Organizing in Rural Areas is Important and Successful

Ideas and Issues Organizing Radio

May 3, 2022

            New Orleans      I’ve been to all fifty states, many of them repeatedly, but Maine is the one state I have to honestly admit, I have spent the least time visiting.  Maybe an hour to tell the truth.  We just drove across the border, had a cup of coffee, and were on our way again.  Reading an op-ed in the Times recently might make me take the state more seriously, because clearly some folks up there are pointing the way, doing the work, moving the needle, and winning in exactly the way we’ve argued in the past has to be done, if we’re going to bind this country together and move forward.

I’m talking specifically about a piece written by Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward entitled, “What Democrats Don’t Understand About Rural America.”  Maxmin is described as the 29-year old youngest female state senator in Maine’s history and Woodward has been her campaign manager for her two successful outings.  Young, old, Maine or Mississippi, Missouri or Montana, the case that this team makes is one that could – and should – be applied everywhere.  It comes down to two things really:  hitting the doors and listening.  I’m not saying that’s simple, because as they argue, it’s hard work and it’s not paint-by-numbers on the issues, but it works.

That’s what I say.  What they say is equally straightforward:

As two young progressives raised in the country, we were dismayed as small towns like ours swung to the right. But we believed that Democrats could still win conservative rural districts if they took the time to drive down the long dirt roads where we grew up, have face-to-face conversations with moderate Republican and independent voters and speak a different language, one rooted in values rather than policy.

Maxmin’s story won’t be universal, but the strategy and tactics to get there are.  She won a seat in Maine at 25 and then beat the Republican minority leader to win a seat in the state senate.  More importantly, she has hit 20,000 doors by her count over these last two elections.  She was willing to talk to anybody anywhere, which is the first foundation for organizing mass support and, once she was there, she made it a point to listen, which is way, way more important than whatever the rap may have been.  People want to be heard, more than they want to hear you.  Every organizer knows that.  Maxmin and Woodward knew it well.

The drum that Maxmin and Woodward are beating is that Democrats for a host of reasons have written off rural areas and, even worse, rural people.  Maybe that’s true, but, as importantly, the Republicans, as they have indirectly proven, have taken rural people for granted.  That opens a political opportunity which is essential to candidates, parties, and organizations that are willing to do the work, hit the doors (and anywhere else they can meet people), listen, engage, and make the ask for support.

We’ve been making this case for why radio in these areas could be a gamechanger, and, on a broader scale why organizing the membership of rural electric cooperatives around economic and climate issues would work in uniting the country on a people-first agenda, whatever others might call it.  To their credit, Maxmin and Woodward, are part of what I would argue is the proof of concept for that same set of strategy and tactics.

The message is simple now:  go forth and do likewise!  Who’s ready to do the work and win?