Monday, July 31, 2023

Britain's rural reaches as places of "profound inequality"

Rebecca Smith, author of Rural:  The Lives of the Working Class Countryside (Harper Collins 2023), published an essay/excerpt in the New York Times this weekend titled "The English Countryside is a Place of Profound Inequality."  Graythwaite is an English manor in Cumbria, in the Lake District, where Smith grew up in a cottage that Here's the gist of it: 
[F]or the landless who work and belong to the British countryside but do not own a piece of it, it’s a place of profound inequality. Damp, cold and underresourced but beautiful.

When I was growing up on Graythwaite, it was still possible to live, work and raise a family in some of the most beautiful parts of England on a working-class wage. That’s less true now. Rural Britain, long a scenic playground for the rich, is in danger of becoming only that, for tourists, second-homers and wealthy retirees.

Hawkshead, about five miles from Graythwaite, is one of the prettiest villages in the Lake District. It used to have two banks, a police station, four pubs, cafes and businesses.
* * *
These days, there are still lots of cafes, but now the police station is apartments, one bank is a gallery, and the other one is a ticket office for a Beatrix Potter attraction. Many of the village homes are vacation rentals or second homes, empty for most of the year, pushing the prices higher for the few homes that do go up for sale. There were always bus trippers, but the streams of tourists at this time of year, its busiest, make it feel a bit like a rural Disneyland.
* * *

In some of the villages around where I grew up, as many as 80 percent of the houses are second homes, according to housing advocates.

Over and over again, people who grew up or made a life there have been forced to make way for others. (In Dinorwig, a former slate-mining town in Wales that is popular with visitors, a schoolteacher told The Guardian that her family was evicted by a landlady who admitted that she could make four times as much by renting their home to tourists.) These visitors spend money in the local shops, but they don’t put children in the school. They don’t become part of the church congregation. A way of life slowly suffocates.

In part, Smith's British story is one of rural gentrification like we're seeing throughout the United States of late.  

Richard Benson's review of Rural in The Guardian last month includes this passage about her book: 

Its strength is Smith’s sharp eye for new examples of urban money breaking up the relationships between local people and their landscapes. Corporations who offset their pollution by planting thousands of trees in inappropriate locations where the saplings will die off anyway; absentee landlords who shorten tenancy agreements so farmers can’t plan long-term improvements of the land; the gentry sacking estate workers and hawking their heritage to the leisure industry. For the roughly 20% of Britons who live in rural areas, such trends debilitate in the same way that gentrification does in cities. 

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Chronicle of Higher Education again turns to rural, this time with a "Farm-to-Table" frame on agricultural education

I've noticed the Chronicle of Higher Education paying a great deal of attention lately to rural students and rural colleges and universities.  Then this past week, they posted a video "The Science and the Beauty:  A Farm-to-Table Story."  Here's the text accompanying the video: 

How much do Americans understand about the land on which we depend for food? How does education contribute to an appreciation of agriculture? The farm-to-table movement, which promotes direct sourcing of fresh, locally grown ingredients for communities, has helped foster greater interest in learning about and valuing where our food comes from. Colleges play a key role in developing, supporting, and appreciating that movement, and, through agricultural programs and cooperative extension services, farming in general. This short film explores how ancestral knowledge, education and awareness, research, innovation, community engagement, and entrepreneurship foster food production and distribution, through the stories of several Louisianans with ties to Southern University and A&M College, in Baton Rouge.

Nicholas Victorian, from 4Vics Farms LLC, in New Roads, La., began his career by attending free agriculture workshops at Southern U. “It’s all about the knowledge,” he observes about sustainable farming.

Lanie Vernon, a Southern U. alumnus, stresses the importance of educating younger generations about self-sustainability and growing food. A master gardener, he notes, “We live on this planet, so we try to be good stewards of the planet.”

L’Asia George, who hails from a farm family, recently graduated from Southern U. Her studies brought her closer to her agricultural roots and inspired her to help organize a campus farmers’ market. Today, she teaches her community about nutrition and health. “My world opened up through research with agriculture, and it brought me back here. And I was able just to see the science and the beauty,” she says.

The Chronicle presents this as part of a yearlong "visual series that highlights the challenges facing first-generation students and others. The series is part of the Different Voices of Student Success project."

This post is about another recent Chronicle feature in the same vein:  rural and first gen. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

Brookings recommendations for this year's Farm Bill

Tony Pipa wrote this week on a Brookings Institute blog under the headline, "5 recommendations from Reimagine Rural for the 2023 Farm Bill and federal implementation."  "Reimagine Rural" is Brookings' rural podcast, which was new this year.  Here's an excerpt from Pipa's post, the second in a two-part series of takeaways from the podcast: 
The stories captured in the first season of the Reimagine Rural podcast offer important lessons at a pivotal policy moment for equitable rural development in the U.S. The current Congress is negotiating a new Farm Bill, the legislation agreed upon every five years that sets agricultural subsidies and authorizes the rural development programs managed by USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Implementation is also underway for some of the most consequential place-based federal resources approved this century through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPs and Science Act (CHIPS), and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). All these pieces of legislation implicate rural places to a significant degree, either through programs exclusively focused on rural—or through programs that will necessarily include rural to a large degree.

To enable policy solutions that maximize the public benefit of these federal resources, the lessons from Reimagine Rural suggest a multi-pronged strategy that could be effective in the immediate term.
Here are the five items listed.  You'll have to look to the blog itself to learn more of the details on each.
1. Shift the mindset from decline to opportunity

2. Invest in readiness

3. Improve coherence

4. Invest at a meaningful scale

5. Increase transparency

The first post in this two-part series on takeaways from the Reimagine Rural podcast is here

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Shasta County, California declares itself a 2d amendment sanctuary

Jessica Garrison reported a few days ago for the Los Angeles Times under the headline, "Shasta supervisors declare county a 2nd Amendment fortress in ‘war on guns.’"  Here's the lede:  
After gaining national attention for dumping Dominion Voting Systems and becoming the largest entity in the United States to resort to hand-counting ballots, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday waded into another issue roiling right-wing America: an unwavering defense of gun rights.

By a 4-0 vote, the board approved a resolution declaring that the county would “use all lawful means at its disposal to support and defend the Second Amendment.”

Supervisor Patrick Jones, whose day job is managing his family’s gun store in Redding, said the largely symbolic measure was necessary because the 2nd Amendment in California has been treated as a “second-class right,” with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and other lawmakers in Sacramento making frequent efforts at stricter gun control.

The resolution had come before the board earlier this year in a more dramatic form. Jones introduced a measure in February that had been drafted by the California Rifle and Pistol Assn.

As originally drafted, the resolution called for county employees to review the county’s support for the 2nd Amendment every year. It also gave the Board of Supervisors, and county staff, “the right not to enforce” any state or federal laws that they deemed a violation of the 2nd Amendment “as originally written and intended.”

Here's a quote from Supervisor Mary Rickert, who runs a ranch and who voted against the measure, noting that her husband "has a shotgun by the door tonight.  That shotgun is going to be there tomorrow."  In other words, she doesn't believe anyone is coming for Shasta County's guns. 

And here's more from the story on the resolution itself: 

The measure that came before supervisors Tuesday had been significantly reworked with the input of the county’s lawyers. ...

The new resolution clarifies that the county intends to adhere to state and federal laws. But it also takes sharp aim at the whole concept of gun control and questions the motivations behind persistent calls from Newsom and fellow Democrats for stricter regulation for firearms.

“The Board of Supervisors believes that the California Legislature has passed laws that will be determined to be unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, and continues to pass laws that will be determined to infringe, unconstitutionally, upon people’s rights under the Second Amendment,” reads one article in the lengthy resolution.

You'll find many more posts about Shasta County on this blog. 

Postscript:  Here's Susanne Baremore's essay in the Los Angeles Times commented on the Shasta County move. Baremore, a resident of Redding, the county seat, and "concerned citizen" writes: 

In any other county, a resolution proclaiming a 2nd Amendment sanctuary might have been interpreted as a routine symbolic gesture allowing veterans, gun owners and sundry other “patriots” a public moment of pride in their heritage and rural lifestyle. In Shasta County, which passed such a resolution this week, there is a lot more to it.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shasta County’s Board of Supervisors has made global headlines for strange happenings and curious decisions.
* * *
The Board of Supervisors is currently led by a 3-2 majority that is ideologically further right than anything that used to be called Republican. Its members are also extreme examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, whereby a lack of knowledge leads to an overestimation of one’s competence.
* * *
The collective dysfunction of this governing board has led to an effort to recall one narrowly elected member of the far-right majority, Kevin Crye, as well as an exodus of the county’s top leaders and talent.

* * *

We can’t know what effect the supervisors’ latest questionable decision will have for the people they ostensibly represent, but we do know that it’s promoting the lawless use of firearms in a community primed for extremism and violence.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

NPR considers rural youth vote

Elena Moore and Ximena Bustillo reported this segment week before last for All Things Considered.  I wouldn't call it a deep dive into the rural youth vote, but at least the intersection of rurality and young people is on the radar screen--indeed, a focus of the national media in this instance.  

The headline is, "Rural voters lean red, young voters lean blue. So what's a young, rural voter to do?"  The transcript (which is different from how I recall the podcast) leads with Anderson Clayton who, at 25, is the youngest state party chair in the nation and has been featured in earlier posts here and in my academic article (with Kacyelee Klein) here:  
"My own people are the ones that I've got to figure out a way to motivate and mobilize and get energized around building this thing up from the bottom," said Anderson Clayton...

"I want to go out there and fight for everybody — and young people especially," she said.

Clayton, who is from Roxboro, N.C., about an hour northwest of Raleigh, is honest about the party's flaws in her state. Following a handful of federal and state losses in the 2022 midterms, she acknowledged Democrats dropped the ball when connecting with young voters, as well as rural and Black voters — three key parts of the state's voting base.

* * *

Biden's popularity is low among rural, independent and young voters. According to the latest NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist polling, 38% of both young voters and independents approve of his job in office. Among rural voters, that number stands at just 28%.

But within those groups, Democrats may have an in. While rural voters nationwide typically vote Republican, young rural voters are more evenly split. In 2020, 50% of rural voters under 30 voted for Donald Trump, while 47% voted for Biden.

NPR sat down with with six young voters who grew up in rural, small towns across North Carolina to discuss what politicians need to do to win their votes in 2024.

Many were critical of how politicians on both sides see their communities.

Listen to the podcast to hear what these six rural young people had to say.  

Postscript from NPR on Sept. 11, 2023:  Meet the New Bosses:  Younger than the Old Bosses. 

Monday, July 24, 2023

Literary Ruralism (Part XXXIX): Monica Potts' The Forgotten Girls

Monica Potts published her memoir, The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America, in late May, 2023 (Penguin Random House).  It is set in her hometown, Clinton, Arkansas, within her home county, Van Buren.  Potts tells the parallel stories of herself and her childhood friend, Darci.  Potts went off to a posh college, while Darci didn't even finish high school. Potts tries to explain the divergent paths of two children who were once so close. 

The book is chock full of references--implicit or explicit--to the patriarchy that thrives in rural America.  (That's a topic I wrote about here).  She also talks a lot about the links between the patriarchy and religion.  What follows is an excerpt from Potts' book that illustrates the phenomenon, with implicit reference to what I've written about as "white trash" (also here): 
Children and teenagers were sorted into another binary as well: the upstanding citizens and the ne’er-do-wells. The “good” kids were those bound for college. They avoided partying or did it only discreetly, played sports, spent nights and weekends at ballgames and church events, and formed monogamous relationships early. Parents encouraged their teenage relationships, chaperoning and ushering them on dates and folding them into family events. Their families went to church every Sunday, nicely dressed in church clothes, and went to lunch afterward at the Ozark CafĂ© or some other restaurant in town, or to a grandmother’s house for a pot roast. Those students were destined to enter adult life early, marry at a young age, and move seamlessly into roles their parents fulfilled: teachers, doctors, dentists. Their social spots seemed almost inherited.

My friend April, who moved back to Clinton to raise her two children, saw this clearly as an adult. “Like, Kid A: ‘We’re thinking you’ll go to college and make something out of yourself, so we’ll put more effort into you.’ ” Her own kids benefited from the reputation she’d had as a good student. The teachers, who were her peers and sometimes friends from her own school days, automatically trusted her.

By contrast, the “bad” kids were those who sneaked out of their homes and partied on weekends. It was an unspoken assumption that they wouldn’t make it to college. They got into trouble at school. We kids gossiped about them, and so did some of the adults. As April put it, “Kid B: ‘Well, you come from a line of poverty and living off the system, so we’ll just hope you don’t get knocked up.’ ” It could be hard, living in a small town like ours, to escape family history. “I don’t think it’s spoken,” April said, “but it’s kind of hard not to pass that history on in a lot of ways.”

She told me that two boys from her class—rowdy, athletic, good-natured class clowns and troublemakers—now had young sons of their own in the same class at school. A teacher looked at the young pair and joked, “Here we go again!” Everyone laughed, as if the sons would inevitably be the same as the fathers—the same story would play over and over with each new generation. Seeing this cycle helped me understand why my mom had felt strongly about cutting off my dad’s family, and why I had been so careful not to follow in what I thought were his footsteps. People who tried to break the pattern were often alone, set against the larger forces of small-town thinking and small-town gossip.

Darci was getting a reputation as a partier, and hanging out with her became increasingly fraught. During Darci’s fourteenth birthday slumber party, half the girls sneaked out and half didn’t. After that, the “good” girls stopped going to Darci’s house. They also avoided Thriftway parking lot parties, where teenagers sat in cars and got drunk and hooked up. Instead, the “good” kids had serious boyfriends and wore promise rings. Their lives were already revolving around their futures as wives and mothers, regardless of any potential career.

As a child, I felt trapped by this system. I didn’t want to be judged by those around me, but I didn’t have the power to ignore their judgments, so I became judgmental too. And though I never really fit in with either the “good” kids or the partiers, I decided to align with the “good” kids. Today it’s sometimes painful, or laughable, to look back at how severe I was. I didn’t believe in the religious prohibitions on sex before marriage, but I did see the social consequences in Clinton that those who failed to follow them suffered. I can see now that I had few options as a teenager. I was still close to Darci, but in order to make sure others saw the differences between us, I was more judgmental than I might have been. I also felt that in a town where people married and had children young, teenagers’ missteps carried a lot of weight.

I'll write more about Potts' book--and include more excerpts--in a future post.  

Here is an earlier post about the book, when it was excerpted in The Atlantic.  And here is the New York Times review of the book, by Rachel Louise Snyder, who questions the ethics of what Potts' reveals about Darci in relation to what Potts told Darci she was going to reveal. 

Here is a post about a 2019 NYT op-ed by Potts about Clinton and Van Buren County politics in relation to national trends. 

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Small-town America, a country music video, and racism

Justin Jones is one of the members of the Tennessee state legislature who was controversially expelled from that body for alleged failure to comply with decorum norms when he stood up for victims of mass shootings earlier this year.  Jones tweeted a few days ago, "Don't let the same politicians tell you that a racist song is about supporting 'small towns' while they allow rural hospitals to close without Medicaid expansion, defund public education in rural counties, and keep small-town folks trapped in poverty with starvation wages."

The sentiment about politicians standing up for "small town" values while undermining them and the wellbeing of rural folks generally was one I was on board with.  That sentiment is reflected in many posts to this blog.  But I had no idea what song lyrics Jones was speaking of--and who was standing up for the song and for small towns.

I went looking for more and found this from the Republican speaker of the Tennessee House, "@CMT [Country Music Television] caved to the radical left.  Mainstream media call songs about 'killing police' powerful, exposing-voices that speak the truth, but @jason_aldean speaks his truth--the media can't handle it, so they attempt to silence him and the #1 iTunes downloaded country song." 

I still didn't know what song was being referenced until I heard this NPR segment on Thursday evening about Jason Aldean's "Try That in a Small Town."  Here's the lede:  

Country Music Television (CMT) says it will no longer air the music video "Try That In a Small Town" by Jason Aldean after critics of the video said it contained lyrics that glorified gun violence and conveyed traditionally racist ideas.

A CMT spokesperson confirmed the move to NPR on Thursday, but offered no comment on the reasoning.

Since the video's release on Friday, it's emerged as a familiar kind of political litmus test, with interpretations of its message often falling along voting divides.

* * *

In a statement released alongside the video, Aldean said the song represents an "unspoken rule" for those raised in small towns: "We all have each other's backs and we look out for each other."

* * * 

But much of the criticism around the video has less to do with these clips than its setting: The Maury County Courthouse building in Columbia, Tenn., which serves as an American-flag-draped backdrop for Aldean and his band.
The landmark was the site of race riots in 1946 as well as a 1927 lynching.

* * * 

Threats to outsiders (and the implication those outsiders are from cities) are present throughout the song's lyrics, which begin with a list of crimes that might happen in urban settings ("Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk / carjack an old lady at a red light") then crescendo into the titular chorus:
Well, try that in a small town / See how far you make it down the road / Around here we take care of our own / You cross that line, it won't take long / For you to find out, I recommend you don't.
Aldean ups the vigilante ante by bridging the second chorus with a reference to gun rights, singing:
I've got a gun that my granddad gave me / they say one day they're gonna round up. / Well that s*** might fly in the city / good luck / Try that in a small town.

A journalist who writes about country music for The Tennessean was interviewed for the NPR segment that aired Thursday evening, and he suggested that CMT's removal of the video shows a newfound sensitivity to racial issues within the country music community.   

You can watch the video here.  

What is absolutely undisputed is that the song pits rural against urban, suggesting that the former is more virtuous.  There's an openly nostalgic bit at the end of the video where the singing stops and a video vignette about farmers dropping work on their own crops to help a neighbor in more urgent need.  One of the presumptively rural residents comments on the practice, "it's what this community stands for ... if you need some help, you'll get it."  There's also an image of a farm tractor with a golden glow, in contrast to the images of urban violence that dominate the early portions of the video.  

I was struck in listening to the lyrics of Aldean's "Try that in a Small Town" that the sentiments echo Merle Haggard's "Okie form Muskogee," released in 1969.  

We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee
We don't take our trips on LSD
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street
We like livin' right, and bein' free
We don't make a party out of lovin'
We like holdin' hands and pitchin' woo
We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do 
I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all

"Okie from Muskogee," of course, was released back before every reference to urban was presumptively raced Black or brown and every reference to rural or small town was heard as an obvious and irrefutable association with whiteness.  

You'll find lots of posts on this blog about the pitting of rural against urban in this era of polarization.  Here's just one of them.  

Here is a Washington Post analysis of the music video, and here is a very thoughtful essay about it in the Daily Yonder.  

Postscript:  New York Times conservative columnist David French published "Try Tolerance in a Small Town" on July 27, 2023.  He calls out small-tow racism based on his own experiences and that of his family's in Columbia, Tennessee, where the Aldean video was shot.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Latina Deputy USDA Secretary sworn in

NPR reported yesterday here on Xochitl Torres Small's swearing in as the first Latina Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Torres Small is from New Mexico, where she served one term as a congresswoman from the sparsely populated district that includes Las Cruces and vast portions of the southern part of the Land of Enchantment.  Here's an excerpt from the NPR story about Torres Small, with Ximena Bustillo reporting: 
The former New Mexico congresswoman was tapped in by President Biden in 2021 to serve as undersecretary for rural development at USDA, the branch of the department that oversees infrastructure, utilities and healthcare across rural communities. Now in a higher ranking position, she takes on the role as the administration and Democrats are looking to strengthen their footprints in rural areas.

* * *  

Torres Small has been promoted at a time when the department is undergoing changes to address historical discrimination across its lending and other programs. Late last year the department began making payments on loan cancellations for some farmers and providing $2.2 billion for farmers who experienced discrimination prior to Jan. 2021.

As for new challenges facing Torres Small, they include "looming department staffing shortages. Torres Small has previously raised concerns that nearly half of the employees she oversaw in rural development were eligible to retire, even as demands for the agency have increased."   

The story includes several long quotes from Torres Small: 

To get to be deputy secretary and in charge of the backend of the shop is really exciting because we impact people's lives in so many ways.  I'm the granddaughter of farm workers, and of course, that's a way that it has impacted my life. But my parents were educators. And when it comes to thinking about the kids that they're teaching, making sure that those kids have healthy, nutritious food to help them learn is crucial.

And here's an excerpt where Torres Small highlights the racial and ethnic diversity of rural America, a reality often overlooked (but highlighted in my recent article here and recently on several occasions on this blog):   

One of my favorite things about serving as undersecretary at rural development was that rural America is a lot of different things and a lot of different places, and it's incredibly diverse. Yes, it's a farmer on a tractor, and it's also a rural [fishing village] in Alaska and it's also Indian country.

While cast in a negative light here, an aging USDA staff can also be seen as a positive--opening opportunities for younger rural sociologists and economists in government service. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

New (sub)-California secession movement rises in exurban Sacramento

Eric Ting reports for the San Francisco Chronicle under the headline,  'This state is under tyranny': Scenes from California's latest secession movement.  Some excerpts follow:  
Sharon Durst, leader of the secessionist El Dorado state movement, knows people don't take attempts like hers seriously. Past efforts to split rural California counties off from the rest of the state have accomplished little beyond inspiring ridicule — which the former rancher, now in her 80s, experienced directly as an early supporter of the infamous state of Jefferson.

But Durst also knows that something has to change, if rural counties like El Dorado are going to have a fair say in how they’re governed. On July 10, she and former county Supervisor Ray Nutting co-hosted a town hall to explain to their neighbors why the solution is peeling the county off from California and forming a new state.

It’s true that California has a unique problem of representation in state government. No state in the country has fewer state legislators per capita; the problem is especially stark in rural areas like El Dorado County, population 192,000. In the state Senate, El Dorado is represented by a legislator who also represents voters in 12 other counties; in the state Assembly, the county is split between two legislators, each responsible for voters across several counties, with widely diverging industries and demographics. Not one of the three legislators responsible for representing El Dorado County actually lives there.

The story features a long quote from Professor Isaac Hale of Occidental College, who teaches politics: 

This has long been an ongoing problem in California politics.  There are nearly 500,000 Californians per assemblymember and a million Californians per state senator, and that’s pretty out of whack.

You could double the size of the Assembly, and we’d still have the highest number of people represented by district.  And there are serious consequences to this.

Ting explains the consequences for rural folks in the Golden State:  they feel disenfranched--disenfranchised enough to show up at long town halls to talk about secession.  That said, Ting reports that 25 people showed up for a July 10 gathering held by Durst and Nutting.  And that doesn't sound like a very robust group in the context of a county with nearly 200K residents.  Also, interestingly, the meeting was held at a Raley's Supermarket in El Dorado Hills--the posh planned community at the western edge of the county, just over the Sacramento County line.  In other words, El Dorado Hills is the part of the county one would expect to be least amenable to a secession movement.  (Here is a prior post about El Dorado Hills as magnet for Bay Area migrants during the pandemic.)  Still, here is Ting's description of the crowd: 

The political leanings of those in attendance were on full display. One attendee wore a shirt that helpfully defined the word “patriot.” Another wore a shirt reading “Save the Children” on the front and “WE RIDE AT DAWN” in all caps on the back. Durst’s introduction was punctuated by audience member comments, including “California is red, we all know it,” and “Trump won.” When she mentioned that a reporter was in the audience, the room broke out into groans, like someone had just offered the restive crowd Bud Light from the supermarket outside the meeting room.

Here's what Ting has to say about the current movement's approach to change, including its legal theory: 

Durst and Nutting concede California lawmakers would never go along with it, so Durst is gambling on what she described as a “backdoor” maneuver to go to Congress directly.
In a 7,000-word Substack post published in May, Durst argues that El Dorado County is technically not a legitimate piece of California and is instead “other property” of Congress (though she cites no legal scholars or historians who have promulgated this view). Therefore, she wrote, Congress alone could vote to turn El Dorado County into El Dorado state, without California’s approval.
Durst refused to discuss procedural steps at the meeting. Ting quotes her:
To try to speculate, ‘What if this? What if that? Blah blah blah?’ No. You know what? We’re going to just move forward, do our thing, hope for the best and see where the people take it.

Durst was also uninterested in alternative paths to improve rural representation, including those that might garner bipartisan support because they also afflict metropolitan areas.  Professor Hale provided this illustration as an urban counterpart to what is annoying this small band of folks in El Dorado County: 

Consider Mia Bonta’s East Bay Assembly district.  Why are wealthy homeowners in Piedmont linked with renters in east and west Oakland? They have wildly different interests, and you could make the argument that they each should have their own form of representation. This is a systemic problem.

The story closes with this quote from Durst:  

I’m not going to petition anyone in California. I’m going to absolutely ignore California, as if there’s a barrier between our border and California.

Don't miss this entire, deeply reported San Francisco Chronicle story, not least for its rich descriptions of some other El Dorado County residents who attended the meeting, as well as a bit of backstory on Nutting. (Read more here from a 2014 court adjudication against him).  

Prior posts about secession from California are here, herehere (featuring many photos, including one taken in El Dorado County), here, here (speaking specifically to representation issues, from 2015), here (based on a story in Harper's Magazine), here (comparing the State of Jefferson movement to the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia), and here (reporting on a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that rejected a legal theory that Californians are underrepresented because of the too-small size of the late legislative body).  Another post regarding frustration over lack of representation, this one out of Siskiyou County in the traditional State of Jefferson territory, is here.

Other posts featuring El Dorado County more generally are here (coronavirus pandemic), here (a food sovereignty movement post from 2012), here (suburban sprawl), and here (resisting the siting of a Dollar General Store).   This is about a Tea Party Meeting in the county in 2012.  This, also from 2012, features a campaign sign for a member of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors that uses the slogan "Protecting Rural Values."). Another 2012 photo from El Dorado County is here--this one of a sign advertising a Gold Prospecting Summit at the county fairgrounds. 

Posts about other proposals to divide California are here and here.  

Monday, July 17, 2023

Rural people among most disadvantaged when it comes to food security

Ximena Bustillo reported a few days ago on negotiation of the Farm Bill and its implications for SNAP--that's the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, a major safety net program aimed at preventing families from going hungry.  SNAP, which is re-authorized and re-negotiated every five years as part of the so-called Farm Bill, has become a political football.  One of the issues is that of work requirements, which Bustillo reports was resolved earlier this year when legislators agreed to changes in those requirements.  Bustillo does not specify what those changes are. 

Here's the part that surprised me in its recognition of the particular burden rural residents face in relation to

Perhaps at most disadvantage are people in rural areas. Parts of the state lack jobs, transportation, broadband and grocery stories, Kraft said, which increases reliance on SNAP and food banks.

Now lawmakers and advocates have a new vehicle for expanded benefits: the 2023 farm bill.
Though it is not linked explicitly to rural populations, Bustillo also reports a "move[ ] to reform the way personal vehicles are taken into consideration for the purposes of SNAP eligibility."

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Texas Monthly takes a deep dive into the consequences of vouchers and school choice for rural schools

Forrest Wilder reports for Texas Monthly out of Fort Davis, Texas, on the way Texas' school choice legislation is hurting rural schools.  Fort Davis is the county seat of Jeff Davis County, population 1,996, on the southwest edge of the state.  The story features a "conservative, gun-toting superintendent" named Graydon Hicks III, who says that, recently, he "has never felt farther from the state's political center of gravity."  

For years Hicks ... has been watching helplessly as a slow-motion disaster has unfolded, the result of a deeply flawed and resource-starved public school–finance system. Over the past decade, funding for his little district, which serves just 184 students from pre-K through twelfth grade, has sagged even as costs, driven by inflation and ever-increasing state mandates, have soared. The math is stark. His austere budget has hovered at around $3.1 million per year for the past six years. But the notoriously complex way the state finances schools allows him to bring in only about $2.5 million per year through property taxes.

Hicks has hacked away at all but the most essential elements of his budget. More than three quarters of Fort Davis’s costs come in the form of payroll, and the starting salary for teachers is the state minimum, just $33,660 a year. There are no signing bonuses or stipends for additional teacher certifications. Fort Davis has no art teacher. No cafeteria. No librarian. No bus routes. The track team doesn’t have a track.

But Hicks can’t cut his way out of this financial crisis. This school year, Fort Davis ISD has a projected $621,500 funding gap. To make up the difference, Hicks is tapping into savings. Doug Karr, a Lubbock school-finance consultant who reviewed the district’s finances, said Fort Davis ISD was “wore down to the nub, and the nub’s all gone. And that pretty much describes small school districts.”

“I am squeezing every nickel and dime out of every budget item,” Hicks said. “I don’t have excess of anything.” When I joked that it sounded like he was holding things together with duct tape and baling wire, he didn’t laugh. He said, “I literally have baling wire holding some fences up, holding some doors up.”

The district’s crisis comes at a time when the state is flush with an unprecedented $32.7 billion budget surplus. Hicks is a self-described conservative, but he thinks the far right is trying to destroy public education. For years, the state has starved public schools of funding: Texas ranks forty-second in per-pupil spending, according to Raise Your Hand Texas, a pro–public education nonprofit founded by H-E-B chairman Charles Butt. And yet Governor Greg Abbott is spending enormous political capital on promoting a school-voucher plan, which would divert taxpayer funds to private schools. Public education, Abbott has repeatedly said, will remain “fully funded,” though public-education spending is projected to be lower this year than when he took office, in 2015, and the Legislature recently passed a $321.3 billion budget with no pay raise for teachers and very little new funding for schools. Unable to get his voucher plan through the regular legislative session, Abbott is threatening to call lawmakers back to Austin until he gets his way.

* * * 

With each passing month, his rural district inches closer to financial ruin. If nothing changes by fall of next year, Fort Davis will have depleted its savings. He doesn’t know the exact day that his schools will go broke, but he can see it coming.

Wilder, by the way, does an admirable job breaking down and describing Texas' complex school funding system.  One of the challenges of that funding formula for places like Fort Davis is that local property values are going up, which leads to a diminution in funds received from the state but not necessarily any commensurate rise in local funds to support the schools.  

Near the end of the story comes this, highlighting the tension between the state's rural reaches and decision makers in Austin: 

As we were sitting outside his office in his red pickup with the engine idling, Hicks told me that he’d given up on lobbying the Legislature. He mentioned again that [Lt. Gov] Patrick and other GOP lawmakers are trying to destroy public education by using vouchers to privatize schools, and he said that most other politicians “don’t give a s— about West Texas.” But for the time being he was still fighting: writing op-eds, firing off plaintive missives, asking concerned citizens to contact their legislators.

Toward the end of our visit, I asked Hicks what’s going to happen to his schools. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not patient enough to spend time with assholes in Austin, and I’m not rich enough to buy any votes.” TEA has suggested that Fort Davis consolidate with another district—most likely Valentine, which is 35 miles away—but Hicks said both districts would suffer for it.

And the very end of the story gives us the news that Superintendent Hicks has announced his retirement. 

An earlier New York Times story about the school funding situation in Texas--as it relates to vouchers--was more positive about the survival of rural schools-- in part because residents will fight for them.  And in places like New Home, which is economically embedded with Lubbock, those fighting for rural schools are more numerous and will perhaps have enough political clout to influence legislators in Austin.  

Friday, July 14, 2023

Flooding impacts on rural Vermont

Though Vermont is known as a very rural state, I haven't seen much coverage of this week's flooding there that used the word "rural."  So I was happy (is that the right adjective?) to see this story from Vermont Digger, posted on July 13, that does just that.  The headline is "When you can’t get there from here: In rural areas, road closure updates hard to find."  The subhead is "From cardboard signs to Google Maps, information has been crowd-sourced and ad hoc."  Kristen Fountain reports, and the lede follows.
It was the talk of the porch at the Craftsbury General Store on Tuesday morning and inside the town office across the street: What was the best way, if there was one, of getting out of town?

Both locations were up and running on generators, though power was out. The noise drew neighbors like moths to light, seeking coffee and news.

Like many other small towns across the state, residents of Craftsbury and nearby towns — Glover, Greensboro, Hardwick, Woodbury and Wolcott among them —- woke to find that active flooding or major water damage had closed the usual travel routes along state roads. The conversation quickly turned to finding workarounds on the area’s network of local roads.
Those who arrived in cars offered up intel about which ones had deep standing water or were only partially washed out.

“It was definitely chaotic. A lot of people with a lot of information” were stopping by and calling, recalled Craftsbury Town Clerk Michelle Warren on Wednesday morning. Later, once power was restored for the senders, there were emails, too. “There were some roads we didn’t realize how bad it was until we saw pictures,” she said.

Officials in other towns posted lists of open and closed roads on their websites or Facebook pages and on Front Porch Forum groups, which worked to some degree.

Warren was grateful to have the help of a volunteer with geographic mapping experience on Tuesday to create a digital map where all that information could be recorded and shared via the town website. The tool has allowed her to update residents and travelers daily since then on where the town road crew and locals with excavators and dump trucks have made progress shoring up washouts.
One town that has been very much in the news in the wake of the flooding is Ludlow, population 773.  Here's some New York Times coverage with lots of photos of Ludlow, as well as other hard-hit towns in Central Vermont.  The lede for that story highlights familiar stereotypes of the region:
Vermont, a state known for peaceful green mountains, grazing cows and tidy covered bridges, is not often seen as a place where mudslides threaten highways, rivers churn with debris and murky, propane-fouled floodwaters fill downtown streets.

Another town getting a lot of attention in national coverage is Barre, population 8,000

Prior posts about Vermont are here, and this post in particular discusses the 2011 Vermont floods resulting from Tropical Storm Irene, as well as the historic 1927 flood.  

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Rural folks and the Supreme Court's decision on affirmative action in higher education

A great deal of commentary has been offered up in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision a few weeks ago to overturn its 1978 decision in Bakke v. Regents of the University of California.   Some of the commentary has (helpfully in my opinion) focused on the fact that the vast majority of college students do not attend--indeed, do not even apply to attend--the selective institutions that use affirmative action to decide who gets admitted.  Only about 200 use affirmative action in admission decisions.  

Here's one of those pieces of commentary from the New York Times, by Richard Arum and Mitchell L. Stevens, with graphics by Quoctrung Bui, that addresses a phenomenon that has a big impact on rural students:  most students go to colleges and universities near their families. The relevant excerpt follows: 

What drives this dynamic is that most students apply to and enroll at schools near their families, regardless of whether the school is a good academic fit. We live in a country full of colleges that don’t have the resources and academic quality to match their students’ talents. Social scientists describe this problem in the college selection process as “undermatching.” Efforts to nudge students to broaden their horizons and consider attending selective colleges further from home have had only modest success.

That rural students are less likely to have a college or university nearby is one reason that these students are less likely to undertake--and to finish--a bachelor's degree.  

A 2020 post about rural students' access to higher education, with references to affirmative action and embedded links to many prior posts, is hereThis post from 2018--when the cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina went to trial--discusses the value rural students add--or don't--to elite institutions.  

Monday, July 10, 2023

Rural scholarship: Pumping iron in the countryside: The challenges of IPED use in rural areas

What follows is part of the abstract for a paper by Dr. Kyle Mulrooney (University of New England, Australia) and Dr. Luke Turnock (University of Lincoln, UK):

The use of image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs) is a growing issue, with users seeking to enhance their physical appearance and athletic performance. While much research has been done on IPED use, little attention has been paid to how rurality shapes IPED use and access to harm reduction services. This is a critical gap, as rural populations face unique challenges in accessing health services, and their experiences may differ from those living in urban areas.

Dr. Luke Turnock and Dr. Kyle Mulrooney recently published an article in the journal Contemporary Drug Problems titled Exploring the Impacts of Rurality on Service Access and Harm Among Image and Performance Enhancing Drug (IPED) Users in a Remote English Region. The article is open access if you would like to read it in its entirety.

The study, conducted in a rural region of the United Kingdom, aimed to explore the barriers to accessing harm reduction services among steroid users. The research highlights the challenges faced by steroid users living in remote and often deprived areas. Specifically, the study found that while transport limitations and physical access to specialist services were highlighted as issues by participants, this was generally identified as an exacerbating factor on top of more significant barriers, surrounding perceptions of stigma and distrust of healthcare providers.

Steroid users in rural areas faced greater concerns over the personal impacts of being identified as a user on employment prospects. Additionally, the impact of small-town surveillance and stigma exacerbated the issue. As such, one key finding was the importance of anonymity to steroid users. Rural gym users, in particular, expressed the need to access injecting equipment and advice without being identified by neighbours and friends, which is made difficult by small-town contexts. There was also a need to seek health advice and monitoring without risking this being permanently recorded on medical records, in a way that could harm future employment prospects.

Connected to this, the study found that economic deprivation and class played a significant role in access to harm reduction services, with those perceiving they had few career prospects outside of the military being especially vulnerable. Particularly in regions where physical labour such as quarrying, agriculture, or the military are the primary avenues for good employment prospects among working-class men, understanding how IPED use may intersect with the strains of demanding physical labour is significant in directing harm reduction. 

Friday, July 7, 2023

Literary Ruralism (Part XXXVIII): Jason Mott's Hell of a Book

Jason Mott's Hell of a Book is just that--in more ways than one.  I'm not surprised it won the National Book Award (2021).  

The most striking thing about the book, most readers would agree, is its insights into race in America, with particular attention to police violence against Black men. 

But another striking thing--at least to me as a ruralist who grew up in a tiny town in the American South--is the role of the small town in the story.  Indeed, more precisely, it is the role that growing up in a small town, Bolton, North Carolina (population 691), plays in the narrative.  Bolton, by the way, is not only the hometown of the novel's protagonist--the narrator telling the story in first person--Bolton is also the hometown of author Jason Mott.  Thus, Mott comes by his insights honestly.  

The book's opening vignette is set in a farm house, but the reader has no idea that this is of any significance until relatively late in the book, when the protagonist reveals his own small-town roots.  The author/protagonist returns there, which gives him an opportunity to comment on the impact of growing up in such a place.  Here are some representative excerpts, all from his return to visit his hometown after he becomes a famous author.  In the first, the narrator is entering Bolton with his agent, Sharon.  This excerpt at least hints at the attachment to place associated with rural America, as well as the major role played by religion:   

[Sharon] scans the small town as we pass. Coming through, we cross paths with nine churches over the course of the town. “Why does a town this small have so many churches?” Sharon asks.

“Because God needs the little people more than he needs anyone,” I say. There’s a knot in my stomach the size of Texas all of a sudden. I haven’t been back to Bolton in years, and with good reason. It’s a town with tendrils. And as soon as those tendrils get into your skin, you can never get rid of them. You can never get away. The truth of the matter is that I’d managed to get out of Bolton only because I snuck away under cover of darkness and something akin to invisibility. I never really fit into this town when I was a kid. I was always too much of something for the other kids I grew up with. I was too much of a bookworm. Too nerdy. Too weird. Too clumsy. Too skinny. Too black of skin. Too white of temperament. I never liked hunting and fishing enough. I never liked fighting or chasing girls enough. I never liked God or hated the devil enough. I never grew things in the garden. I didn’t eat okra and butterbeans. I couldn’t stand dumplings.

My family did the best they could to not make me feel like the freak that I always was. My cousins, God bless ’em, they loved me like I was one of their own even though I’d argue that I didn’t really belong to anyone. Especially after the emergence of my condition [elsewhere revealed as an overactive imagination that causes the narrator not to be able to distinguish between reality and the imaginary].

I can’t say exactly when it began, but I can definitely say that it’s linked to this small town of Bolton and my childhood. From what I remember, I’ve always been living in a different world. My therapist says that can’t be the case, not for the type of condition I’ve got. She swears that what I’ve got comes about only after a person has gone through some sort of trauma. And, typically, when you talk about this type of trauma, it’s got to be something beyond the scope of school bullying and general low self-esteem—both of which I had no shortage of in my youth.

My therapist and I have been through more than a few loops about what might have caused my imagination and persistent daydreaming to work the way it does.

“Can you think of any event that might have occurred?” she asks, over and over again, for the past five years since I’ve started seeing her.

“No,” I reply. “I had a pretty normal childhood. I grew up in a small town that nobody’s heard of in the ass end of North Carolina. Well, now that I think of it, maybe you could count that as a trauma.” (pp. 221-23)

This, too, is quite negative about small-town America, in particular small towns in the American South and how they treat Black folks:

Nestled in the sweaty armpit of Carolina swampland, surrounded by gum trees, and pines, and cedars, and oak, and wild grapevines, the town of Bolton is the land that time forgot. Go back far enough into the town history, and there used to be a railroad stop and a sawmill here. And that was at its pinnacle, somewhere around sixty years ago or so. Back then, the town had a population of maybe around three thousand people.

The main exports of Bolton are lumber and Black manual labor. The wood comes from the forests and swampland—all of which are owned by the local paper mill—and the labor comes from the town’s seven-hundred-odd residents. I wish that I could tell you that something more than those two chief exports comes out of Bolton, but there’s nothing else. Bolton isn’t a town that gives, but neither is it a town that takes. It’s the type of place that keeps to itself. It’s self-sustaining, the way the past always is. And though it changes a little now and again, the way an old piece of metal seems to change colors over the years as some thin patina comes along and begins to grow over it, at its core the town is the same that it has always been. And that’s how the people like it.  (pp. 220-21)

The next excerpt reminds me of the nostalgia associated with rural folks--which this :

“There’s a field like that not far from my house too. Looks almost the exact same. My daddy said that it was where they used to grow cotton a long time ago. My daddy was always talking about the way things used to be back before I was born.”

“That a fact?”

“Yeah. It was like that was all he wanted to talk about. He used to have these books he would read to me on the weekend. These encyclopedias about Black people.” (p. 227)

Then there's this--also about religion--a familiar phenomenon for those who've grown up rural: 

Bolton Town Hall also doubles as a church because there is no separation of church and state in southern Black towns. God is everywhere, especially in the law. At least, He’s supposed to be. But I can tell by the tone and timbre of the people inside the walls of this small, ruined church that they’re beginning to believe less and less in the ability of God to come along and do the right thing in their lives. (p. 242)

This scene reveals both positive and negative associations with rurality in relation to the power and pain of memory: 

And one thing I always forgot is just how much I love the quiet of small towns and the long roads that seem to lead nowhere and everywhere all at the same time. Only a fistful of buildings to speak of. Houses that pop up like memories along the side of pavement and gravel sometimes. It’s a hell of a splendor.

But maybe it’s a good thing that I can’t remember everything the right way. I know what happened to my old man. But the old lady . . . something tells me not to think about that. It’s like the thought of having lost them both is too much to fit in my head so it chooses not to know either way. But there’s a catch to convincing yourself that you don’t know a thing: yeah, it keeps your life on track, but for the thing or person you’re choosing not to see or know, you’re taking away their whole entirety. And ain’t that something to do to a person? To a group of people? Ain’t willful ignorance a hell of a thing?

Being back here in my hometown, I think I can feel that box opening . . . and it terrifies me.  (pp. 253-54)

And then there's this, which shows Mott really knows a thing or two about the practicalities of living in rural America: 

“I wonder if there’s internet out here,” Sharon asks, eyeing the house suspiciously. “How in God’s name do people live like this? It’s barbaric.”

I can’t help but smirk. (p. 226).  

In any event, while the book is not primarily about rurality and the small-town phenomenon, Mott does show off his home-grown observations of rural culture and rural realities--as well as how urbanites (Sharon, the literary agent, is the quintessential city dweller of the northeastern variety) view them.  

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Rural consciousness and framing environmental (in)justice

Nicholas Theis and Adam Driscoll published this in April in Mary Ann Leibert, Inc. The abstract follows: 

Both rural regions and urban communities of color are often the target for unwanted land uses in the United States. However, although both types of communities will often organize resistance to the siting of environmentally hazardous facilities within their region, the frames that the activists use may differ dramatically. In this study, we examine a case study of environmental conflict over a proposed industrial hog farm in northern Wisconsin. We use that conflict to explore the claims making and rhetoric employed by the rural, predominantly white resistance. We argue that although communities of color and urban communities tend to utilize the environmental justice frame to understand and represent their resistance to unwanted land uses, rural communities that are predominantly white may instead frame their own resistance as a defense of rural identity and place. This study makes important contributions to our understanding of rural ideology and the environmental justice movement.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Census Bureau reports rural residents more likely to experience disability

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last week on rural-urban differences in disability.  Here is the introductory material:   

Where people live may impact their ability to access health care services and for those with disabilities or who require specialized care that entails more frequent attention and medical visits, location can play an even more significant role.

It is important to understand how regional and urban/rural differences in disability contribute to the unique challenge of addressing health disparities in the United States. Identifying where people with disabilities are concentrated can help inform where there may be shortages of specialized providers or limited transportation options.

Examining disability rates across geography reveals notable differences between urban and rural areas, and regions.

In 2021, nearly 42.5 million people (13%) among the civilian noninstitutionalized population in the United States had a disability, according to the American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year estimates.
And here are the key findings re: rural-urban difference:
In 2021, the U.S. population was primarily urban, with 80.2% living in urban areas; 12.6% of them reported a disability in 2021.

Rural residents — less than 20% of the U.S. population — were more likely (14.7%) than their urban counterparts to experience disability.

Rural communities may be more geographically isolated and typically have more limited transportation and access to clinics and hospitals than urban areas. As a result, coordination of care for those with disabilities may be more difficult for rural residents due to these geographic and transportation barriers.

And here is what the report had to say about regional differences: 

In 2021, the South had the nation’s highest rates of disability (13.8%), followed by the Midwest (13.1%), the Northeast (12.3%), and the West (12.1%) (Figure 2).

Regional disability rates may differ for a variety of reasons. For example, disability is often associated with age, so regions that contain states with a higher proportion of the population age 65 and over may be more likely to report higher rates of disability.

Many states in the South are part of what is known as the Stroke Belt, defined by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute as a cluster of states (including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia) that have a higher incidence of stroke than the rest of the country.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Rural legal scholarship: "'Things have changed around here': Perceptions of crime and safety in rural Southeastern Kentucky"

L. Cait Kanewske's doctoral dissertation (George Mason University) is titled "'Things have changed around here':  Perceptions of crime and safety in rural Southeastern Kentucky"

Although a sizable portion of the United States population resides in rural areas, until recently the state of scholarship concerning rural crime as a whole was scant, poorly developed, and dated (Donnermeyer et al., 2006; Donnermeyer, 2007; Weisheit & Donnermeyer, 2000). However, the last several years have seen a reawakening of interest in issues of rural crime and safety. Contrary to common misconceptions of rural areas as relatively crime-free, research indicates these areas likely experience higher rates than urban areas of certain crimes, including substance use/misuse and substance use-related crime, domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, and certain types of juvenile delinquency (Kuhns et al., 2007; Weisheit et al., 2006). Given the sparse but evolving state of rural crime scholarship, there is great value in conducting a nuanced investigation into the crime- and safety-related concerns of rural residents, and their thoughts on how these problems are best addressed. Using qualitative analysis of 54 interviews conducted with residents of three southeastern Kentucky counties (Bell, Clay, and Harlan), this dissertation investigates four research questions: 1) What are the primary crime and safety concerns of residents in this rural area? 2) What are residents’ specific concerns pertaining to substance use and substance use-related crime in this rural area? 3) According to residents, why do individuals (including juveniles/youth) become involved in substance use and other risky/criminal behavior? And 4) What do residents identify as the primary protective factors insulating individuals (including juveniles/youth) from involvement in substance use and other risky/criminal behavior?

Analysis shows that residents are exceptionally concerned with substance use (particularly methamphetamine use and opioid misuse), drug-related theft, domestic violence, and child abuse. Regarding risk for criminal involvement, residents describe an interlocking constellation of factors: hopelessness, apathy, and boredom engendered by community decline, ready availability of the substances in neighborhoods, cultural attitudes permissive towards substance use, pervasive substance use among family members, friends, and neighbors, few opportunities for gainful employment, chemical dependency, and absence of accessible substance use intervention services. Conversely, when speaking about protective factors, residents describe a corresponding constellation of factors insulating individuals from criminal behaviors: engagement in prosocial recreational activities, strong prosocial peer, neighbor, and family relationships, participation in the legal economy, commitment to and success in education, and personal resilience. These risk and protective factors rarely occur in isolation; rather, they are component parts of entire sprawling webs of factors operating in and across community- level, group-level, and individual-level domains. A particularly important finding of this dissertation is that collective efficacy and social disorganization appear to operate in dual ways in this rural community as strong social ties among friends, families, and neighbors are both primary risk and protective factors for substance use and criminal involvement.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Will Democrats turn to "class" in the wake of Supreme Court rulings? And what does that have to do with rural America?

Jonathan Weisman wrote in yesterday's New York Times under the headline, "Supreme Court Decisions on Education Could Offer Democrats an Opening." The subtitle is, "The decisions this week on affirmative action and student loans give Democrats a way to make a case on class and appeal to voters who have drifted away from the party."  Some excerpts follow:

[I]n striking down race-conscious college admissions, the Supreme Court has handed the Democrats a way to shift from a race-based discussion of preference to one tied more to class. The court’s decision could fuel broader outreach to the working-class voters who have drifted away from the party because of what they see as its elitism.

The question is, will the party pivot?

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Democrats to course-correct from identity-based issues,” said Ruy Teixeira, whose upcoming book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?” looks at the bleeding of working-class voters over the last decade. “As I like to say, class is back in session.”
* * * 

Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist pressing his party to expand its outreach to the working class, said adding a new emphasis on class consciousness to augment racial and ethnic awareness would fit well with Mr. Biden’s pitch that his legislative achievements have largely accrued to the benefit of workers.

Infrastructure spending, electric vehicles investment, broadband expansion and semiconductor manufacturing have promoted jobs — especially union jobs — all over the country but especially in rural and suburban areas, often in Republican states.

“By next year, Democrats will be able to say we’ve invested in red states, blue states, urban areas, rural areas,” he said. “We’re not like the Republicans. We’re for everybody.”

As I have argued elsewhere, I hate that these issues are often framed as if we have to choose between race and class--between helping people of color and helping the socioeconomically disadvantaged.  

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law.   

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Movement on rural broadband, thanks to a $42 billion federal investment

Here's the lede for NPR's story

This week, the White House said how it will divide $42 billion that Congress set aside to improve broadband internet access among the states. This funding from the government will likely have the biggest impact in conservative, rural areas.

The story is reported out of Montana, by Aaron Bolton:
Most places in America that lack high-speed internet are rural. Fewer than 6% of Montanans have access to fiber-optic service, says Tyler Cooper, with the research and advocacy group BroadbandNow. He agrees the Infrastructure Act funding is historic.

TYLER COOPER: It is, you know, the most holistic approach to closing the digital divide in the U.S. ever.

BOLTON: Lots of Republican senators from rural states voted against the Infrastructure Act, but rural Republican governors are embracing the broadband money.

ERIC RAILE: Broadband access, at this point, is seen as vital to economic development.

BOLTON: Eric Raile teaches political science at Montana State University.

RAILE: There seems to be real demand for it in rural areas, which feel like they've been left behind in some respects.

BOLTON: Montana's governor, Greg Gianforte, says broadband is crucial for good-paying jobs, education and affordable health care. Montana is set to get more than $600 million. Tyler Cooper with BroadbandNow says previous funding often didn't reach those most in need because internet companies decided where to expand their networks. This funding, he says, is different.

COOPER: It takes a state-centric approach to the issue for the first time.

BOLTON: Now each state will be required to craft plans with public input and get federal approval before the money is distributed.
COOPER: Handing the reins to these sort of state broadband offices and having them in charge of putting together a plan with local communities is just about the best way I could think of to try and make this more effective.

BOLTON: Among states set to receive more than a billion dollars each to expand broadband are Alabama, Alaska and West Virginia.

Here's a story out of Wyoming about the $347 million that state will receive.   

While Wyoming thrives on its rural heritage, it can be a liability as much as an asset when it comes to communication and information. Thanks to another influx of federal money, the Equality State will be more connected than ever.

On June 26, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (N.T.I.A.) announced the allocation of over $42 billion to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories to deploy affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service. This is part of the “Internet for All” initiative – a key component of President Biden’s “Investing in America” agenda.

The story quotes Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce: 

What this announcement means for people across the country is that if you don’t have access to quality, affordable high-speed Internet service now – you will, thanks to President Biden and his commitment to investing in America. Whether it’s connecting people to the digital economy, manufacturing fiber-optic cable in America, or creating good-paying jobs building Internet infrastructure in the states, the investments we’re announcing will increase our competitiveness and spur economic growth across the country for years to come.

* * * 

Texas gets the largest allocation through the B.E.A.D. program, with over $3.3 billion. Wyoming’s northern and southern neighbors, Montana and Colorado, will receive nearly $629 million and $826.5 million, respectively.