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Building Power And Raising Voices Of Rural Women

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019
Here in North Carolina, like many other rural areas around the country, reactionary forces have used trends like the decline of jobs, infrastructure, and public services to consolidate power, advance racist and misogynist narratives, and erode public confidence in the power of government to work for the common good.

The impact is real: every day, people in rural areas of North Carolina get sicker, die sooner, and have less access to what they need to thrive than their counterparts in the rest of the state.

Women in rural communities are most affected by these crises. And we are uniquely positioned to be a key part of the solutions.

For rural women in Appalachia, life is a juggling act of caring for family, friends, and community. The many different roles that rural women play in their communities and organizing spaces can be woven together like the quilts that have been beautifully crafted by the women before us. For as long as I can remember, my Nana and Granny and Mimi and all the women in my life have been the pillars that hold up their loved ones and hold folks together — raising the children, keeping everyone fed and clean, and carrying the traditions of our history.

In the past decade, the right wing capitalized on a void in North Carolina left by the lack of progressive investment in rural and small-town communities. Where progressive organizing might have offered working-class residents of rural counties opportunities for engagement, white supremacist and neo-Confederate groups stepped in. Today, progressive community organizing led by rural women is emerging as a tool to keep one another alive through times of desperation and struggle.

Down Home North Carolina, part of the People’s Action network and a founding member of the Rural Women’s Collaborative: Uniting Across Race and Place for Racial and Economic Justice, is organizing working people to grow democracy and improve the quality of life, so that our grandbabies inherit a state that is healthy and just. We are shifting what’s possible in rural America by building the feminist leadership of rural women and promoting values of inclusion in communal life, interdependence, care for the elderly, love of earth and humanity, dignity of all work, and protection of the vulnerable.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. What I have noticed from the rural women in my life is that they come together as a village to care for one another. They know what it means to be stronger united, to put their brains and bodies together to do what needs to be done to keep moving forward with all the weight that they are carrying.

In the 1970s, the women of Harlan County catalyzed the multi-gender, multi-racial solidarity and civil action that won recognition for striking coal miners. In the 1960s, it was Ollie Combs, a rural woman, who laid her body on the line in front of a bulldozer to save the foundation of her family’s livelihood and led to the first stripmining legislation. It was rural women like Judy Bonds who risked everything to pioneer the fight against mountaintop removal.

Today in Down Home Alamance County, the story of our rural women looks like Robin Jordan, who lost her daughter in 2018 because she didn’t have access to the healthcare that she desperately needed. Robin fights to protect families across North Carolina from experiencing the loss that she had to go through, while she — like many rural women I know — raises her granddaughter.

In Down Home Jackson County, the rural women’s story looks like Kellie Smith, who still has her waitress apron tied around her waist from working her 8th shift trying to catch up on rent after relentlessly searching for jobs in a depleted market for months, but who shows up anyways because there’s nothing left to lose and “we can’t afford to keep sitting around not doing anything.”

The story looks like Carrie McBane, who despite facing the views against her as an “outsider” for the brown hue of her skin, still pushes against the struggle to communicate with her neighbors and to build bridges across her community because “we are all stronger when we work together.”

In Down Home Haywood County, the story of rural women is painted by Natasha Bright, who brings her two kids with her to organizing meetings after spending a whole day working full-time to support her family and her husband, who is a veteran. Natasha, who doesn’t have health care for herself, fights for her community because “no one is going to fight for us.”

Building on these legacies, our Radical Hope Fund grant has allowed us to invest in the feminist leadership of a multiracial cohort of rural women to lead transformative campaigns bridging urban and rural communities across race and gender, while restoring democracy, confronting corporate abuse, and helping build models of community control of the economy.

Rural women have served as the educators, healthcare givers, nurturers, and fighters for our community for generations. Now the women of Down Home are carrying forward this torch.

This piece is part of the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Blog Series, a platform for social justice movement leaders from around the world to share learning and insights, hear what’s working and what’s not, build solidarity, and spark opportunities for collaboration. Amid daily headlines of division, this blog series is intended to serve as an active and dynamic beacon of hope, possibility, connection, and healing.This piece was published by the AFL-CIO on December 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

Trump targets USDA with some of the deepest proposed budget cuts

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

President Donald Trump ran on a platform of giving a voice to rural voters who felt forgotten by politicians in Washington. But his proposed budget, released on Tuesday, proposes deep cuts to crucial Department of Agriculture programs that many rural residents, and farmers, depend on.

The budget proposes an almost 21 percent cut to the USDA, the third-largest percentage cut proposed for any agency, behind the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. It would cut crop insurance?—?which pays farmers for losses due to extreme weather, or compensates farmers for loss if prices are higher than guaranteed at the time of harvest?—?by 36 percent, far deeper cuts than were proposed under the Obama administration. And it proposes to “streamline” conservation programs, while eliminating the rural development program aimed at bringing infrastructure, technology, and utilities to rural communities.

“The Budget Proposal guts the USDA by 21 percent and makes further cuts to programs, all of which will leave rural and urban farmers, low-income families, and taxpayers more vulnerable,” Mike Lavender, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement.

The proposed budget zeroes out programs like the USDA’s Farm Safety program, which seeks to reduce farm sector injuries by training workers in how to properly use farming equipment. It also eliminates programs like the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s watershed protection projects, which helps both protect sensitive watersheds from environmental degradation, like soil runoff, and helps rural communities respond to natural disasters like floods.

“Agriculture is a risky business, and we absolutely need an adequate safety net for farmers while also providing incentives that will accelerate adoption of conservation practices,” Callie Eideberg, senior policy manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress via email. “Eliminating any program that helps farmers increase resiliency and protect natural resources is a shortsighted decision that can have harmful consequences.”

Key research programs aimed at helping farmers adapt to the changing climate?—?like programs that offer grants to farmers interested in experimenting with innovative conservation techniques?—?would also face deep cuts under the proposed budget. More than $33 million would be cut from agricultural research programs like the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which provides grants for agricultural sciences, and the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SARE), which helps farmers fund conservation projects.

“The budget would slash funding for key agricultural research and conservation programs, undermining the ability of farmers to sustain their land and their livelihoods for the future,” Lavender said.

Cuts to USDA research programs would hardly be the first time the Trump administration showed science to be a low priority for the agency. Trump is expected to name Sam Clovis, a conservative talk-show host that denies the scientific consensus on climate change, to be the USDA’s undersecretary of research, education and economics. That would put Clovis in charge of the USDA’s entire scientific mission, including research programs aimed at helping farmers respond to climate change. Current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also denies the scientific consensus on climate change, calling climate science “a running joke among the public” in a 2014 op-ed published in the National Review.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Trump budget does not specify what will become of one of the Obama administration’s signature climate-focused programs within the USDA, the regional climate hubs, which connect farmers with on-the-ground information about climate science and adaptation in their region. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney did say on Tuesday, however, that the budget at large was aimed at decreasing the “crazy” climate spending of the Obama administration.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on May 23, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Natasha Geiling is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Contact her at ngeiling@americanprogress.org.

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