The Urban Rural Divide and Just Sustainability for the 99%

by | Dec 21, 2021 | Sustainable Economies

Every election cycle we hear about the urban/rural divide, pitting blue against red. There are a hundred theories about how one side or the other can emerge the winner. Rarely do any of these theories address the concerns of working and poor people.

For those committed to radical transformation, our job is to tear down the artificial barriers the billionaires create. Here are some thoughts for urban folk who would like to forge alliances in rural areas.

  1. City folk need to understand the changing economic calculus of the US countryside. While urban centers are mostly post-industrial, rural areas are industrializing and becoming more racially diverse. In rural areas one or two industries dominate: a mill, mine, meatpacking plant, or corporate farm, a hospital, military base, tourist site, or prison. Rural workers struggle in a context of win or lose all. Meth labs and the military fill in the gaps.

    If the factory or mill closes, the whole town closes. Like urban areas economic devastation can precipitate addiction epidemics, and other health crises. Racial, rural/urban, and regional divisions keep our communities from seeing our predicaments as related. A coalition across these divides, demanding economic justice and a health care for all could be unstoppable.
  2. Military recruitment and military bases keep small dying towns alive.  Any effort to transform economies away from the military/industrial complex must focus on creating alternatives. Otherwise we will create no urban/rural coalition, ever.

    Capturing and uniting a deep desire to end war across the rural/urban divide, is possible. We have war memorials in every town. We need to transform them, allowing veterans and those who lost loved ones to war to tell their truths in marble and brass, giving them the veracity and power to end all wars and heal the trauma stressing whole communities.

    We need to point out that the militarization of local police forces and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) moves us in the opposite direction, bringing the war home.

  3. Rural people, like inner city dwellers, are often the victims of environmental injustice. New York City dumped its garbage on Sierra Blanca, Texas. The people of Montana and North Dakota suffered contaminated water from fracking. The O’Odaam in Arizona were deprived of life-giving water for decades. I both urban and rural areas we can work against environmental injustice, and advocate for public works projects, alternatives to the military, that put young people to work planting trees, build solar panels and mass transit, in the war against climate change and environmental injustice.

  4. The pro-gun hysteria has a logical foundation in rural America where hunting is still a source of food and a cultural glue. However, the gun frenzy — people owning multiple weapons of war in their homes– is a business ploy of the NRA, creating fear, feeding racism to bulge its bottom line.  Tragedy has created an opening.  When all those guns proved useless to stop a disgruntled and traumatized man from New Braunfels, Texas from shooting up a small town Texas Baptist church, an incredulous local reporter noted  “But everyone here is armed!”

    If we are going to stem the violence we are going to have to separate the right to hunt and the right to bear arms, for civilians and police. We also have to deal with the hoarding of resources and the gates erected to safeguard them. That is what make us all unsafe.

  5. Guns and the fear of the other go hand in hand, and the racist roots of that fear in rural areas must be confronted. These same fears and exist in urban areas leading to over-policing and 911 calls for living-while-a-Person-of-Color. We need to address racism (and other bigotries) directly as we take on the rural/urban divide, and part of that reckoning is understanding the depth of systemic racism in urban areas. Conversations can start with ”Many people in the city harbor those misperceptions too. Here is what is wrong with that idea.”

  6. To create equitable and sustainability economies requires economic diversity. When the eggs are in one basket, the bosses get the omelet and the workers are eventually left with the shells. One-product economies rip communities of resources, leaving dirty water and unemployment. Corporations ravish communities because we allow it. In their search for profit, they recognize no borders, local or international. Our fight to hold them accountable must be equally universal, starting across urban/rural divides, spreading across our national borders. The walls we need to dismantle are made of iron and membrane.

    The audacity of US economic disparities is obvious–urban or rural–if we care to look. In all areas developers and corporations have been encroaching on public resources transferring the commons to billionaires. In rural areas in that might be a pipeline, or Mc-mansions. These 1%ers know no borders. They erect the divisions to keep us apart.

  7. Jobs are essential, but only if bosses treat workers with dignity and fair compensation. Urban and rural, we have seen a growth in subsistence wages, the crime of employment and poverty going hand in hand.

    A progressive campaign that refuses to pit urban and rural interests, but instead talks about sustainable economies that lift up those most in need, will do much to tear down urban/rural divides.  
                               Anne Winkler-Morey explores these issues in her book Allegiance to Winds and Waters: Bicycling the Political Divides of the United States