Our Campaign For Rural Progress Is The Biggest Thing We Have Done Yet. Here Is How It Could Help Your Local Rural Organizing Efforts.
This week, we are launching our biggest, most ambitious campaign to date and I wanted to make sure y’all had a little bit more context about our plans over the next several months.
We believe that anyone can organize anywhere, and we’ve built this new campaign entirely on that philosophy. So, if you’re an elected official, candidate for office, professional organizer, or an everyday concerned citizen living in a small town or rural community, then our new national agenda-built entirely on locally driven solutions-might be the missing tool in your local organizing tool box.
We have a historic opportunity to create positive change in rural communities at the local and state level
If we want to take on the biggest challenges of our time, rural people must demand a seat at the policy-making table. This has always been true at the local, state, and federal level.
But in 2021, after years of inaction from the federal government, everything changed. This year, Democrats passed and President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), one of the largest infusions of funding directly to regular people and municipalities and counties in U.S. history.
Right now, thanks to ARPA, local and state governments have access to billions of dollars not available before the pandemic. In fact, ARPA delivers $350 billion for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments and the funds lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery.
But here’s something a lot of people don’t know. Many of the funds available to local and state governments will be available through December 31, 2024. And more than half the states will receive their funds in two tranches, with half coming next year. Additionally, ARPA encourages local and state governments to engage their constituent communities in developing plans to use these resources.
That means we have an immediate need to organize in our communities to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are invested in programs that prioritize small, local businesses and keep rural schools, grocery stores, pharmacies, and clinics from closing while also creating new programs that make child, health, and senior care more affordable and insure individuals with drug addictions go to rehabilitation centers instead of prisons.
But none of this local progress is possible without a network of strong, dedicated local and vocal leaders working to make positive changes one community at a time. This means, we can work with members of our own communities to implement our own localized solutions, tailor-made for our unique circumstances, while at the same time pushing a national agenda to build rural prosperity from the bottom up.
It’s a rural organizer’s dream come true.
We Must Build Rural Prosperity from the Bottom Up
If you know anything about RuralOrganizing.org, then you know we believe deeply that the small town way of life is worth fighting for. And when we say “rural” we’re not just talking about white people.
Roughly one-fifth of rural residents in this country are people of color. In fact, there are more non-white people in our agricultural workforce than white people. There are roughly 2 million farmers in the United States and 3 million farmworkers. Many of these farmworkers are foreign-born people from Mexico and Central America and face daily exploitation because Congress has failed to provide them with work permits.
Indigenous communities across rural America faced centuries of genocide, and still today must navigate structural bias and discrimination due to racist local, state, and federal policies.
Black farmers have long faced discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the discrimination at the agency still continues today. This is compounded by the centuries of systemic discrimination and violence in experienced by the the Black community on a number of fronts.
But we know rural Americans are at our best when we have each other's backs, and we look out for one another. If we allow those with wealth and privilege to marginalize some of us, they won't stop until they exploit all of us.
We need bold federal programs that address persistent poverty through locally driven bottom up solutions—especially, on Native American lands, across the Southern “Black Belt,” in the Mississippi Delta, in Appalachia, and throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
That’s why we are working to ensure small towns and rural communities have the tools they need to reach their full potential. With investments from the Federal Government that empower rural communities to build their own prosperity from the bottom up, we can ensure that the most disadvantaged, marginalized, and distressed rural Americans benefit first.
But this isn’t a fight that will be won in Washington, D.C. So ,while we continue to push for federal investments in our communities, we are also working to build out the capabilities and the capacity of our local and state networks of concerned community members and civic leaders to ensure the federal dollars fund community identified programs that bring back jobs, increase rural prosperity, and ensure our communities are more welcoming and affirming.
Our Unprecedented Opportunity To Enact A Bottom-Up Rural Prosperity Agenda
Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fight income inequality and grow prosperity in small towns and rural communities through the American Rescue Plan and the American Jobs Package.
But unless there is broad support for these bottom-up rural prosperity programs, it is likely that they’ll be cut during the negotiations with Republicans.
So while we’re building out local organizing capacity in rural communities across the country, we’re also calling on Congress to pass key policy priorities that would boost our rural revitalization efforts.
$60 Billion For Bottom Up Rural Development
At the core of our campaign is the push for a $60 billion rural development package. This is a package that was endorsed by over 80 local, regional and national organizations that prioritizes programs, especially grant programs, which ensure the smallest and lowest resourced communities do not bear the burden of debt financing for their recovery.
The Creation of the Rural Partnership Program For Rural Prosperity
For over a year, we have advocated for a strategic program to unlock federal funding for small towns and rural communities consisting of agency leaders who will partner with community-building organizations in persistent poverty rural communities and help them unlock federal resources. As a down payment on this objective, we are aggressively advocating for a Rural Partnership Program initially outlined within President Biden’s American Jobs Plan specifically designed to “help rural regions, including Tribal Nations, build on their unique assets and realize their vision for inclusive community and economic development” and any additional programs outlined in the Rebuild Rural America Act.
A Pathway To Citizenship For America’s Farm Workers
Rural America has long been home to our country’s agricultural workforce which consists of a mixture of self-employed farm operators and hired farm workers. Currently, there are roughly 2 million farmers in the United States and 3 million farmworkers. We are working to pass policies like those included in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. It’s a bipartisan immigration legislation that would provide undocumented farmworkers and their family members with a path to legal immigration status and citizenship, revise the H-2A agricultural guestworker program to address some employer and worker concerns, and impose mandatory employment verification (“E-verify”) in agriculture. The legislation represents the culmination of difficult, months-long bipartisan negotiations that included the United Farm Workers, UFW Foundation, and Farmworker Justice, as well as agribusiness representatives.
An End to Black Farmer Discrimination at USDA
Black farmers have long faced discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the discrimination at the agency still continues. We are advocating for policies that end and reverse farmer discrimination at USDA, and we are pushing for the passage of policies like those included in The Justice for Black Farmers Act. This is a bill that will enact laws to end discrimination within the USDA by protecting remaining Black farmers from losing their land, providing land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers while also restoring the land base that has been lost, and implementing systemic reforms to help disadvantaged family farmers across the United States.
Rebuild Rural Economies in Communities Hosting Extractive Industries
American prosperity was built largely on the backs of rural communities that hosted extractive industries for generations. As we adapt to changing market demands for more sustainable alternatives, investments in economic recovery and ecosystem restoration in these communities are critical to ensuring they too can thrive in changing times.
We strongly support policies that promote sustainable, equitable economic prosperity in coal-impacted places. Policies must address the range of needs facing communities and workers, including community planning, local capacity-building, economic development, workforce training, broadband, mine reclamation, black lung benefits, and more. These include:
Programs to expand community-based planning and capacity, such as the Rural Prosperity Partnerships proposed in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
Greater funding for a range of economic development programs at the Appalachian Regional Commission, Economic Development Administration, US Department of Agriculture, Small Business Administration, and other relevant agencies.
Programs that provide wraparound support and skills-based training to workers, such as the Dislocated Workers Program proposed in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
Policies that ensure affordable broadband access for every household and business in coal-impacted areas.
Greater funding for the reclamation of abandoned coal mines, including funding proposed in the RECLAIM Act that would use reclamation as an economic driver.
Long-term funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund to address the epidemic of black lung disease in many mining communities.
Investments such as these will help create inclusive economic opportunity and restore local ecosystems for generations to come.
Universal Rural Access to the Global Digital Economy
Since home internet was first made available in the 1990’s, market demand has favored the building of high speed infrastructure in areas with higher population densities. As a result, there has been little economic incentive to ensure rural people have access to the digital economy. With so many Americans working from home, attending video conferencing school classes, and relying on telehealth we saw first hand how this digital divide is leaving rural communities behind. That's why we are pushing Congress to pass the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act bipartisan legislation that directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fund high-speed internet projects immediately, so consumers can access broadband within a year.
Collective Bargaining Rights In Every Small Town and Rural Community
In order for rural communities to thrive, rural Americans need to see their wages raised and benefits expanded. While corporations and the wealthy continue to capture the rewards of a growing economy, working families and middle-class Americans are being left behind. We strongly support The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act because it restores fairness to the economy by strengthening the federal laws that protect workers’ right to organize and join unions. It would amend decades-old labor laws to give workers more power during disputes at work, add penalties for companies that retaliate against workers who organize and grant some hundreds of thousands of workers collective-bargaining rights they don’t currently have. It would also weaken “right-to-work” laws in 27 states that allow employees to forgo participating in and paying dues to unions.
Rural Delivery Through the United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service has long been a lifeline for rural populations. The USPS is legally required to deliver all mail to all postal addresses in all regions, at a flat rate, no matter how far it may have to travel. However, in recent years, lobbyists for private carriers have attempted to defund or dismantle the public postal service in order to increase their profit margins. We urge Congress to pass the USPS Fairness Act, which passed the House in 2019, but stalled in the Senate. The proposal would undo the requirement that retirees' health benefits be pre-funded, decades in advance, and put in place by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that placed a significant financial burden on the postal service. to repeal the draconian requirement that the United States Postal Service prepay future retirement benefits. The bill, , would specifically .
This Campaign Has Been Two Years in the Making.
If you’ve been following us for a while then you might remember that after our first big campaign back in 2016, we conducted a national survey asking rural progressives why progressive candidates struggle to engage rural voters. The conclusion from this research was pretty clear. Progressive candidates and campaigns don’t know how to talk to rural voters.
Based on the feedback from our growing network of rural progressives, we spent over two years conducting massive amounts of public opinion research including a few national surveys and focus groups examining the disconnect between progressive leaders and rural voters. You can see the results of that research here.
Through this process it was clear that while rural voters tend to side with progressives on key policies--especially policies like healthcare, education, infrastructure and the economy--rural voters don’t feel like progressives care about their communities.
Today, rural voters say they don’t see solutions to some of their most pressing issues from either party, but it’s especially lacking in the Democratic Party. And honestly, rural voters aren’t exactly wrong about this. Early progressives of the 20th century were deeply rooted in the farmer-labor movement that flourished across the agricultural plains states and the industrial midwest.
But over the last several decades, progressives have all but ignored rural voters leaving behind a power vacuum that’s currently being filled by violent white nationalists and corporate interests.
Well, we’re not waiting around any longer. Rather than sitting back and hoping politicians do something about the decline we’re seeing in so many of our communities, we are resourcing local rural civic leaders to lead the charge, and we believe that if we can network these local leaders together to learn from and build on each other's experiences, we might be able to turn back the tide.
Interested In Joining Our Campaign? Here’s the first thing you need to do.
RuralOrganizing.org and RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund are asking for your support for our Campaign for Rural Progress. Right now, the most important thing we can do is show public support for our bottom-up approach to rebuilding rural communities.
By signing on to our campaign, you’ll help us demonstrate a unified front for policies that rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable.
Don’t worry, no time or resource commitments will be expected from our campaign endorsers. Endorsing this campaign is simply a statement of support for the campaign's agenda. If you endorse as an organization, your logo would be included on our campaign website and public campaign materials.
Everyone who endorses our campaign will also be invited to our national stakeholders briefing on September 19th at 4:00PM EST for an in-depth breakdown of what’s in the forthcoming Senate Reconciliation Bill for rural America.
And, of course, there will be opportunities for our endorsers to join the campaign as strategic partners at the local, state, and national level.
If you have any questions about this campaign, please feel free to contact us by emailing Organize@RuralOrganizing.org.