Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Brett Tannehill of Alabama Pubic Radio explains that the community, which lies in the so-called Black Belt, was central to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Further, 72.3% of the county's voters supported Obama in the race for President. Nevertheless, one county commissioner voted against the holiday. He explained that he opposed it because of the expense to the county.
According to the 2000 Census, 68% of Perry County's residents are black. The county seat is Marion, population 3,511.
Given the lack of a personal link to Obama--that is, he was not born or raised in Perry County-- it's interesting that the county would take this step. It strikes me as the sort of the strictly local action most likely to happen in a relatively homogeneous rural place, although it also seems possible that there might some day be a national Barack Obama Day.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I recently wrote a short paper about Greensburg, Kansas, a small town that was almost entirely destroyed by a tornado in May of 2007. It is hard to overstate the destruction this town faced. The real story, though, is how the town decided to rebuild: by becoming the greenest town in America. Like many small towns, Greensburg was losing population, especially young people, before the tornado. After its renewal effort, though, the town has a new sense of purpose and hopes to keep and attract residents. The following is some excerpts from my paper illustrating the destruction and the rebuilding:
"The tornado that destroyed Greensburg was part of a massive system of tornados that hit the plains Midwest. Recent research found that 22 storms in total struck roughly within the same time period. The death toll reached eleven, mercifully small considering the incredible destruction. A warning had sounded throughout the town twenty minutes before the tornado hit. One resident described how the local convenience store owner pulled her and several others into the store’s cooler after the alarm sounded. When they emerged, the building around them had collapsed.
In the days and first few weeks after the tornado, it was not clear the town would survive. It was an open question whether older residents and those with young children had the time or resources to rebuild after this level of devastation. As one survivor noted, a town without schools or medical facilities would be a hard place to raise a child. In the end, 95% of the buildings in town, including over 900 homes, were destroyed. The history of whole-town reconstruction is complicated, and not universally happy.
Three months after the tornado hit, Greensburg published its “Long-Term Community Recovery Plan”. Created in conjunction with the office of Governor Kathleen Sebelius and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the 86 page plan describes no less than 21 discrete goals, most with sub-goals. They reflect both the basic needs of the town (“rebuild medical and emergency service facilities”) as well as its ambitious vision (“prepare a sustainable comprehensive plan”). The citizens of Greensburg took an active role in developing the plan. The town held four meetings to solicit input and feedback, with attendance averaging 400 (more than a quarter of the total population).
A little after the one-year anniversary of the tornado, the Greensburg city council adopted the Sustainable Comprehensive Master Plan. The Master Plan describes in detail the new ethos the town is committed to. All new city building will be built following the LEED Standards for sustainable building. The residents themselves are being helped to rebuild their homes and businesses according to similar sustainable criteria. Development is planned in a way to cut down on driving and encourage a walk-able community. The city is even setting the groundwork for generating its own renewable energy, with the goal to power the entire city with this new energy."
Greensburg’s efforts raise a lot of interesting questions about local government, rural culture, and environmentalism. I’ll save those for other posts. For now, check out their website. What this town is doing is really impressive. I, for one, think it is amazing that a small town on the plains of Kansas is the cutting edge of sustainability. I hope you find their story as inspiring as I do. Here's a link.
IN 1935, as part of the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Farm Security Administration, which reached out to rural families as they struggled during the Depression. Roy Stryker, who oversaw the agency’s photo documentary program, captured the strength of American culture in the depths of the country’s despair. The photographs of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks showed us both the pain of America and the resilience of its people.In part because of Ferris's role in studying Southern culture and in part because of these opening paragraphs mentiong rurality, I thought his proposal might be particularly attuned to rural and/or Southern culture. I guess I am looking pretty hard for signs that someone is thinking about rural America as we prepare for the inauguration of a very cosmopolitan President and his incredibly urbane cabinet.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson drew on his Texas roots when he created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, organizations that share America’s arts and humanities with the American people.
But Ferris's proposal is not attuned to rural culture -- at least not explicitly so. It calls for a new cabinet-level post, a "Secretary of Culture," to oversee and coordinate the various federal agencies that have evolved over the years, some from FDR and LBJ initiatives: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, NPR, PBS and the Smithsonian Institution. None of these institutions is particularly oriented to rural matters, although I do find NPR's coverage of rural issues to be quite good.
In any event, Ferris's piece got me to thinking about the New Deal-era W.P.A. Writers' Project, which employed writers to produce a set of travel guides called the American Guide Series. That's a project about which I knew nothing until the New York Times series this year, "Going Down the Road." You can read some of the installments in that series here, here, here, here and here.
What has struck me about these guides--or at least the New York Times coverage of them -- is that they documented rural places. I don't know if this was purposeful or not. Perhaps in the 1930s, rural places were viewed as those most needing documentation because little had then been written about them, whereas cities already attracted a lot of attention as bastions of culture, as inherently interesting places. If that was the case then, it is surely even more so now, when fewer and fewer Americans have meaningful and sustained contact with rural people and places and when rural folks seem to be popularly depicted as more marginal, culturally and otherwise, than ever before.
William Yardley wrote in the first of the NYT Going Down the Road series that the American Guides became "literary windows into an era and its aspirations." Of course, those were also the aspirations for particular places in that era. As Yardley expresses it, in places like the Cascades, progress no longer means "more commerce, more logging, more farming. . . . Now, it’s all about enjoying the scenery." The same can be said, of course, about much of the West. But even there it is only part of the picture, as oldtimers often oppose such development. (See related posts here and here). Further, what do we really know as a society about the aspirations of other types of rural places, those suffering population loss and struggling to survive in the face of agri-business growth and other forms of restructuring? How can/do we value their culture(s) -- and how can we document it so that in another half century it won't be lost for good?
Friday, December 26, 2008
The Christmas season joins people with their loved ones wherever it is celebrated, but in few places, perhaps, does it unite whole villages so thoroughly in communal rituals of music and merrymaking as in rural Mexico.
For nine consecutive nights, starting Dec. 16, villages all across Mexico have been re-enacting Joseph and Mary’s biblical search for lodging. Each night’s procession, called a posada, has led townspeople, marching to the strains of a brass band, to a different home, where humble heads of household . . . . have fed and entertained the revelers.
Read the entire delightful (and sentimental) story here and note the strong rural theme of community throughout.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
FROM the moment it was clear that Barack Obama was going to be president, people who have dedicated their lives to changing how America eats thought they had found their St. Nicholas.
* * *
For many food activists, a shiny new secretary of agriculture was high on the Christmas wish list.
About 50,000 people--high-profile foodies and advocates of sustainability among them -- signed a petition asking Obama to consider the six candidates they believed would best promote and protect "farm-based rural America and sustainable agriculture." But, as Severson writes," Santa had other plans."
Monday, December 22, 2008
You'll see that RWMC is involved in a number of research initiatives, including:
- Rural Women's Organizations Survey
- Gural, which expands knowledge and livelihood opportunities for rural girls
- Migrant Workers and trans-local livelihoods
- Rural Transportation
- Gendering Rural Policy and and Policy Development
- Understanding Trans-local Economic Development and Rural Municipal Decision-making
- Gendering Census and Survey Data
And here is a summary of what RWMC has delivered on just one of those topics: transportation. Lead on this project is Professor Tony Fuller of the School of Environmental Design & Rural Development at University of Guelph, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without access to public transportation in many rural Ontario communities, getting to work or completing household tasks often requires the use of a private vehicle. In this project we are investigating how transportation affects various aspects of women’s lives, how they manage transportation and what options to improve transportation could be considered for rural communities in Ontario.
We started by collecting data and stories from women living in southern Ontario. We found a significant number of women in all types of locations and stages of life adjust their activities and livelihoods around the availability of transportation. The quality of women’s lives in rural areas was tied to transportation in one way or another.
We refined our research tool, and with support from the Sustainable Rural Communities Program, expanded our investigation to the impact transportation has women’s access to employment and job related training in rural communities in northern Ontario. We found that access to a car is important for women to find and maintain employment in these communities. Without access to a vehicle, women are confined to jobs that were accessible by walking, which are often part time and with low rates of pay.
For this project we have delivered:
- a summary document of our research findings
- an Op Ed essay in the Wellington Advertiser
- presentations of results to rural community organizations, women and policy makers across Ontario
- a Master’s thesis
- a workshop for participants at the Northern Ontario Women’s Economic Development Conference in Thunder Bay .
In the coming year we are planning to:
- produce a fact sheet on rural transportation for policy makers and community organizations
- compile current examples of rural transportation systems
- write an academic article for publication
- present our findings at labour conferences.
Resources from this Project Team:
- The Impact of Access to Transportation on the Lives of Rural Women (Dr. Tony Fuller and Siobhan O'Leary, 2008)
- The Economic Disadvantage of Transportation for Women in Northern Ontario (Siobhan O'Leary, 2008)
Clearly, University of Guelph has developed an impressive model of academic-community cooperation, and RWMC is making heard the voices and needs of rural women in Ontario.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I’m spending a few days in
High land values in
Two stories covered by the papers in the past few days suggest the sorts of local government issues you would expect from a rural resort community like
Another local government story is coverage of the meeting of
I overheard the innkeeper at the mid-market inn where we are staying say that bookings are down over the holiday season, compared to past years. He said they “expected
Meanwhile, I also see coverage that the town council of
Toys for Tots sends an SOS.” Clearly, if
Thursday, December 18, 2008
As I have suggested previously, I think Obama's cabinet needs a little cultural and geographical diversity -- in addition to the ethnic diversity that Salazar represents as a Hispanic. Whatever his other strengths and weakenesses in the eyes of environmentalists and conservationists, Salazar is a fifth generation Coloradoan who has worn many metaphorical hats in the public and private sectors during his career. He grew up near La Jara, Colorado, population 877, where he also attended school. His higher education credentials are more elite -- a B.A. from Colorado College and a J.D. from the Univeristy of Michigan. But with his rural and agricultural upbringing in the southwestern part of a southwestern state, Salazar represents diversity on several fronts.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
In case you missed it previously, today is one of those days.I like Prof. Wimberley's optimism. I tend to think that as rural populations diminish, so will their political influence, which is already so low. Prof. Wimberley, however, sees this demographic shift as an opportunity to enhance rural influence -- as the growing number of urban dwellers become increasingly reliant on the shrinking rural population for food and other resources, and to be good stewards of the natural environment.
Today is the day that the world's population becomes more urban than rural. That's according to what we calculate from the 2008 United Nations' data on rural and urban populations.
It's a symbolic date, of course, due to inherent difficulties in predicting such things. There are the unreliabilities of population counts from the world's countries and varying dates of those counts or estimates to say nothing of inconsistent definitions of what's rural and urban across the array of nations involved.
Then there're the problem of new and updated world and urban-rural population estimates that the UN produces each year. They change. Consequently, our estimated date of the rural-to-urban transition changes as well.
At the beginning of the decade, the UN data only showed that the transition would occur sometime during this decade; later the UN said it would happen in 2007. The UN does not offer a specific day, but recently the UN's revised year for the rural-urban balance to change is this year, 2008.
So, today is one of those days that we have predicted this new demographic transition. With earlier years of the data, we had predicted earlier dates for the global shift (e.g., Wimberley, Fulkerson, and Morris, 2007, "Predicting a Moving Target..." The Rural Sociologist, 28:18-22). Our first prediction of a symbolic date--based on the current data at the time--was May 23, 2007. Later data suggested that the date would be July 13, 2008. But the rural population of the world has held its own much better than expected at the beginning of the millennium.
Our latest estimate of December 16, 2008 rural-to-urban transition date is based on a linear projection of the average estimated rural and urban growth rates from 2005 to 2010 based on current UN data. We think this is as good an estimate as any. Alternately, our exponential projection falls on January 7, 2009.
No doubt, such projections will also change as the UN releases ever newer waves of world population data. By and by, when the population numbers stabilize into history, we may be able to look back and see more precisely when the rural-urban transition actually occurred.
As demographer Nathan Keyfitz (1971, "Models," Demography 8:571-580) once said, demographic predictions are interesting but are an "all-but-impossible prediction of the future." Given our experience at predicting the rural-urban transition date, we agree. But as Keyfitz adds, "the most interesting facts are those relating to the future." So, we keep on trying to predict the future rather than the past.
Regardless of whether the date that has passed, lies in the near future, or is upon us today, the significance of this event is that the world's urban population becomes more and more dependent on rural people and resources as the historic balance toward the weight of the urban population shifts further and further away from the rural.
But this does not mean that rural people and places have become less important. Rather, the smaller proportion of world and its space that is rural has become even more important in supporting both the urban and rural peoples' needs for rural resources.
Tell your students. Tell our politicians and governments. Tell everyone. More of us are depending upon a smaller share of the rural world than ever before. Since we are all vitally dependent upon the rural people, resources, and environment, we should pay greater attention to their needs. The time is now.
Indeed, Gail Collins implicitly touches on rural NY in her December 18 column about "Ms. Kennedy" in which she speculates about her willingness to "do Utica." That city's population is 60,651, so it's closer than Rochester or Syracuse to being nonmetropolitan, and it apparently suffers from some of the consequences of restructuring associated with micropolitan places. Collins continues:
And it’s easy to imagine Kennedy doing a Hillary-like “listening tour,” having round-table discussions about the dairy compact or broadband access while the press corps gently naps in the rear row.Collins also writes about how well Hillary Rodham Clinton fared in New York's rural/ag milieu:
I remember watching Hillary tour the fair in Syracuse with her family in tow, stopping at a booth that featured a teeny table with teeny teacups and a sign: “Reserved for the Clintons.” Bill and Hillary, instantly perceiving their duty, pulled up two teeny chairs and plopped right down.I guess Hillary was well served by her time as first lady of Arkansas. Caroline Kennedy may not have anything similar in her background, but as Collins suggests, she could adapt.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
“The results of this investigation paint a picture of something akin to a secret society residing within the Interior Department that was colluding to undermine the protection of endangered wildlife and covering for one another’s misdeeds.”The inspector general's report was particularly critical of the conduct of Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, although it did not accuse her of any illegality.
Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group, portrayed Ms. MacDonald’s case as a symbol of a broader pattern of manipulation of science under the Bush administration.
“Over and over again, in agency after agency,” Ms. Grifo said, “we’ve seen where special interests bump up against scientific determinations, the science is set aside.”
Monday, December 15, 2008
Most non-metro, persistent poverty counties are in the South. (See a USDA ERS report here). Among this particular group of counties, Obama drew support primarily from counties with significant Black populations. For example, most of the non-metro, persistent poverty counties that lie along the lower Mississippi River Delta—in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana—supported Obama. Most of these counties also supported Kerry in ’04 and Gore in ’00, as well as Clinton in the '90s Presidential contests.
Among the delta region counties in Mississippi that did not support Obama are Warren County, Mississippi (population 49,644), where McCain edged out Obama with 51% of the vote. Interestingly, Warren County, where blacks are 43% of the population, is the only Mississippi county bordering the river that does not share the persistent poverty designation. The poverty rate is nevertheless high there, at 18.7%. Persistently poor counties farther east in the state tend to have higher percentages of white residents, and they tend to vote Republican. 2008 was no exception.
Like Mississippi, Louisiana is a study in contrasts in terms of how its 24 persistently poor, non-metro parishes voted. Persistent poverty was not a predictor of how any given parish voted; race of voters was. McCain easily won most of these parishes, with Obama carrying only those where blacks are a majority of the population. East Carroll (population 9,421; 67% black), Madison (population 13,728; 60%), and Tensas (population 6,618; 55% black) parishes on the Mississippi River (and Mississippi state line) supported Obama by 64%, 58%, and 54%, respectively, but McCain won 60% of the vote in Concordia Parish (population 20,247), just south of those three and only 38% black.
Persistently poor parishes in other parts of the state—all with minority black populations—also supported McCain. In Sabine Parish (population 23,459; 18% black), McCain won a whopping 75% of the vote, while in neighboring Natchitoches (population 39,080; 38% black), McCain garnered a more moderate 53%. Tangipahoa (population 100,588; 28% black) and Washington (population 43,926; 31% black) parishes in the southeast part of the state are also persistently poor, with significant but not majority black populations. They voted for McCain 65% and 66%, respectively. Even in Claiborne Parish (population 16,851) on the Arkansas state line, where blacks are 47% of the population, McCain won 55% of the vote. Thus, a race-linked trend is evident throughout the state’s persistently poor, non-metro parishes.
A quick look at a smattering of persistently poor non-metro counties across the South—from Mississippi to North Carolina—reveals similar results. As a general rule, only counties with majority black populations supported Obama. Because most persistent poverty, non-metro counties in the South have significant black populations, a map highlighting these counties looks very similar to a map showing the counties Obama won. I’ve reproduced the persistent poverty map above; the electoral map is available here (click on “county level” in upper left corner). The so-called black belt is evident in both. What’s stunning to me is that in most of these counties, unless blacks are a majority of the population, McCain probably won. In many, many counties, the percentage of voters supporting Obama was within a couple of percentage points of the proportion of black residents in the county.
What’s equally stunning—at least to me—is that race of voter appears to be a strong predictor of party support at the Presidential level in elections over the past 20 years. If you slide your cursor over the tab at center left on the county-level ’08 map, you will see that most persistent poverty, non-metro counties supported the same party’s Presidential candidates in the ’92, ’96, ’00, ’04 and ’08 races. (The greatest exceptions are seen in Louisiana, where persistently poor white voters, along with most of the state, supported Clinton in ’92 and ‘96).
White people in rural, long-time pockets of poverty tend to vote Republican. Black people living in rural, long-time pockets of poverty tend to vote Democratic. So, a good argument can be made that race of the candidate did not drive voter choice among these populations. Race of the voter—long party-aligned—did. While Obama pretty clearly attracted black voters in the South, in fact, the Democratic Party has long had a good hold on most of these voters. On the other hand, most poor white voters in the South appear to have long been loyal Republicans. This seems consistent with some recent analysis published over at the Daily Yonder. They found that “[r]ural Republican communities on average have lower incomes and less education than rural Democratic communities,” divisions that are growing as people migrate. The Yonder study does not analyze on the basis of race, but its report suggests that being poor and rural doesn’t necessarily lead to a preference for Democratic administrations. Also, the Yonder's analysis is of the nation's rural places, and so it surely reflects the phenomenon of rural gentrification, which is not a major force in the South.
For analysis of the Southern vote in the ’08 race, see stories in the Daily Yonder here, here and here. See also Adam Nossiter’s NYT story about Southern voters here. My other posts on this and related topics are here and here. Read Part I of this series here, and Part II here.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I wrote about the Smithfield plant in an earlier blog post, following an immigration raid there last year. Interestingly, the diminished number of Latina/o workers in the wake of that raid, coupled with greater numbers of African-American workers at the plaint, is believed to have assisted the union cause.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Brooks says that the exurbanites' desire for such meeting places responds to their realization that they missed "community and social bonds." He goes on to argue that Obama's half-century infrastructure plan should take these desires into account, helping "create suburban town squares" and other "focal points" such as charter schools and pre-K and national service centers and the like.
If you asked people in that age of go-go suburbia [the 1980s and 1990s] what they wanted in their new housing developments, they often said they wanted a golf course. But the culture has changed. If you ask people today what they want, they’re more likely to say coffee shops, hiking trails and community centers.
Of course, what is largely missing from Brooks' vision--and more importantly (I presume) from Obama's--are the infrastructure needs of rural places. Brooks' call for investment and planning that respond to exurban needs would presumably have an impact in rural places--after all, many in exurbia see themselves as rural, of a sort. At a minimum, exurbanites tend to be closer to rural places. But neither Brooks nor those who wrote letters in response to his column are taking up the needs of the forgotten fifth of our population who live in rural and/or nonmetropolitan places. They may already have the structures that facilitate community -- the structures that exurbanites are longing for -- but they are not without their own infrastructure needs, such as for public and other transportation, child-care center, and better schools. Rurality may be associated with organic change and lack of outside intervention, but there's no reason it has to be that way.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Oxford Project, photographs by Peter Feldstein, text by Stephen G. Bloom, hardcover, 264 pages, Welcome Books. List price: $50
In 1984, Peter Feldstein photographed 670 of the 676 residents of Oxford, Iowa. Twenty years later he photographed them again. From the flashing images of Hunter Tandy at 9 and 30 years old on its holographic cover to the photographer's self-portrait on the last page, each picture is worth a thousand words, and each pair of portraits is fair trade for an entire novel. Buckskinners-turned-evangelicals, old hippies, children, bikers, farmers, waitresses, widows, euchre-players, orphans and truck drivers — each photographed in black-and white, simply standing in front of a sheet of canvas or a concrete wall, the page accompanied by the words they offer up in front of the camera. The real story unfolds in the sag or thrust of a shoulder, the glimmer in the eyes, the jut of a hip or the wear of a pair of shoes. At 5 and 24, 15 and 45, at 50 and 70 — each set of portraits asks, who will you be in 20 years? Who were you 20 years ago? And what would those two of you think of one another?Happy reading.
While Kristof's proposal could be seen as disrespectful to farmers, his column does suggest a concern for small towns, for rural places. Indeed, he holds himself out as a voice of experience on such places, noting his upbringing on a family farm in Yamhill, Oregon. He argues that the USDA undermines towns like Yamhill by fostering agri-business.
For me, Kristof's column revived a concern I've had for some time: making rural policy through the Dept. of Agriculture does not necessarily serve rural communities well. After all, as Kristof notes, a very small number of rural residents are engaged in farming. So, while I have plenty of gripes about U.S. farm policy, and I'm open to re-naming the Dept. of Agriculture, I'm not sure that renaming it the Dept. of Food is going to be beneficial for rural communities. As long as agriculture and/or food are the labels given to the umbrella institution for making rural policy, the needs of populations, communities, and economies in rural America--especially those which are not ag based -- are going to continue to be overlooked by the federal government.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
“It’s not just handing out a box here or there anymore,” said Peggy Grimes, executive director of the Montana Food Bank Network, which covers the state. “A lot of effort goes into thinking outside the box. It’s becoming the focus of food banking.”
Grimes' organization partners with the Montana State Prison, where those incarcerated can or otherwise process a great deal of donated produce, fish and meat. Grimes explains that this arrangement allows them to accept donations that they would otherwise have to pass up, given the food's short life span and the size of the state.
I am reminded of the California Report story which I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago. In Fresno, California, the food bank is delivering food to needy residents who would otherwise have difficulty getting to the distribution point.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Cooperation among politicians, environmentalists and timber industry could help save Montana's small towns, among other laudable goals
A scramble is under way here in Montana to save the historically important, culturally resonant timber industry — once a pillar of the state’s identity, now under siege as demand for housing and wood products has plummeted in the national economic downturn.The reasons for saving Montana's "roughly 200 interconnected sawmills, pulp buyers and family-owned tree-cutting contractors" are environmental as well as economic. Those with the skills to work the woods helps keep them both beautiful and safe. Mary Sexton, who directs the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation, explains: “Our fear is that we could lose our infrastructure — the base of knowledge and experience of working in the forest.”
Here's the part that implicates saving Montana's towns by fending off real estate development and speculation.
Groups like the Wilderness Society, which is working on contracts to expand lower-cost wood supplies to mills . . . say that working forests with controlled harvests of trees are healthier, safer and more likely to be preserved, and that small towns like Seeley Lake with an anchoring employer are less prone to real estate speculation and development.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Here's an excerpt from Rich's column:
In his 20th-anniversary reflections, Halberstam wrote that his favorite passage in his book was the one where Johnson, after his first Kennedy cabinet meeting, raved to his mentor, the speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, about all the president’s brilliant men. “You may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say,” Rayburn responded, “but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”Of course, it is not only those with rural pedigrees who have common sense and practical experience -- who may have "run for sheriff once." Nevertheless, there is a great deal to say for a little diversity across the rural-urban axis when you're running a country where rural residents represent a substantial minority of almost one-fifth of the population.
Halberstam loved that story because it underlined the weakness of the Kennedy team: “the difference between intelligence and wisdom, between the abstract quickness and verbal facility which the team exuded, and true wisdom, which is the product of hard-won, often bitter experience.”
When I first saw the county-level map (select “county leaders” in upper left corner) from the ’08 Presidential election, I could hardly take my eyes off that red blob that is
Seeing the map measuring which counties and states voted for McCain by higher margins than they voted for George W. Bush four years ago was worse still.
Here is how the NYT characterized
InIndeed, somewhat ironically, the only blue parts of Arkansas on this latter map (the one showing political movement; not just which counties supported whom in ’08) are the parts that (1) are historically most Republican, and so had room to move left, particularly under the influence of newcomers to these amenity-rich counties; (2) the parts with significant numbers of African American voters, mostly in the Mississippi Delta; and (3) the most urban place in the state -- the center of the greatr Little Rock metropolitan area.
, which had among the nation’s largest concentration of counties increasing their support for the Republican candidate over the 2004 vote, “there’s a clear indication that racial conservatism was a component of that shift away from the Democrat,” said Jay Barth, a political scientist in the state. Arkansas
To say that I am disappointed that
But I would like to think that racism was not the only reason
Also relevant is the fact that Obama didn’t set up a single campaign office in
Or, maybe Arkansans has more than its share of bigots because the bad news doesn’t stop with the vote in the Presidential race.
Many experts did not expect the measure to pass with Democrats nationwide flooding the polls to support Mr. Obama for president. Prominent politicians, including former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, publicly opposed the ban. Critics ran television advertisements of foster children pleading with voters not to make it harder for them to find families.
But conservatives mounted a grass-roots campaign, mainly through church groups, that framed the state’s case-by-case approach to adoption requests as an affront to traditional family values.
Brown's story also quotes Jay Barth, a professor political science at Hendrix College in Conway.
"I think white Arkansas Democrats felt cross-pressured in this race. . . . They didn't want to vote for what they viewed as Bush's third term, but they also couldn't bring themselves to vote for Barack Obama. . . . One response was just to bow out of voting, and their absence probably helped this [adoption qualification] proposal succeed."This op-ed piece by Dan Savage also appeared in the New York Times and was one of the most emailed items on Nov. 12. Savage talks about how unfair the law is to members of the LGBT community, while also providing relevant data about the need for adoptive parents in
Right now, there are 3,700 other children across
in state custody; 1,000 of them are available for adoption. The overwhelming majority of these children have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their heterosexual parents. Arkansas
Even before the law passed, the state estimated that it had only about a quarter of the foster parents it needed. Beginning on Jan. 1, a grandmother in
cohabitating with her opposite-sex partner because marrying might reduce their pension benefits is barred from taking in her own grandchild; a gay man living with his male partner cannot adopt his deceased sister’s children. Arkansas
It is easy to attribute these election outcomes to rural voters, to the folks who are varyingly stereotyped as (1) uneducated, anti-government, and close-minded or (2) traditional, hard-working, salt-of-the earth types. In fact, attributes of rural societies are probably relevant to both outcomes – McCain’s landslide and the landslide to ban gay and lesbian families from adoption. After all, the initiative about adoption qualifications passed with 57% of the vote. An initiative to ban gay marriage passed in 2004.
As for the apparent antipathy of many Arkansans toward members of the LGBT community, a study of the 2004 election showed that gay marriage was a critical issue for rural voters in the race for the Presidency. The Daily Yonder wrote about it here, discussing the study by political scientist Peter Francia. Here’s an excerpt:
Francia runs through the usual list of differences: rural Americans attend church more often than urban residents; they are more likely to adopt a literal interpretation of the Bible; rural residents are more likely to be married, to own a gun and to own a house. Rural residents in 2004 were twice as likely as urban residents to support the Iraq War. But rural residents are also more culturally conservative — and in 2004, 71 percent of rural residents said their cultural disagreements with Democrat John Kerry led them to vote for George Bush.
The most important factor in how rural residents voted in 2004 was gay marriage, Francia found. More than tax cuts, guns or the Iraq War, opposition to gay marriage moved rural voters. Francia wrote, “In short, gay marriage appears to have been the dominant cultural issue of 2004 and was important in understanding the success of George W. Bush among rural voters."
So, does rurality explain these election outcomes in Arkansas? Is
Well, a story in the NYT earlier this year characterized
Apart from these numerical thresholds,
Having said that, I am guessing that a higher percentage of voters in
Homophobia and racism have been tempered in our nation in recent years, I believe, as more individuals have had opportunities to live and work among persons of color and LGBT folks. As Arkansans increasingly have those experiences, intolerance fed by ignorance will surely fade.