Matthew Hildreth, who grew up on a small farm in eastern South Dakota, is the executive director of

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‘White, Conservative, and Dumb’—and Other Lies About Rural America

by Matthew Hildreth 04-22-2020
How rural organizers are building change in their communities by focusing on what politicians ignore: relationships.

Illustrations by Clare Louise Mallison

IT WAS COLD — even for northwest Iowa in November. And I was late.

I thought I could make up time if I took the back way, a route I’d driven many times before. But the one-lane bridge across the Rock River was out and, judging by the abandoned construction site, it hadn’t been open for a while. I had moved away four years earlier and was a little behind on local traffic patterns.

To locals, the region surrounding the Big Sioux River drainage basin—stretching across parts of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota—is known as “Siouxland.” To most Americans, this is flyover country.

I grew up in Siouxland, crisscrossing the region for family gatherings, 4-H horse shows, and trail rides, but I knew my time there was limited. Through TV, I learned about life in the big city and what the rest of the country thought of hicks, hillbillies, and hayseeds like me. I learned that to be successful, I had to leave. And so, like many of my classmates, I left as soon as I could.

I went to college in Minneapolis and pursued a career in media; after graduation I spent time in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., working on shows such as Monday Night Football and Good Morning America.

But on the morning of May 12, 2008, everything changed: Hundreds of federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided an Iowa meatpacking plant, arresting 389 community members. At the time, I was a media producer for Sojourners, so I traveled to Iowa to cover the humanitarian response organized by Sister Mary McCauley, parish administrator of the local Catholic church.

Within hours of the raid, Sister McCauley had the entire community of 2,269 residents organized. When I interviewed her a few days later, the church was full of children still waiting to be reunited with their families. The church’s fellowship hall was filled with clothes, meals, and supplies for the children; community volunteers worked through legal paperwork on behalf of those detained. In a moment of complete chaos, community members rose to the challenge and stood together with their neighbors. It was at this point I realized the power of rural organizing. I was hooked.

Leveraging the gifts of the community

IN MARCH, AS the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus erupted around the world, rural hospitals in the U.S. faced a particularly grim reality: Like hospitals across the nation, they faced a shortage of personal protective equipment such as N-95 masks and gowns. But unlike their urban and suburban counterparts, rural hospitals were already struggling. According to a 2017 study, 41 percent of rural hospitals operate at a loss, a result of decreasing Medicare reimbursements, more patients with underlying conditions, and fewer patients with private insurance. “We’re stretched thin as it is,” one hospital CEO told the Washington Post. “We’ll improvise and make it work however we can.”

As cases of COVID-19 skyrocketed, I thought about McCauley and all the organizers like her that I’ve met in the 12 years since the Postville immigration raid. Many of the best community organizers I know would never give themselves that title. They don’t work for a campaign or an organization. Often, they’re just everyday folks who believe their community is worth fighting for.

Fast for Families: Voters in Steve King’s District Thank Immigration Fasters

by Matthew Hildreth 12-04-2013

A thank you and encouraging note to the fasters with #Fast4Families by a resident of Steve King's district in Iowa

As the least productive Congress in history begins to wind down its first legislative session, immigration reform is coming to a boil.

It’s already been 160 days since the Senate passed its immigration bill and the House already has 191 co-sponsors on its bipartisan bill. Still, House Republicans have failed to take the next step and have only voted on one immigration provision so far this year — Steve King’s (R-Iowa) amendment to defund DACA and deport DREAMers.

And with King (most famous for saying young immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes” from lifting 75 pound bags of drugs across the border) at the helm for Republicans on immigration, it’s no wonder that they’re getting nowhere on immigration.

But the tragic irony of all of this is that King’s own constituents (myself included) overwhelmingly support immigration reform. Recent polling by The American Action Network, a conservative outside group, shows that 79 percent of voters in his district support the tenets in the Senate Gang of Eight bill. Despite that popularity, King and his shrinking list of allies in the House have kept Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) from addressing the moral crisis afflicting millions of workers, children, mothers, and fathers.

Faith Leaders Target Alabama's Immigration Bill With Ad

by Matthew Hildreth 04-04-2012

Yesterday, a diverse group of faith leaders in Alabama released a television ad targeting Alabama's HB 56 -- the worst anti-immigrant law in the country.

The 30-second ad features Rev. Steve Jones, senior pastor at Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham.

''We believe in reaching out and ministering to our community. Yet under Alabama's immigration law, we could be prosecuted for following God's call to be good Samaritans,” Jones says in the ad.


Being There

by Matthew Hildreth 12-01-2010
A reluctant uncle witnesses the home birth of his nephew.

Native Americans vs. Nazi Sympathizers: The Bizarre Backstory on Changing an Offensive University Mascot

by Matthew Hildreth 04-16-2010
After almost a century of debate and a four-year-long legal battle, the North Dakota Board of Higher Educat

Video Interview with David Bazan

by Jeannie Choi, by Matthew Hildreth 02-01-2010

Since 1994, David Bazan has put sharp questions about faith, justice, and his Pentecostal-evangelical upbringing front and center in his songs.

Video Interview with Vincent Harding

Vincent G.

An Interview with Morgan Spurlock

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is not afraid to get messy.

Video Interview with Don Miller

by Jeannie Choi, by Matthew Hildreth, by Don Miller 01-01-2010

Don Miller is the founder of The Mentoring Project and author of

Video Interview with Michael J. Sandel

by Jim Wallis, by Matthew Hildreth 12-01-2009

Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel is used to playing to large crowds—his undergraduate course on justice enrolls more than 1,000 students each year.

Watch a How-To Video on Composting with Worms

by Jim Rice, by Jeannie Choi, by Matthew Hildreth 12-01-2009
Sojourners editor Jim Rice and his family have been composting with worms for more than a decade. In this video how-to, he shares 7 steps to composting with worms.

How To Build a Memorial Prayer Altar

Remember your loved ones this month with this beautiful prayer altar

Ed Spivey Jr's Latest H'rumphs Video

by Ed Spivey Jr., by Matthew Hildreth 08-01-2009

With all the mixed signals we've been getting these days about the use of torture, it's hard to know what to believe.

H'rumphs Video with Ed Spivey Jr.

by Ed Spivey Jr., by Matthew Hildreth 06-01-2009

Ed Spivey Jr., Sojourners magazine's award-winning art director and humor columnist, laments his rapidly shrinking newspaper and considers the future of the 24-hour news cycle.

H'rumphs Video

by Ed Spivey Jr., by Matthew Hildreth 05-01-2009

I hold in my hand a printout of the e-mail I just received from Barack Obama.

Ed Spivey Jr.'s H'rumphs Video

by Ed Spivey Jr., by Matthew Hildreth 04-01-2009

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Vote in the M2EP FilmMaker Challenge

by Matthew Hildreth 02-26-2009

In preparation for the upcoming Mobilization to End Poverty on April 26th - 29th, Sojourners and World Vision have launched their first ever

Tips on Bridging the Persistent Digital Divide

by Matthew Hildreth 02-03-2009
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Video: Inauguration Eve Interview with Moby

by Matthew Hildreth 01-29-2009
Last week, the SojoTube team had a chance to sit down with DJ, songwriter, and musician Moby

Video: Dr. Sharon Watkins' Sermon at the National Prayer Service

by Matthew Hildreth 01-22-2009

090121-sharon-watkinsDisciples of Christ General Minister and President (and Sojourners Board member) Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins delivered this sermon, "Harmonies of Liberty," during the National Prayer Service in Washington, D.C.