rerural: notes on engaging with our towns
By Samuel Oslund
Urban-rural disconnect, elite-working class divide, pancakes vs waffles, oh the ever increasing list of simplistic binaries that are the focus of so much airtime these days! It seems the 'enemies', whichever side your on, are pretty clear.
Or are they? Perhaps the very nature of 'Othering' each-other is the surest ways to deepen rivalries while distracting us from the real architects of oppression.
In the after-wake of the Occupy movement many of us were left with questions of how to make actual change happen. It's still debatable whether Occupy was a 'success', but one very important thing we learned from that movement was just how inaccessible and out of touch those in power have become. Given how removed we are from the highest seats of decision making, the traditional forms of political engagement have become, at best, a way to prevent things from getting much worse, a status quo with a downward leaning trajectory.
Activist, former adbusters editor, and author Micah White has a few thoughts on how we can work toward systemic change and, according to his strategies, as farmers we are in one of the best positions to affect our communities. Burnt out after Occupy, White relocated to rural Oregon, there he decided that the best way to gain power in the current system is to take back our towns, municipalities, and communities through local elections. Two years ago White wrote The End of Protest: The New Playbook for Revolution, mounted an openly radical socialist campaign for mayor in 2016, and is now in the process of writing a followup book.
His ideas are not new. Focusing on smaller spheres and localized forms of power is perhaps one of the oldest strategies in the 'proverbial' book (not White's) and grassroots movements seeking accountable leaders have had recent success in larger cities like Barcelona. Yet, and perhaps this is due to the widespread disillusionment with governments, a good portion of us do not participate in local elections! Of course it is frustrating to see how centers have lost the thread of reality, but more than ever we need to be turning our focus to our immediate communities and neighbors to collaborate on creating towns and cities that work for us. We need to tune out of the circus show and start thinking how we can get local leaders into our town counsels, boards, and organizations.
Though White focuses on the electoral component of taking back power, I believe the first step (and continued necessity) is to build rapport with the people in the communities we enter. It seems obvious, yet how many places see themselves fracturing over minor political differences? The truth is that in any small town there are a lot of older folks that still have strong ties to rural identity, and while they may have some different views, fundamentally they seek relationships and community like everyone else.
We have to move past the base caricatures and simplistic binaries that are used to sew division between us.
How do we go from those 'those new farmers' to locals? It takes time, commitment, and participation in the every day life of a place. It means engaging in the communities that exist prior to our arrival and not approaching them as backwards. It means understanding that in many cases these people have experienced first hand the devastation of free markets and globalization and through tenacity and grit, have stayed committed to their place. While the auto manufacturers, the processing plants, and the factories up and left, these folks didn't abandoned their towns. When we enter these spaces and meet these people, we must not view them as outmoded and backwards, or as survivors and victims. Rather, we need to acknowledge that these are proud, determined, and resilient communities.
In order to understand where these folks are coming from we need to actively engage and participate in the lives and traditions they kept alive despite the hardships. This means going to church basement dinners, pancake breakfasts, and county fairs. So maybe you're an atheist with a gluten allergy. Friends, these events are not about religion or eating pancakes, they are time honored traditions for people in communities to build solidarity, and they offer a direct link for all of us to become active in the life of the town.
More than bringing our ideas and notions of how things should be, we need to go with open hearts and minds, spend time observing, and slowly, as we set our own roots, we will see how things can be.
Let's rerural now!
We would love to here from folks that have relocated to rural areas and how they have integrated and found ways to participate in their new communities.
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