Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Annual National Rural Assembly focuses on civic courage in the building of an inclusive nation, offers lots of stories

The annual three-day conference of the National Rural Assembly ends today in Durham, N.C. It's a network of organizations and individuals focused on improving conditions in rural America, coordinated by the Center for Rural Strategies. This year's discussions centered around "how we build a more inclusive nation, viewed through a lens of civic courage," says the assembly's website.

Carol Blackmon and Anita Earls embodied that theme and spoke at this year's assembly, Bryce Oates reports for The Daily Yonder, published by the center. Blackmon helped black voters register in the Deep South in the 1960s and is still a civil-rights activist. Earls, an attorney who founded the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in 2007, successfully challenged North Carolina voting laws that disenfranchised minorities, and is running for a seat on the state Supreme Court.

The conference also featured several "Firestarter" speakers who shared how they sparked change in rural communities. Chris Poore of Yonder profiled several and shared videos of their talks, including:
  • Liz Shaw, who organized the Appalachian Ohio and West Virginia Connectivity Summit in an effort to bring broadband to Appalachian regions of both states. Read more here and see the video.
  • David Toland, the CEO of rural revitalization advocate Thrive Allen County in Kansas, who said one of the biggest obstacles to bringing positive changes to rural areas is the notion that most efforts will fail. He urged listeners to ask community members what changes they'd like to see, start small if necessary, and build on what community members suggest. Read more here and see the video.
  • Magaly Licolli, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center, who fights for labor rights for immigrant workers in Arkansas. "Southern politeness" can be one of the biggest obstacles to justice and fairness, she advised, and said it's important to challenge comfort zones. "We will not effect change by caring about the feelings of people with privilege," she said in her talk. Read more here and see the video.
  • Anita Earls, mentioned above, said she worries about what she sees as a trend of ignoring many community voices. "What I see us facing right now is a true threat to our democracy, " Earls said. "We now have forces that don’t believe in the importance of having every voice at the table." Read more here and see the video.

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