of breathing life into a new reality that is predicated on mutuality.”
Moving the Assembly online is new territory for a program that is built on relationships, Coe said.
“It is not lost on us that many Americans lack the kind of broadband needed to participate in this event. RA Everywhere is just one way to speak a new reality into the world. It’s incumbent upon us to find other ways to model true inclusivity (and close the digital divide),” she said.
The keynotes, panels, and breakouts will address both current and longstanding issues, such as the 2020 election, the pandemic, gender and race, climate change and resilience, and rural and Native youth leadership.
The event will also include artists from across the country who will weave songs, poetry, film, and humor into the program throughout the week.
- Sarah Smarsh, journalist and author of Heartland and She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs.
- Krista Tippett, host of “On Being.”
- Dr. Danielle Allen, Harvard philosopher and author.
- Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Shannon Kring, filmmaker of “End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock.”
- Wašté Win Yellowlodge Young, Standing Rock leader.
- Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services.
“The line-up is intentional: diverse across geography, sector, race, and experience because this moment demands expansive perspective,” Coe said. “The challenges we face are complex, historic, and global, and rural America is a valuable source of responses and solutions.”
Along with the keynote speakers, daily breakout sessions are an opportunity to meet and hear from colleagues and friends who are working on issues such as climate change and gender equity. Hosted through Zoom Webinar, there will be options for attendees to participate through Q&A and chat.
Meanwhile, Rural Arts and Culture Happy Hours will be informal opportunities to connect and network with other participants.
Several poets, artists, and musicians will be sharing their work during the convention, including Juan Felipe Herrera, former United States Poet laureate, Becky Hill, percussive dancer, Appalachian square dance caller and choreographer, and Rui Fu, a singer-songwriter.
Hosted through Zoom, each Happy Hour will feature a special guest or an organizational host who will offer a creative, interactive format for folks to engage in cultural exchange.