Maine - Spurred to action by inadequate high-speed Internet service as the pandemic besieged their communities, local officials and citizen volunteers in five rural Maine towns formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) in an effort to bring ubiquitous and affordable broadband to its portion of Waldo County. Two years later, the SWCBC is close to securing a major victory for local Internet choice in the face of a well-funded opposition campaign sweeping the Pine Tree State as the Big Telecom lobby and its allies try to undermine the very idea of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks in Maine and elsewhere. The five SWCBC towns clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta – home to approximately 5,600 Mainers – are looking to create what is known as a Broadband Utility District (BUD).
Since the 1980s, financial capital has developed imaginative new ways to strip and seize the assets present in rural zones, whether these be mutually-owned banks, industries, cooperatively-owned grain elevators, local newspapers, hospitals, people’s homes, or stores located in towns and malls.” In the wake of the fiscal austerity agenda enacted by financial and political elites in the late 20th century, the vast majority of the wealth created in America’s countryside “has accrued to shareholders in corporations and financial institutions headquartered in a handful of distant, economically dynamic urban centers.” The financialization of the American economy, especially in those places furthest from economic hubs, can be extremely opaque. But its repercussions – many of which are often seen as causes and effects of backwardness and small-town decline – are all around us.
When scientists say climate change will bring flooding, most people think of big coastal cities: New Orleans, New York, Newport News. They picture TV coverage of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, crashing waves and blown-away beaches. But across the U.S., flooding is arguably the most universal climate menace, threatening more than low-lying coastal cities and sandy beaches. The danger comes from saturated Great Plains, overwhelmed Appalachian creeks, and washed-out wildfire-ravaged hillsides, and it defies all forms of struggling infrastructure. Nearly 15 million properties across the country are at substantial risk of flooding in the next 30 years. Flooding is also — in part due to the fact that it can happen anywhere — the most expensive natural disaster, racking up $100 billion in damages in 2021 alone.
Born and raised in Mount Pulaski, a town in central Illinois, Tom Martin has seen several grocery stores shut their doors over the years. The last one closed in 2016. It was hard to buy basic staples, such as milk or bread, after the independent grocery store’s closure, said Martin, 65, a local farmer. Residents in the 1,500-person town had to rely on the nearby dollar store and gas station to purchase food. “When a grocery store closes up and it’s your last one,” Martin said, “you feel it immediately.” Rural towns, such as Mount Pulaski, have lost grocery stores while dollar-store chains have been on the rise, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The departure of food stores leaves residents, especially those in areas with high poverty rates and dwindling population, with fewer options to buy food.
Most of the windows in the Dover, Idaho community hall face old Dover, still looking over the original mill workers’ houses and church that were transported upriver in 1922. Slipping into the kitchen and peering out the back window, however, is a reminder of how much Dover has changed. In the 1950s, it would have looked at a tangle of trees, then a deep meadow in the distance, and the community’s sandy beach just beyond that. Later, the view would include massive piles of woodchips, the birch trees providing some cover between the building and graying piles of sawdust. Today, there’s a walking path that skirts the back of the community hall and, beyond that, brand-new homes. Dozens of buildings, from condominiums to bungalows to massive mansions, now sit in the fields where the mill once stood.
On any given day, Mary Ellen Pratt, CEO of St. James Parish Hospital in rural Lutcher, Louisiana, doesn’t know how she’s going to staff the 25-bed hospital she manages. With the continued surge of the COVID-19 delta variant, she’s had to redirect resources. Her small team, including managers, has doubled up on duties, shifts and hours to care for intensive care patients, she said. “We’re having to postpone elective surgeries that require hospitalizations because we can’t take care of those patients in the hospital,” Pratt said. “The staff working in outpatient services have been redeployed to bedside care.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, Pratt said, she’s lost nurses who decided to retire early. The hospital offered salary bumps for current staff and incentive pay earlier in the pandemic, Pratt said.
On May 29, local activists in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, (population 11,739) and the greater Skagit County area held a march against racism marking the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. Marchers gathered at Hammer Heritage Square in downtown Sedro-Woolley for sign-waving followed by a march of about 75 people through the business district starting at noon.
For the Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center, the last straw was the COVID-19 pandemic, which strained the critical access hospital's already-precarious finances past the breaking point. In Florida, two hospitals closed inpatient non-emergency services after being bought out by the HCA hospital chain. In Tennessee and West Virginia, financial problems combined with the strain of the pandemic led two more rural hospitals to shut their doors. Of the 20 rural hospitals that closed in 2020, 13 were in the South, according to data from the Sheps Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which defines a closed hospital as one that no longer offers inpatient services.
Over the last two months the coronavirus pandemic has brought nation’s largest, and most powerful cities to their knees. But as curves show signs of flattening in many urban areas, and governors have begun the process of “reopening” their economies, new hotspots are emerging in places like southwest Georgia, the Navajo nation, and in and around meatpacking plants in Iowa and the Texas panhandle. Rural communities like these lack the healthcare infrastructure and financial resources of larger cities, while at the same time are home to and older and sicker populations, more likely to suffer serious complications or death due to the virus. That is why governors who are reopening their economies prematurely are not only misguided but also could end up driving the devastation of rural America.
As postal workers strain to meet demand for deliveries of medicine, food, and other essentials, the U.S. Postal Service is facing potential financial collapse due to plummeting mail revenue. Without a major cash infusion, the USPS is on track to run out of money before the end of September, according to the Postmaster General. A USPS shutdown would be devastating for the entire country, but especially for the rural communities that rely most on a public service with a universal mandate to serve every address, no matter how remote. A new Institute for Policy Studies report finds that the 15 most rural U.S. states would face heavy blows to jobs, revenue, mail and package deliveries, and voting rights.
The sea of red on recent election maps make it look like rural areas are uniformly populated by Republicans. And conventional wisdom suggests that those Americans are largely conservative populists who question many government regulations and do not welcome cultural diversity. But the growing influence of Native American nations in some rural areas is starting to change that picture. Empowered by their treaty rights, they are beginning to shift the values of their white neighbors toward a populism that cuts across racial and cultural lines to challenge large corporations.
New York – October 26, 2018 – The “UN Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas” was presented in the UN headquarters to the Third Committee of the General Assembly on 25th October. This comes on the back of a nearly two decade long process of consultations and negotiations led by millions of peasants from La Vía Campesina, along with pastoralists, artisanal fisher folk, agricultural workers and indigenous peoples’ organizations, with the support of CETIM and FIAN International. The Declaration, if accepted can ensure that the rights of rural populations are better recognized and protected by the international community.
This summer, people gathered in cities throughout the country to protest our government’s separation and incarceration of immigrant families. In Alabama, hundreds of local residents came together in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Dothan. It was only the Huntsville rally that made national news — after an armed counter-protester attempted to disrupt the event. Whether explicitly stated or not, the narrative was the same: A white Trump supporter threatening violence came to epitomize Alabama’s stance on immigration. It’s a convenient narrative that plays into the hands of anti-immigrant policymakers, who’ve been using Alabama to justify harsh immigration policies for years. In 2011, Alabama passed the notorious HB 56, the harshest anti-immigrant law in the country.
In April, President Trump signed an executive order allowing some Medicaid recipients to be exempted from requirements that they find jobs or lose their health insurance. Now, the states taking advantage of the order, called “Reducing Poverty in America,” are facing scrutiny for allegedly creating policies that, as Talking Points Memo (TMP) reports, “would in practice shield many rural, white residents from the impact of the new rules.” Kentucky and Ohio are applying for the waivers that the executive order allows. Each of their proposals include exemptions for the counties with the highest unemployment, which happen to be mostly white, GOP-voting and rural. In contrast, according to TMP, “many low-income people of color who live in high-unemployment urban centers would not qualify...
The future of tiny Brilliant, Alabama, just got brighter with a clear path to broadband. Thanks to Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, state leadership and funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, residents of a rural community beset by persistent poverty will soon have the fastest internet service available. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Thursday presented a $2.98 million grant to Steve Foshee, president and CEO of the electric co-op and its broadband subsidiary, Tombigbee Communications, in an event crowded with elected officials and residents in Hamilton, Alabama. “To compete in today’s global marketplace, we must remove the infrastructure gaps in rural communities,” said Perdue, who lauded Tombigbee’s participation in the USDA grant program and encouraged others to follow.