Seeing Rural America
Yet many of us don’t have the tools and opportunities we need to better our communities. Too many of us lack access to quality and affordable housing, healthcare, education, broadband, and other essential services. People in rural communities are more likely to live in poverty, have higher mortality rates, and have higher rates of jail and prison incarceration.
Policymakers at all levels of government can help address these challenges by acknowledging the strengths of our communities and providing the tools rural people need to succeed.
*Photo above: Soil health event at Northern Plains Resource Council member’s ranch
We are rural
Rural communities look different across the country. While nearly a quarter of rural residents are people of color, there are majority Black and majority Latino rural communities around the country. There are sovereign Native American nations and various multicultural communities with diverse populations, including immigrants moving to rural communities seeking a better life.
After noting how rural Black people’s contributions and even existence have been ignored, Black Appalachian Coalition (BLAC) highlights the “…need for Black storytelling and participation as a precondition for policymaking.” Policymakers can’t support us if they don’t see us. Many rural and regional policies have failed to uplift communities because policymakers have overlooked who we are.
We need rural policies that recognize who actually lives in our communities, eliminate discrimination, and ensure everyone, regardless of what we look like, can thrive and participate in policymaking and implementation.
Tools to enact change
“We can’t truly address local problems without also addressing federal policy. We need people from around the country to fight for federal policies that defend voting rights, end discrimination, and remove the barriers that hinder our ability to improve rural Georgia.”
One thing thriving communities have in common: they successfully support small businesses, family farmers, and local workers to make a good life and participate in the decisions that impact their lives.
Yet, our rural local businesses and working families also need federal and state support, and for several decades have not gotten their fair share of federal and state resources. Too many of our communities are experiencing worse and more frequent devastation from climate-change-related disasters, corporate extraction of resources, privatization of public services, and discrimination. Policymakers should recognize our immense challenges and support ambitious, local-led initiatives for long-term success.
Rural voters support ambitious policy and system change.
Polling shows rural voters support the Inflation Reduction Act, passing a new voting rights act, allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs, and closing tax loopholes on giant corporations. In a recent rural voter poll, 88% of young people and 82% of independents said they would be more likely to support a candidate who said, “A handful of corporate monopolies now run our entire food system. We need a moratorium on factory farms and corporate monopolies in food and agriculture.”
For example, the Ohio River Valley Institute and Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center are calling for federal support to repair homes in southeast Kentucky damaged by the July 2022 flood and ensure families are protected from future flood risks.
HEAL Food Alliance and the Union of Concerned Scientists also note the importance of strengthening support for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color within the agriculture sector and establishing paths toward long-term prosperity and resilient food systems. In the US, most farmworkers are people of color, yet they own and operate less than five percent of the farms. It’s time for policymakers to provide tools to everyone in rural America.