Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXVI): City folks still seeking country retreats, this time to buy

Just two stories on this topic in the past several days are one out of Wyoming (which is nearly rural in its entirety) and one out of New York.

WyoFile, Wyoming's non-profit news website, reported last week here, under the headline "COVID refugees bring mini-boom to some Wyo real estate markets." Angus M. Thuermer Jr. reports:
As Wyoming’s economy gets back in gear following a COVID-19 stay-at-home lull, one corner of the business world is seeing at least a mini boom — the rural refuge real estate market. 
From Torrington to Cody, Jackson to Sheridan, rental and real estate agents report brisk business driven in part, they believe, by big-city customers seeking new homes they think will be farther from trouble. 
Some of the surge could be called a COVID comeback. But enduring Wyoming qualities, from the state’s small population, to low taxes, rural landscape, mountains and rivers figure in a bounce-back in some communities that aren’t tied to energy production. 
“During the official quarantine, certainly we did get a lot of phone calls — some of them attributed to people saying ‘I want to get out of the big city and [move] to wide-open Wyoming,’” said Ty Pedersen, president of the Northwest Wyoming Board of Realtors and a Cody real estate agent. “There’s a prediction we will start to see more of that. The feeling is there’s going to be a little resurgence here for Wyoming.” 
While Cody has the draw of world-famous Yellowstone National Park, the Sheridan region’s own Bighorn Mountain beauty suggests a broader attraction. “I think in general people are looking for a more rural setting,” said Karen Chase, marketing manager for the Powder Horn Golf Club and community. “I would say they’re looking for a less populated area.”
At the other end of the rural-urban continuum (at least in terms of the state at issue) is this New York Times story about how the Catskills are booming because of refugees from NYC.  Julie Lasky writes of a run on houses in that region.    An excerpt follows:
In Sullivan, Ulster, Greene and Delaware Counties, urbanites with the wherewithal to venture beyond the city are snapping up primary and weekend houses, many in what real estate sales agents say is a financial sweet spot from $200,00 to $450,000. They are forging ahead despite the inconveniences and uncertainties of buying in a pandemic (masked, self-directed house tours; cautious lenders; virtual closings).
An early-quarantine story about a rural area in France that had escaped the pandemic is here.  

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (LXV): Rural California's defiance on masks

The Sacramento Bee explained yesterday under the headline, "‘I refuse to bow to anybody.’ Rural California defies Gov. Newsom’s order to wear masks."  Dale Kasler reports with this lede:
Perched behind the counter of his cramped memorabilia shop in downtown Placerville, co-owner Lorenzo Smith isn’t about to tell his customers they have to put on a mask. 
It’s a matter of principle, he isn’t convinced it’s necessary, and he doesn’t particularly care that Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered Californians to wear them. 
“Most people up here do not like the governor,” said Smith, whose shop is called Hangtown Originals. “The deal is, you have no right to tell me I have to wear a mask. I’m an American. ... I refuse to bow to anybody.”
Newsom issued his order June 18 in an effort to halt a recent statewide surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations since he began relaxing restrictions and reopening the economy more than a month ago. 
But Californians aren’t listening — not all of them, anyway. And there seems to be a distinct split between urban California and the rest of the state. In big cities like Sacramento, compliance appears to be fairly high. In suburbs and small towns, Newsom’s edict is more likely to be ignored. 
Why the split? Some of it’s cultural; as a rule, rural Californians are more suspicious of what they see as government intrusion into their lives. Some it’s political; rural areas tend to vote Republican, and some residents are taking their lead from President Donald Trump, who has been disdainful of wearing masks. Polls show Democrats are more likely to wear masks than Republicans.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Call for Papers: Rural workshop at University of South Dakota School of Law, October 30, 2020

Call for Papers
Rural Legal Scholars Workshop
The University of South Dakota School of Law will host a workshop this fall for legal scholars whose work engages with rural issues. The workshop will be held via Zoom on Friday, October 30, 2020, from 9 am until 4 pm CST.

This conference will focus on works-in-progress about legal issues viewed through the lens of rurality or rural- urban difference. Submissions may encompass any topic that addresses or investigates rurality and the law. To the extent possible, participants will be expected to attend the full day of Zoom sessions and read and comment on other works. If you are interested in workshopping a paper, please submit a title and abstract to Hannah Haksgaard at hannah.haksgaard@usd.edu no later than Friday, August 7.

Final drafts for circulation to other participants will be due October 9.

If you wish to attend all or part of the conference as a commentator without workshopping a paper, please e-mail 

Friday, June 26, 2020

The poorest towns in each U.S. state

I came across this link via USA Todayby Samuel Stebbins and Evan Comen.  It identifies the poorest towns and small cities in each state, those with a population between 1,000 and 25,000.  Of course, I immediately went to my home state, Arkansas, to see what the poorest place was.  It's Bald Knob, population 2,897, 61 miles northeast of Arkansas.  The poverty rate there is 31.3%, and the median home value is $81,900.  Wikipedia tells me that Bald Knob is
located at the intersection of two of the state's natural regions, Bald Knob is often promoted as 'where the Ozarks meet the Delta.' Bald Knob is also a leading strawberry producer in the state, known for its yearly Strawberry Fest held during Mother's Day weekend. It was once known as the leading strawberry producer in the world. Bald Knob was established in 1881.  
Bald Knob was named for a prominent, treeless ridge of layered rock that served as a landmark to pioneers.
Bald Knob is in White County, population 78,753, which is 87.7% white alone, not Hispanic or Latino; 4.6% Black or African American; and 4.4% Hispanic or Latino. 

In my adopted state, California, the poorest place is Orange Cove, population 9,564, which is in Fresno County, in the Great Central Valley.  The median home value there is higher, $129,000, as is the poverty rate, 47.8%.  Fresno County's population is right at 1 million, which is 28.6% white alone, not Hispanic or Latino; 5.8% Black or African American; and 53.8% Hispanic or Latino. 

Others of interest:

Selma, home of the famous civil rights era march, is Alabama's poorest town.  Population is 18,804, and the poverty rate is 41%.  Median home value is $90,200.  Selma is in Dallas County, population 37,196, which is 27% white alone, not Hispanic or Latino; 70.7% Black or African Aamerican, and just 1.2% Hispanic or Latino. 

Roodhouse, population 1,792 is Illinois' most impoverished small city, with a poverty rate of 22.3% and a median home value of $47,600.  It is in Greene County, population 13,886. which is 96.1% white alone, not Hispanic or Latino; and 1.3% each Hispanic or Latino and Black or African American.  It is in the southwest part of the state. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Wyoming v. DC: The ultimate rural-urban comparison

Today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Tom Cotton (R-AR), the junior senator from Arkansas, spoke out against statehood for DC.  In doing so, he invoked Wyoming, the least densely populated state in the continental United States.  Colby Ilkowitz and Jenna Portnoy report in the Washington Post: 
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) argued Thursday that the District of Columbia does not deserve to be a state, asserting that while Wyoming has a smaller population, it has a greater right because it’s a “well-rounded working-class state.”

A day before the House votes on legislation to create the 51st state, Cotton cast the years-long effort to lift D.C. to statehood as a power grab by the Democratic Party. In a speech on the Senate floor, he dismissed the District as a city with little to offer other than lobbyists and federal workers. He made no mention of other defining aspects of the city, including its African American history, drawing outrage on social media and rebuke by some Democrats.

“Yes, Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing,” Cotton said. “In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state.”
 So much to say about this.  One thing I'll say is that Cotton is obviously dog-whistling about race--Wyoming is mostly white, and DC is mostly black.  A more subtle dog whistle, perhaps, is the reference to Wyoming residents being "hard working," the suggestion being that DC residents are not hard working, that black people don't work or don't work as hard as white people. 

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) commented in a Tweet: 
Job shaming! Awesome! I’m in. Great idea. This CANNOT go wrong. Let’s rank the virtue of every profession and if your state has too many workers in the bottom 20% you get kicked out of America. Who wants to start??
But it gets worse.  Cotton also said this: 
Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry?
And responding to this, I saw a Tweet that compared coronavirus cases in DC (where the virus is tamed, at least from now) to those in Arkansas, where the virus is currently spiking. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXIV): Rural hospitals overwhelmed(?)

Two stories today discuss the issue of rural hospitals getting overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients as the pandemic spreads to rural America.  The first is out of Georgia, by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, headlined "Georgia shifts 80 overflow beds southward amid rural virus outbreaks." Johnny Edwards reports that the beds are going to Milledgeville, population 17,715, but when you look at a map, you see that Milledgeville is only about and hour and half drive from Atlanta, even less from the greater metro area.  Here's an except from Edwards' story:
The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency said Wednesday that it will move beds out of the little-used temporary facility at the Georgia World Congress Center and set them up 100 miles southeast inside a shuttered youth military academy. As the downtown Atlanta site was designed to do, Milledgeville’s makeshift hospital will treat patients with mild to moderate symptoms who don’t need ventilators or critical care, relieving hospitals that could be overrun in another surge.
The story quotes Governor Brian Kemp's news release, which says Milledgeville
is more centrally located for many medical facilities throughout Georgia.  We continue monitoring the virus data to enable us to ‘right size’ the resources and response so we can ensure every COVID-19 patient gets the care they need.
Edwards also quotes Amber Schmidtke, an assistant professor of microbiology at Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon.  She said:
I think it’s mainly motivated to help with some of the rural hospital burden, because there are many counties that don’t have a hospital ... And especially in Region H, the hospitals can be two counties away, and some of these counties take 45 minutes to an hour to drive through.
The other piece is an op-ed in the New York Times by two employees of a rural Texas hospital.  Donna Boatright and Jennifer Liedtke authored "In Texas, 6 Critically Ill Covid-19 Patients Would Overwhelm This Hospital."  They write from Sweetwater, Texas, population 10,906, in west Texas, the southern part of the panhandle.  Sweetwater is, the authors explain, best known as the "World's Largest Rattlesnake Roundup."  Here is an excerpt from their op-ed:
With just two ventilators, Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital in Sweetwater, Texas, has been terrified of Covid-19 ever since March. ... Even the slightest outbreak would overwhelm Rolling Plains, which sits on a major highway that carries tens of thousands of travelers a day. 
Rural hospitals in America have been fighting for survival for years, mostly because of their relatively high numbers of uninsured patients.
The piece provides a great deal of additional context on the rural healthcare crisis, and it is well worth a read in its entirety. Lots of local color and empathy-inducing detail.  Plus, there is a video to accompany the op-ed.

Postscript from WyoFile, featuring a hospital out of Campbell County, Wyoming, population 48,133. This is deeply reported story by Dustin Bleizeffer and Mason Adams, providing lots of context on rural hospital closures, particularly in coal country like this area which, like Appalachia, has been struggling with an economic downturn for some time. 

And here is a June 26, 2020 story from the Houston Chronicle, featuring Big Bend National Park in west Texas.  Jeremy Wallace reports, but it's behind a paywall.

Noam Levy reports for the Los Angeles Times in this related story also dateline June 26, 2020. This story, which references what is happening in Texas, Arizona,  Florida, and California, is not especially rural focused, but it does note the major outbreak in Imperial County, population 174,528, the state's most southeasterly county, bordering Mexico and Arizona.  Hospitals as far north as Sacramento are taking patients out of Imperial County, whose hospitals are overwhelmed.   Interestingly, Levy reports an urban-to-rural patient reversal out of Texas, a phenomenon I'd not previously seen:
“We can see the storm coming,” said John Henderson, who heads the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals. 
Henderson noted that several member hospitals in suburban and rural areas around Houston are already being called on to take very ill patients from overburdened medical centers in the city, which is experiencing among the worst coronavirus outbreaks.
Another postscript: Two stories about rural hospitals and clinics were filed on June 29, 2020.  One is on Capital Press, by Sierra Dawn McClain, dateline Bend, Oregon, about the travails of that state's rural hospitals in the COVID-19 era.  I was not familiar with Capital Press but its subhead is "Empowering Producers of Food and Fiber."  Here's an excerpt:
In rural Oregon, a healthcare crisis is festering. Gov. Kate Brown labeled healthcare providers "essential" during COVID-19, but the pangs of the lockdown have thrashed providers. 
In March and April, many rural hospitals and clinics sat nearly empty with outpatient procedures and elective surgeries postponed. Delayed care may have health impacts for patients, and the revenue drop battered already-fragile rural health systems.
The second story was posted on North Carolina Health News and is by Liora Engel-Smith.  The lede follows: 
Federal support to rural hospitals helped some of the state’s most cash-strapped facilities through the first phases of the coronavirus pandemic, but advocates say providers will likely need more support down the line. 
Through the federal coronavirus aid package known as the CARES Act, hospitals got money for care and testing of uninsured people for coronavirus, but urban hospitals, which generally have a larger share of coronavirus patients, got the bulk of that aid.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXIII): The childcare deficit aggravated

The Washington Post headline this morning is "Middle-income and rural families disproportionately grapple with child-care deserts, new analysis shows," and Amanda Becker reports.   Here's an excerpt about the rural issue:
Rural families nationwide had the fewest child-care slots relative to demand across all categories, the researchers found.
But most of the story is not about the rural deficit. Here are two more interesting excerpts about where the deficits are:
Lower-income neighborhoods had slightly more child-care capacity than middle-income neighborhoods, for example, which could be due to federally subsidized child-care programs and tuition vouchers, Malik said.
* * * 
Latino communities were more likely to be child-care deserts than white communities. Detroit, which is nearly 80 percent black, is a “vast child-care desert,” while the surrounding affluent, white suburbs have “abundant licensed child care,” the researchers found. In Milwaukee, the northern section of the city, which is heavily black, has more available child care than the southern part, which is heavily Latino.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Literary Ruralism (Part XXI): The Liars Club by Mary Karr

Mary Karr's memoir, The Liars' Club (1995), documents her childhood in east Texas in the 1970s, mostly in a place called Leechfield.  Like so many best-selling memoirs, this one features a mother struggling with mental illness.  In this scene, Karr's mother has just received an inheritance, and it has "liberated" her to start a bonfire of household possessions, including her children's furniture and toys.  Mary is watching the bonfire, pondering how she and her sister might be rescued.  She concludes that none of the neighbors will come to her rescue, writing:
So I know with calm how cut off we are from any help. No fire truck will arrive. None of the neighbors will phone Daddy or the sheriff.

I picture old Mrs. Heinz standing next door at her sink behind the window she cleaned down to the squeak every Saturday with a bucket of ammonia water into which she squeezed a lemon. She can see us out there. I feel her eyes on me. She’s wiping off the last plate from the drainboard and watching us and wondering should she come out. But she thinks better of it. Mother’s flinging things into the fire like one of those witches out of the Shakespeare play, and old Mrs. Heinz probably peers out from behind the ruffled Priscilla curtains that she copied herself on her sewing machine using dimestore gingham to look like the ones in the Sears catalogue. She probably takes one long gander at that hill of flaming toys and furniture and the picture frames of living fire and Mother stirring it all with a long pole and thinks to herself, Ain’t a bit of my business. The she lets the pink-checked curtain go so it fell across us. The other neighbors have done the same. I feel them all releasing us into the deep drop of whatever is about to happen. Each curtain falls. Each screen door is pulled tight, and every door hook clicks into its own tight eye, and even big heavy doors get heaved closed in the heat, and all the bolts are thrown. I can almost hear it happening all over the neighborhood. TVs get turned louder to shut out the racket of us. Anyone might have phoned Daddy and said, Pete, looky here. This ain’t none of my bi’ness, but…

Friday, June 19, 2020

Black Lives Matter in rural America (Part IV): Militias show up

Screenshot of Twitter post re: confrontation between BLM protestor
and police-supporting counter-protestors in Bethel, Ohio (Part II is below) 
The presence--at at least the anticipated presence--of counter-protestors (right-wingers?  antifa?) has been an aspect of the recent resurgence in Black Lives Matter rallies around the country.  A few clashes have occurred in small towns, liked one reported in the Washington Post a few days ago.  This story by Hannah Knowles is dateline Bethel, Ohio, population 2,711.  Here's the lede:
In what she called her longest-ever Facebook post, Alicia Gee said she was preparing on a cheerful Sunday morning not for church but for a demonstration “long overdue in my little town."

“A demonstration to show my neighbors there are people who care, to show my very monochromatic town that Black Lives Matter,” said Gee, who identified herself as a lifelong resident of the Cincinnati-area village of Bethel, Ohio — population roughly 2,800. It was a testament to the wide reach of the movement against racism and police brutality convulsing the country since George Floyd’s death in police custody, weeks of demonstrations that have swept from cities to suburbs and tiny Midwestern towns that haven’t seen protests in decades.

But the 80 or so expected demonstrators ended up dwarfed Sunday afternoon by some 700 counterprotesters — motorcycle gangs, “back the blue” groups and proponents of the Second Amendment, village officials said. Some carried rifles, a local news station reported, while others brought baseball bats and clubs. Police say they are investigating about 10 “incidents” from the clashes that followed, including a demonstrator being punched in the head.
An earlier story about the Bethel incident by Erin Glynn and Cameron Knight in the Cincinnati Enquirer is here. The headline there is "Bethel police investigating 10 incidents after counter-protesters descended on BLM march."  Among other interesting tidbits, Glynn and Knight report:
The entirety of Bethel's police force, six officers, were at the event monitoring the situation and attempting to keep the groups separated and peaceful. A group of Clermont County Sheriff Deputies who planned to staff the event as well were called away, leaving only one additional deputy to help.
Of course, we've been generally aware of right-wing counter-protestors also showing up in urban areas, perhaps most visibly in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Monday.  One of those protestors was shot by police at the rally where a statue of a Spanish conquistador was removed.

Here's a report of more far-right rural activity out of Coquille, Oregon, population 3,866,  on June 17, by Nicholas Kristof.  The headline is "When Antifa Hysteria Sweeps America.  The panic is a measure of how deluded public discourse has become."  Coquille is in Coos County, population 63,043, in southern coastal Oregon--250 miles south of Portland, as Kristof points out.  He writes:
But Fox News is in a frenzy about rioters and looters, and President Trump warns about the anti-fascist movement known as antifa. So early this month as a small group of local residents planned a peaceful “Black Lives Matter” protest in Coquille, word raced around that three busloads of antifa activists were headed to Coquille to bust up the town. 
The sheriff and his deputies donned bulletproof vests, prepared their MRAP armored vehicle and took up positions to fight off the invasion. Almost 200 local people, some shouldering rifles and others holding flags, gathered to protect their town (overshadowing the handful of people who had come to wave Black Lives Matter signs).
A sheriff from a nearby county, John Ward, warned citizens in a public Facebook post of rumors that the anti-fascists could rampage into his area as well. 
The sheriff explained: 
I was told they are looking for a fight. I am sure we have a lot of local boys, too, with guns that will protect our citizens.
Kristof notes that "no rampaging anarchists ever showed up" in Coquille, but the right-wing militia was nevertheless on guard--just in case.

Earlier posts in this series note what happened in northern Idaho and far northern California, mostly based on rumors of anticipated antifa outsiders.

Meanwhile, my hometown newspaper, The Newton County Times, featured this front-page statement from the county sheriff in the June 10, 2020 edition under the headline "Potential protests addressed":

Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler said his office has received multiple, but unsubstantiated, reports of planned demonstrations in the county and wants to address the issue.  In response, he offered this lengthy statement: 
One of my duties as Sheriff, and subsequently one of the duties of my deputies, is to protect and support the Constitutional rights of citizens.  The right to peaceful assembly was considered so important by the framers of the constitution that they are guaranteed by the First Amendment; those rights are among the first things our founding father ensured.  However, that right does not extent to anything beyond 'peaceful.'  Another of our duties is to protect people and property.  My deputies and I will work to ensure the right for citizens to assemble and have their voices heard, but any violence, criminal activity or property damage will not be tolerated.  We will have additional personnel working during the times of potential problems and will have additional resources to call in if needed.
I want the citizens of Newton County to know their safety and property are our first priority, but, at the same time, we also have a duty to consider the rights of anyone who wants to demonstrate.  We don't anticipate any problems at all, but we will be prepared to respond swiftly in case of violence, vandalism, or other crimes.  Should demonstrators assemble, please don't take any issues into your own hands unless you, other people or your property are in imminent danger.  While everyone has the right to express their viewpoints on any side of an issue, we just ask that anyone with opposing views express that in a peaceful way and not interact with people from another side in any antagonizing way or in a way that will incite a disorderly or violent response.  No matter what my opinions or those of my deputies may be on any issue, we have to ensure the right for all citizens to peacefully have their voice heard.  If anyone is planning to demonstrate in the county, we ask that they reach out to us and open a dialog so we can better prepare to ensure a peaceful gathering.
To anyone planning to come to Newton County with the intent to cause problems or commit crime, please know that not will I and deputies not tolerate it, the citizens of the county won't either.  Newton County has a long and proud history of good, hard working people who look out for their families, neighbors and communities and for your own safety, I would recommend looking elsewhere if you are intent on stirring up problems.  
Interesting.  No mention of right or left, BLM protestors, antifa or citizens militias, though the latter were arguably alluded to in the last paragraph.  Mostly professional and balanced, a bit paranoid and threatening at the end--in a way that undermined the earlier admonition to residents to respond only to imminent threats. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXII): The great (mandatory) mask war

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my pet peeves is a national newspaper referring to state like Arkansas as "a rural state," suggesting that it is rural in its entirety when a majority of people live in urban areas (at least as defined by the Census Bureau).  Nevertheless, I"m going to commit that sin in this post by loosely labeling Arkansas, where I grew up, a "rural state" to contrast it with another state that is primarily urban, my current home, California.  Both states have reported their highest rates of coronavirus infections this past week, but when it comes to mandatory masks, the two states' responses are at nearly opposite ends of the spectrum. 

Yesterday, the governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson (R), said that municipalities could not require residents to wear masks when in public.  He did this in response to decisions by the cities of Fayetteville and, shortly thereafter, Little Rock, to order the wearing of masks in public places.  Here's what the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported in relation to an an extension of the governor's
emergency declaration that would keep in place measures such as the executive orders he signed this week granting businesses and health care workers greater immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits and extending workers' compensation benefits to Arkansans who contract the virus on the job.
[The governor] also noted language in the order giving him and Health Department Secretary Nate Smith "sole authority over all instances of quarantine, isolation, and restrictions on commerce and travel." 
"Cities and counties shall not impose any restriction of commerce or travel that is more restrictive than a directive or guidelines issued by the Secretary of Health, in consultation with the Governor," Hutchinson said in the order.
These paragraphs were buried pretty deep in the day's big story about the coronavirus in Arkansas and were not part of any headline, and I am disappointed that the statewide newspaper shied away from foregrounding this important conflict.  I would not have known of the governor's decision to "overrule" the cities had I not seen it highlighted in my Twitter feed by some progressive Arkansans.

Meanwhile, Governor Newsom (D) today in California ordered the wearing of masks in public places.  Of course, California has been on the vanguard of more aggressive public health orders since the beginning of the pandemic, with a shelter-in-place order since mid-March.  Here's coverage by CalMatters and the Los Angeles Times.  

Do these different decisions (and the fact one state has a Democratic supermajority and other a Republican supermajority) reflect different mindsets by rural folks compared to urban ones?  Does Arkansas (population 3 million, with 42% living in rural counties) have more of a frontier, "live free or die" mentality than California?  The Golden State, after all, is more urban, more densely populated generally (40 million people, 98% of whom live in urban areas as defined by the Census), and more accustomed to regulation?   

Meanwhile, Governor Doug Ducey (R) of Arizona has finally given local governments the authority to require face masks in public, as reported here by AZCentral, and many are choosing to do so as coronavirus cases in the state spike.  Perhaps most bizarre is the decision of the Nebraska Governor, Dave Ricketts (R), to announce he will withhold federal funding to any local government entity that imposes a mask requirement.  Although, now that I think about it, that's no stronger a move than the Arkansas governor doing the same thing by fiat, without bringing money into it.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXI): Montana and Blackfeet tribe divided on reopening

Browning, Montana, near east entrance to Glacier National Park, August 2011
As the number of coronavirus cases and deaths increases in Montana, albeit very slowly and in proportion the state's sparse population, the Blackfeet Nation has continued to keep its territory closed (part of Glacier County, population 14,000)--including the eastern gateway to Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. 
Coffee shop, Browning, Glacier County
Montana, August, 2011

But the western entrance to the park, toward Kalispell and Whitefish (Flathead County, population 90,000), has re-opened.  Here's the coverage from NPR, from which this excerpt is taken:
The Blackfeet Nation, whose reservation borders Glacier National Park, is maintaining a two-week quarantine order and lodging restrictions for non-residents. Restrictions are set to expire at the end of the month, but tribal leaders have already extended them once and could do so again. That uncertainty has businesses dependent on the roughly $110 million local tourism economy looking for ways to survive until next season.
* * *  
Tribal leaders say restrictions are protecting reservation residents with limited access to healthcare, particularly elders, who commonly live with their children and grandchildren. So far there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the reservation.
Glacier Falls, east of the Continental Divide 

I wonder abut the extent to which this Blackfeet decision has been influenced by how hard hit the Navajo nation has been hit in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Prior coverage of the pandemic in Montana is here and here.

Postscript:  screenshot of Twitter feed on June 19, 2020 from journalist/columnist in Flathead County, on the west side of Glacier National Park

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Ghost towns

Angella d'Avignon reports in the New York Times under the headline, "They Live Alone in Ghost Towns"
There are some 3,800 ghost towns in the United States, most abandoned in the 19th and early 20th centuries in favor of bigger cities, or casualties of changing industry. Some languish as ruins, others are designated as national parks. And a rare handful are in the midst of being developed into luxury vacation spots. 
The old silver mining town of Cerro Gordo, Calif., nestled in the high-desert mountains near Death Valley, is one of those. It was purchased in 2018 by two entrepreneurs, who planned to convert it into a “destination for dreamers” — an Instagrammably rustic resort, open to overnight accommodations as soon as this spring.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Capital Public Radio launches "Rural Reports" initiative with tourism/coronavirus story out of northern Sierra

Here's the piece from this morning, by Bob Moffitt, about Sierra County's economic reliance on tourism in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and re-opening. 

A story on Capital Public Radio this afternoon explained that the new "Rural Reports" series will focus on Sierra and Plumas counties in the northern Sierra.  Capital Public Radio broadcasts from Quincy, the county seat of Plumas County. 

Literary Ruralism (XX): Black Boy, by Richard Wright

This passage about Richard Wright's father, whom he calls a "black peasant," comes at the end of the first chapter of Wright's memoir, Black Boy (1945).  Wright's father had abandoned the family in Memphis, when Richard was quite young.  The last time Richard Wright saw his father, prior to the scene excerpted below, was in Memphis, where his father had taken up with another woman after leaving Wright's mother.  On that prior occasion, Richard Wright's mother had gone to Wright's father to ask for money to help feed and support Richard and her brother.  On that occasion, Wright's father had refused to give money but had offered to keep Richard, to have Richard stay with him.

All we know about the work Wright's father did in Memphis is that he was a porter in a hotel.  We also know at this point that Wright's family had first migrated to Memphis from a rural are in Mississippi. Thus, Richard Wright's father's tale is one of rural-to-urban-to rural migration:
A quarter of a century was to elapse between the time when I saw my father sitting with the strange woman and the time when I was to see him again, standing alone upon the red clay of a Mississippi plantation, a sharecropper, clad in ragged overalls, holding a muddy hoe in his gnarled, veined hands—a quarter of a century during which my mind and consciousness had become so greatly and violently altered that when I tried to talk to him I realized that, though ties of blood made us kin, though I could see a shadow of my face in his face, though there was an echo of my voice in his voice, we were forever strangers, speaking a different language, living on vastly distant planes of reality. That day a quarter of a century later when I visited him on the plantation—he was standing against the sky, smiling toothlessly, his hair whitened, his body bent, his eyes glazed with dim recollection, his fearsome aspect of twenty-five years ago gone forever from him—I was overwhelmed to realize that he could never understand me or the scalding experiences that had swept me beyond his life and into an area of living that he could never know. I stood before him, poised, my mind aching as it embraced the simple nakedness of his life, feeling how completely his soul was imprisoned by the slow flow of the seasons, by wind and rain and sun, how fastened were his memories to a crude and raw past, how chained were his actions and emotions to the direct, animalistic impulses of his withering body… 
From the white landowners above him there had not been handed to him a chance to learn the meaning of loyalty, of sentiment, of tradition. Joy was an unknown to him as was despair. As a creature of the earth, he endured, hearty, whole, seemingly indestructible, with no regrets and no hope. He asked easy, drawling questions about me, his other son, his wife, and he laughed, amused, when I informed him of their destinies. I forgave him and pitied him as my eyes looked past him to the unpainted wooden shack. From far beyond the horizons that bound this bleak plantation there had come to me through my living the knowledge that my father was a black peasant who had gone to the city seeking life, but who had failed in the city; a black peasant whose life had been hopelessly snarled in the city, and who had at last fled the city—that same city which had lifted me in its burning arms and borne me toward alien and undreamed-of shores of knowing.  

On farmers as Trump supporters, or not

Here are two stories, the first from Politico and the second from the New York Times (front-page, no less). 

Here's an excerpt from the April 17 Politico story, by Ryan McCrimmin, "White House to give $19B in farmer aid." 
Trump has counted farmers and rural voters among his most solid supporters, and he directed Secretary Sonny Perdue last week to speed through assistance to the agriculture sector as producers increasingly bleed profits and start dumping goods like milk and fresh produce.
The second story, "Farmers Get Billions in Virus Aid, and Democrats are Wary," by Sharon LaFraniere, is more recent and features interviews with farmers who lean both ways, one a Trump supporter, the other not.  I appreciate that effort to make the point that not all farmers are in the Trump camp.  

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Black Lives Matter in rural America (Part III): On cross-racial solidarity among low-income folks

In an earlier post, I referenced the Rednecks for Black Lives piece on Medium, dated June 4, 2020.  I'm returning to it today and quoting it here because it speaks to what I've been working on for a few years now:  How to build cross-racial coalitions among low-income and working-class folks.  The piece was written by Beth Howard, who self-identifies as a "hillbilly and a redneck," saying she grew up in "rural Eastern Kentucky."  After recounting some details of the economic suffering and its consequences, e.g., food insecurity, inability to see a doctor or pay for medicines, in Appalachia and the rural South, Howard writes: 
We’re told to blame Black folks, immigrants, and people of color for our suffering, keeping us fighting each other instead of rich folks, corrupt politicians, and big business who are busy padding their wallets. Too many times we’ve believed these lies. But we don’t have to believe them anymore. We can make a different choice. 
Poor and working class white folks showing up alongside Black folks and people of color demanding justice is actually exactly who we are. For decades the label “redneck” has been thrown at us to degrade us but it’s time we reclaim it. The term redneck actually comes from the nation’s largest labor uprising, the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, when a multiracial group of 8,000 miners fought coal company operators to unionize. ... maybe more than anything [the uprising] created power in the multiracial solidarity of poor and working people. The miners were called rednecks because of the red bandannas tied around their neck to indicate they were union.
Billionaires and the crooked politicians who keep them in power know they are outnumbered when Black, Brown, and white working people come together. That’s why they try so hard to divide us.
Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LX): mental health access improves in Texas

Here is Raga Justin's June 9, 2020 story in the Texas Tribune, "In rural Texas, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought more accessible mental health care."  Here's the lede:
The coronavirus pandemic has created widespread fear and economic anxiety across Texas, and mental health experts and advocates say rural areas — which already had fewer providers and higher rates of suicide and drug overdoses — could see more severe mental health impacts than the state’s urban areas. They are predicting a lingering wave of trauma and depression even after the pandemic’s immediate effects recede and lockdowns lift. 
But it’s not all bad news. Although the pandemic has aggravated existing problems, the speedy rollout of telemedicine may prove to be a boon for rural residents who urgently need mental health care. 
Justin quotes Andy Keller, president and CEO of Texas-based Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute: 
There’s a lot of bad things happening right now because of COVID-19.  But in some ways, people in rural Texas have better access to health care than they’d ever had before. All the barriers to them accessing physicians across the state have been lifted.

Black Lives Matter protests in rural America (Part II)

The Los Angeles Times brings us this story this morning by Brittny Mejia and Hailey Branson-Potts, "George Floyd protests reached deep into rural California. The reactions were mixed, sometimes scary."  This paragraph, which follows a longish anecdote regarding threats to young organizers of a protest in Angels Camp, California (population 3,836), sums up the story:
While protesters in urban areas have been met by police batons, rubber bullets and tear gas, demonstrators in rural California have faced militias, death threats and conspiracy theories.
The journalists report not only from Calaveras County, but also from some other California counties, some with overwhelmingly white populations.
In Tuolumne County, people threatened to bring guns and dogs to a protest in the park. In Lassen County, people shouted racial slurs at a man who protested alone near the McDonald’s in Susanville. The Black teenage organizer of a demonstration in Plumas County got a message on Facebook calling her a “domestic terrorist.”

In a claim he later walked back, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said antifascists had tried to wreak havoc during a demonstration in Eureka, citing “substantiated law enforcement reports” that there were buses full of antifa protesters in Southern Oregon and the Central Valley. 
In Shasta County, where street signs declare there is “No Room for Racism,” militia members in tactical gear showed up to a protest in Redding. Armed militia members also came, at the request of a local business, in anticipation of a protest in the Stanislaus County town of Oakdale that never happened.
Regarding the latter incident, the Stanislaus County Sheriff issued a statement:
This ‘militia’ has no official standing, no authority and their presence was counterproductive to keeping the peace in the City of Oakdale. Their activities were a drain on law enforcement resources and did nothing to protect the city.
Oakdale's population is more than 20,000, in the context of metropolitan county with a population of  half a million, albeit in the great central valley of California, which is generally associated with agriculture and therefore rurality.
This reminds me of the story here out of Idaho.  And don't miss this from NPR's Codeswitch on the "Outside Agitator."

Also, the New York Times has now mapped all Black Lives Matter protests.  I can see the dot on the map representing the one closes to my hometown, which I wrote about here.  One gripe about the New York Times feature, though:  All of the photos are of cities.  The smallest city I can find featured in any of the photos is Petal, Mississippi, population 10,454, essentially a suburb of Hattiesburg.  Indeed, many of the unfamiliar place names in the featured photos are suburbs of major cities.  The second smallest city featured in the photos is Helena, Montana, population 28,190, and the state capital.  Other smallish cities whose photographs are included are Longview, Texas, population 80,455Twin Falls, Idaho, population 44,125,  and Hammond, Indiana, population 80,830.  Some small cities are college towns and therefore predictable venues for protests, e.g., Stillwater, Oklahoma, population 45,688, and Bryan, Texas, population 86,276

Postscript:  PBS reports this afternoon under the headline "Protests in Trump country test his hold in rural white areas."  That reminds me of this from Thomas Edsall of the New York Times, "How Much is America Changing?"  

Friday, June 12, 2020

Big ProPublica story out of rural Oregon: Wall Street profits at the expense of timber communities

ProPublica partnered with The Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting for "Big Money Bought the Forests. Small Logging Communities Are Paying the Price."  The dateline is Falls City, Oregon, and the story is about local government and the apparent diversion of federal funds from their intended use.  Here's an excerpt:
Logging is booming around Falls City, a town of about 1,000 residents in the Oregon Coast Range. More trees are cut in the county today than decades ago when a sawmill hummed on Main Street and timber workers and their families filled the now-closed cafes, grocery stores and shops selling home appliances, sporting goods and feed for livestock. 
But the jobs and services have dried up, and the town is going broke. The library closed two years ago. And as many as half of the families in Falls City live on weekly food deliveries from the Mountain Gospel Fellowship.
“You’re left still with these companies that have reaped these benefits, but those small cities that have supported them over the years are left in the dust,” Mac Corthell, the city manager, said. 
For decades, politicians, suit-and-tie timber executives and caulk-booted tree fallers alike have blamed the federal government and urban environmental advocates for kneecapping the state’s most important industry. 
Timber sales plummeted in the 1990s after the federal government dramatically reduced logging in national forests in response to protests and lawsuits to protect the northern spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act and other conservation laws. The drop left thousands of Oregonians without jobs, and counties lost hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.

But the singularly focused narrative, the only one most Oregonians know, masked another devastating shift for towns like Falls City. 
Wall Street real estate trusts and investment funds began gaining control over the state’s private forestlands. They profited at the expense of rural communities by logging more aggressively with fewer environmental protections than in neighboring states, while reaping the benefits of timber tax cuts that have cost counties at least $3 billion in the past three decades, an investigation by OPB, The Oregonian/OregonLive and ProPublica found. 
Half of the 18 counties in Oregon’s timber-dominant region lost more money from tax cuts on private forests than from the reduction of logging on federal lands, the investigation shows.
Related posts about local government fiscal struggles in Oregon, most related to resource extraction, are here and here

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Police killings of civilians rising in rural America

Here's the report from FiveThirtyEight, headlined "Police Are Killing Fewer People In Big Cities, But More In Suburban And Rural America."  Samuel Sinyangwe reports:
While the nationwide total of people killed by police nationwide has remained steady, the numbers have dropped significantly in America’s largest cities, likely due to reforms to use-of-force policies implemented in the wake of high-profile deaths. Those decreases, however, have been offset by increases in police killings in more suburban and rural areas. It seems that solutions that can reduce police killings exist, in other words — the issue may be whether an area has the political will to enact them. 

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LVIX): A feel good (or "feel better") story from the Navajo Nation

Rural San Juan County, Utah, between Bluff and Hovenweep
The Salt Lake City Tribune reported on May 21 under the headline, "‘A source of hope': 1,500 books donated to students in home-isolation on the Navajo Nation."
When students at Montezuma Creek Elementary School opened their latest home delivery of school work and meals from the San Juan School District, they found an additional gift: several donated books that the students were allowed to keep.

Around 1,500 books were shipped to the school, which is located on the Navajo Nation, last month by a Florida-based literacy program called Bess the Book Bus, and teachers selected titles for each of their students based on interest and reading level.
* * *
While the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for students across the country after schools were closed and learning moved online, remote parts of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County have been particularly isolated. Phone and internet service is spotty at best in the southeast corner of Utah, and many families lack electricity altogether. 

The story, by  Zak Podmore, quotes Charlene Poyer, a third-grade teacher at Montezuma Creek who helped facilitate the donation: 

It’s one of the best things that has happened to our area, I mean, for somebody to reach out to us and think of the students that we are serving.  These books are a source of hope we are able to share, to tell these kids that we are here and we care.
 Montezuma Creek, population 335, is in San Juan County in the far southeastern corner of the state.  Other coronavirus reporting about the Navajo Nation is here and here.  A few other photos of the area are here

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Literary Ruralism (Part XIX): Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

This fabulous 2016 book, Lab Girl, is a hybrid memoir, sometimes sub-titled, "A story of trees, science and love."  The book alternates chapters of memoir with chapters on botany that often serve as metaphors for life, for what is happening in her life.  Dr. Hope Jahren grew up in Austin, Minnesota, population 24,718, and she offers a memorable and sometimes poignant description of the small city, a few miles north of the Iowa state line.  In the first chapter of the book, Jahren describes one aspect of her upbringing in Austin. It reminded me the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities, about which I have written so often on this blog. 

Context:  Jahren's father was a science professor at the community college in Austin, and every night of her childhood, they walked home from his lab at 8 pm.  Here's a description of part of that journey, from p. 11:
We made our way down hand-shoveled sidewalks, past thickly insulated houses that sheltered families who were no doubt partaking of silences similar to our own.  In almost every one of those houses lived someone that we knew.  From playpen to prom, I grew up with the sons and daughters of the girls and boys whom my mother and father had played with when they were children, and none of us could remember a time when we hadn't all known each other, even if our deeply bred reticence kept us from knowing much about each other.  It wasn't until I was seventeen and moved away to college that I discovered how the world is mostly populated by strangers.  

Monday, June 8, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LVIII): Rural Mississippi hospital at capacity

The Wall Street Journal's William Mauldin reported Saturday from Wayne County, Mississippi, "Coronavirus Outbreak Pushes Rural Mississippi Hospital to Brink."  Here's the lede:
The coronavirus pandemic is challenging Mississippi’s rural health-care system as outbreaks worsen in far-flung areas at the same time state officials allow all businesses to reopen. 
Deep in the state’s southeastern Pine Belt, the latest pressure point is Wayne County, population 20,000, which is served by a single hospital that is more than an hour by ambulance from a larger one in Hattiesburg and two hours from the university medical center in Jackson.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Black Lives Matter in rural America (Part I): Protests spread to unexpected places, small towns, flyover states

Facebook post about a BLM protest in Vermillion, South Dakota
Anne Helen Petersen, who writes for Buzzfeed and lives in Bozeman, Montana, started this week collecting information on Black Lives Matter protests in "small towns and rural places."  Her initial collection was on her Twitter feed, and I was skeptical off the bat because it included major cities like Portland, Maine (largest city in Maine) and Lexington, Kentucky (second largest city in that state).  But some of the places she was highlighting were more truly rural, and I appreciate the point she is making.

Petersen also wrote a Buzzfeed story headlined "Why the Small Protests in Small Towns Across America Matter." The dateline is Havre, Montana, population 9,310, where the protest was organized by Melody Bernard of the Chippewa Cree from the nearby Rocky Boys Reservation.  Petersen reports that an African American football player for Montana State University-North (but who grew up in Atlanta), Dorian Miles, wrote this encouraging post on his Facebook page after participating in the march:
SPEAK AND YOU WILL BE HEARD! Today we did what had to be done in Havre. A SMALL town of predominantly older white Americans stood with me to protest the wrongdoings at the hands of police EVERYWHERE....Today we stood together for an injustice. Today people who don’t look like me or relate to me showed love and support. I was overwhelmed to see the people I saw today marching in protest to the public lynchings that have been done by the only people whose job is to PROTECT and SERVE their community.
It's a theme you'll see throughout this post:  Defying stereotypes that rural people are consistently  conservative, static, ignorant and racist.

Here are just a few of the places Petersen's Twitter feed has documented as hosting protests.
Twitter screenshot from June 6, 2020
re: BLM protests in East Texas

Benton, Kentucky
Healdsburg, California
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
Solvang, California
Alpine, Texas
Taylorville, Illinois
Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Ridgway, Pennsylvania
Lander, Wyoming
Enterprise, Oregon
Paoli, Pennsylvania
Kalispell, Montana
McCall, Idaho
Merrick, New York
Belfast, Maine
Riverton, Wyoming
Vidor, Texas
Conway, New Hampshire
Palmer, Alaska
Williamstown, Massachusetts
Canton, New York
Emporia, Kansas
Brownsville, Pennsylvania
Huntsville, Texas
Forks, Washington
Spencer, Iowa
Boulder, Utah
Lynchburg, Virginia (home of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University!)
Hoover, Alabama (high school students arrested for violating curfew)
Andrews, Texas
Frostburg, Maryland
Mt. Shasta, California
Edna, Texas
Lewiston, Maine
Moab, Utah
Hazard, Kentucky
Murphy, North Carolina
Mad River Valley, Vermont
LaGrange, Illinois
Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada
Hartwell, Georgia
Avon, Connecticut
Williston, North Dakota
Craig, Colorado
Moses Lake, Washington
Butte, Montana (along with Missoula and Bozeman)
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
From June 7, Kalispell, Montana
I've seen lots of reporting in the vein of Petersen's, though I believe hers was the first.  Here's a Washington Post opinion piece by Judy Muller about a protest in Norwood, Colorado, where she lives.  The headline is "My tiny, white town just held a protest. We’re not alone." Norwood, population 510, is in San Miguel County, in the southwest part of the state.  

And here's a story by Peter Salter in the Lincoln Journal-Star about protests in Harvard, Nebraska, population 1,013, part of the Hastings Metropolitan Area.   The headline is "'We won’t allow that foolishness in our small town' — In the heart of Nebraska, a peaceful and powerful protest."  Here's an excerpt which, like the Buzzfeed story out of Havre, Montana, features a black football player, one of the only African Americans in the town:
Twitter account out of Nebraska panhandle 
Harvard’s police chief showed up at the protest in short sleeves, because he wasn’t expecting trouble.

“I’m not in favor of any excessive force at all,” Wayne Alley said from the steps of the small city hall. “And I’m for everything that you guys stand for. I wish you the best of luck.”

The town’s only black man was there with a microphone, because he’d started this.

“I woke up that morning and thought we needed to do something,” Jermaine Guinyard said a day later. “Even in small-town Nebraska, we may not deal with police brutality, but we have injustice and inequality to deal with.”

The running back who helped carry Harvard to the six-man football state championship in November was there, too, because Guinyard, his former teacher and coach, needed his help — and his connections.

“My role was putting it out there,” said David Reazola. “Mr. G’s not a social media guy. I have a pretty decent platform. But it was pretty cool how quickly the word spread.”

And that is how an estimated 50 people — many of them students, but some of them families pushing strollers — gathered Tuesday in the center of their small town, in the south-centeral part of the state, to protest the killing of a black man by a Minneapolis police officer, and to call attention to the work that needs to be done in their own community
My friend and colleague Prof. Hannah Haksgaard, who teaches at the University of South Dakota School of Law, shared the image at top of this post from her Facebook feed in Vermillion, South Dakota, population 10,571, home of the University of South Dakota.

Sarah Smarsh (author of Heartland) is also collecting "rural" protests on her Facebook feed and posted some screen shots on Twitter, where she wrote:
I've commented many times on the class lines of political movements. The working poor folks I come from weren't (aren't) civically engaged, not because they didn't care but because, in the hard pursuit of basic survival they had no time to look up from fields and factory lines and retail shelves.   
While many such essential services have not lessened, there is nonetheless a global slowing--of production, of consumption--that, while causing economic loss in one sense, is creating a new wealth of energy in another.  This is true to varying extents for every economic class, albeit amid the energetic payment we will all make to the COVID-19 pandemic.  
Smarsh notes that USA Today has been mapping BLM protests, and Petersen mentions in her Twitter feed this story by Reuters.   

Meanwhile, these shots of a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Harrison, Arkansas came across my Twitter feed on Thursday night.  

This left-leaning commentator from
Fayetteville, Arkansas, the
University town two hours away,
observes the perceived politics and
lack of anonymity associated
with rural places.
I know Harrison, population 13,087, very well.  It is the town where I was born, in the regional hospital previously known as the Boone County Hospital and now the North Arkansas Medical Center.  I grew up 20 miles south of there in an even smaller town, Jasper, county seat of Newton County, population 8,000Boone County, population 37,000, is 96% White, 2.6% Hispanic or Latino, and 0.4% Black.  This post from several years ago is about Harrison and Boone County's history as an outpost of the KuKluxKlan.

I shared these screenshots with my mom, who has lived in Newton County her whole life, and it was important to her to tell me that "the protest in Harrison is organized by a local person and is not affiliated with organizations that are rioting in more metropolitan places." Like lots of folks--apparently including many police--Mom is struggling to differentiate between peaceful protestors protected by the First Amendment and looters who are committing crimes.  (Don't miss this Codeswitch episode on the "outside agitator," including Martin Luther King, Jr., being labeled as such). My mom's comment also reveals her love for the rural and her rural lifestyle; she's always been sensitive when I have written anything negative about my hometown--however fact-based and newsworthy--on this blog.

In any event, three prior posts about Harrison are here, here and here.

In a similar vein, the Southern Illinoisan published this story, by Molly Parker "In wake of Floyd death, rural, white Southern Illinois towns are reckoning with racist past."  Parker writes:
Some of these communities — Benton, Herrin, Carterville, Anna — were “sundown towns” where, by official policy, black people were not allowed after dark into at least the 1960s in some cases, according to research by James W. Loewen, author of the book “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.”
Kalispell Montana, in the screenshot above, is also a place associated with racism; in particular, white supremacist Richard Spencer is a part-time resident of nearby Whitefish, also in Flathead County, gateway to Glacier National Park.

In short, all of these protests run counter to our expectations of rural folks, just like the women's marches spreading to rural places did in 2017.

But then there have been other types of protests this past week, like this one out of Idaho, where people turned out to turn away a rumored "antifa" protest.  The headline for the Washington Post story by Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm is "Armed white residents lined Idaho streets amid ‘antifa’ protest fears. The leftist incursion was an online myth."  A similar report from Humboldt County in far northern California is in the Lost Coast Outpost.  And here's a story from the same news outlet about a BLM protest in the city of Fortuna.  

And while "redneck" is non synonymous with "small town" or "rural," it is often conflated with these geographies--and with the South--in the national imaginary.  I therefore share this piece from medium.com by Southern Crossroads headlined "Rednecks for Black Lives."  

This seems like a good opportunity to also share a story from NPR this morning.  Michele Block, reporting on the hundreds of voices singing, Lean on Me in Washington, DC, two days ago, noted that Bill Withers, who wrote and recorded the song, considered it a "rural song."  She explained by playing an interview with Withers who shared an incident when he was in the Navy and returning home to West Virginia from where he was stationed in Florida.  He had a flat tire while driving through rural Alabama and a man who Withers said looked like he could have been out of the movie "Deliverance" came upon him.  In due course, the man walked to his home and returned with a tire for Withers, and even helped him change the tire.  Withers said incidents like that gave him hope, and it gives me hope, too--just like these protests in rural places give me hope.

Postscripts:  Here's an op-ed published in the L.A. Times on June 9 by a high school student Lilian Smith of  C'oeur d'Alene, Idaho:  "My Idaho town shows how the Black Lives Matter movement can resonate in deep red communities."

The Takeaway with Tanzina Vega did a great interview with Anne Helen Petersen re: her writing about rural and small town where Black Lives Matter protests have occurred.  I especially appreciated the attention to the rural concept of "lack of anonymity." 

Here is the Daily Yonder story on the matter.  

Friday, June 5, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LVII): Oregon

Two big stories about rural-urban differences in Oregon have emerged in recent days. Both implicate the controversy over mask-wearing and other coronavirus restrictions in recent days and weeks.

The first I'm going to discuss is this one on National Public Radio, from Baker City, Oregon, population 9,828, in the eastern part of the state.  Kirk Seigler reports under the headline, "Why Parts Of Rural America Are Pushing Back On Coronavirus Restrictions" on May 27.  Here are the first few paragraphs:
A county judge in Oregon has refused to vacate his ruling rejecting that state's stay-at-home order, though Gov. Kate Brown's restrictions will remain in place pending a review by the Oregon Supreme Court. 
The case is one of several challenges launched recently by conservatives in mostly rural areas from Illinois to Wisconsin to Oregon. They've upended or threatened to upend statewide public health restrictions in place to curb coronavirus infections. They also appear to be bringing the divide between urban and rural areas into sharper focus. 
For instance, Baker County, from where Oregon's most recent challenge stemmed, has one confirmed COVID-19 case. 
"We have no vile threat that it's going to be expanding around here, so why in God's name are you still holding us to restrictions?" asked Bill Harvey, chair of the Baker County Commission. 
Harvey, a Republican, signed onto his state's most recent lawsuit that was originally brought by Oregon churches, including Elkhorn Baptist in Baker City. The judge ruled last week that under state law, the governor must consult the Legislature before extending her emergency restrictions beyond 28 days. 
The statewide order is back in place for now pending an appeal.
The story also features comments from a local government official who supports the wearing of masks, in part because of a relative of his back east has died from COVID-19.  The story continues:
Baker County, with a population of about 17,000, is some 300 miles east of the liberal-leaning Portland metro area. Along the old Oregon Trail, tourism is big here. So is cattle ranching. Both have been hammered economically by the shutdown. Summer rodeos, fishing tournaments and fairs are canceled, among other things.
The other story is from James Ross Gardner in the New Yorker on May 28, "How the Coronavirus Exacerbated Oregon’s Bitter Political Divide."  Here's the lede:
The first time that Samantha wore a mask at work, her manager issued a reprimand. A customer had complained. She was scaring people, the shopper had told Samantha’s boss at the grocery store where she’s a cashier and service-desk attendant. This was mid-March, with the coronavirus outbreak in full bloom and spreading through the country. Although Oregon had yet to detect even a hundred cases, and there were none confirmed in the rural town along the Columbia River where Samantha lives and works, Washington State, just over the river, had already clocked more than seven hundred confirmed cases and more than forty deaths. (Samantha’s name has been changed, due to fears of retribution from her employer.) Because she shares a household with her in-laws, both of whom are in their seventies and, therefore, vulnerable to coronavirus infection, Samantha paid extra close attention to covid-19 and its dangers early on. Covering her nose and mouth, she knew, could help prevent transmission of the virus, and donning a mask during her shift seemed not only wise but responsible, a decision that could save shoppers’ lives.
Yet this shopper accused Samantha of wearing it to boost a socialist agenda, to hype the pandemic, to strike fear in the minds of those wheeling their carts down aisles to procure the week’s groceries. The customer, a former employee at the store, likely held sway with Samantha’s boss, who pulled her from her work station. “So I spent an hour in the office being talked to about how they had to ‘O.K. things,’ and I couldn’t wear it, and they’re going to have to send me home,” Samantha told me.
About a week later, on March 23rd, with a hundred and ninety-one confirmed cases in the state, Governor Kate Brown issued a stay-at-home order, closing businesses deemed unable to maintain social distancing (including theatres, boutiques, malls, gyms, and restaurants without takeout options) and most parks, and insisting that Oregonians keep six feet apart—measures the governor later described to me as “very early and very aggressive actions.” When the grocery chain where Samantha works finally adjusted its policy, at first allowing and then requiring employees to wear masks, there was no vindication, no apology.
The story is well worth a read in its entirety and highlights the mask-wearing debate raging around the nation--at least in many places that are not urban New York and California. 

Postscript from The Oregonian on June 7:  "124 coronavirus cases reported at Pacific Seafood facility in Newport."  Noelle Crombie reports from the central northern coast of Oregon; Newport's population is 9,989.  Here's an excerpt:
The public health investigation into the outbreak began June 2, according to the state. State officials said the initial tally fell below the threshold for public disclosure, which the state set at more than five cases in workplaces with more than 30 workers.

Officials said the risk to the public is low.

On Sunday, Pacific Seafood issued a statement saying it provided testing for 376 workers at its five Newport facilities.

Fifty-three employees and 71 local contractors tested positive.

The company said 95 percent of those who tested positive did not report any symptoms. None have been hospitalized.