Matthew Hildreth, who grew up on a small farm in eastern South Dakota, is the executive director of RuralOrganizing.org.
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‘White, Conservative, and Dumb’—and Other Lies About Rural America
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
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
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.
Native Americans vs. Nazi Sympathizers: The Bizarre Backstory on Changing an Offensive University Mascot
Video Interview with David Bazan
Since 1994, David Bazan has put sharp questions about faith, justice, and his Pentecostal-evangelical upbringing front and center in his songs.
An Interview with Morgan Spurlock
Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is not afraid to get messy.
Video Interview with Don Miller
Don Miller is the founder of The Mentoring Project and author of
Video Interview with Vincent Harding
Video Interview with Michael J. Sandel
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
How To Build a Memorial Prayer Altar
Ed Spivey Jr's Latest H'rumphs Video
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.
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.
I hold in my hand a printout of the e-mail I just received from Barack Obama.
Ed Spivey Jr.'s H'rumphs Video
Vote in the M2EP FilmMaker Challenge
In preparation for the upcoming Mobilization to End Poverty on April 26th - 29th, Sojourners and World Vision have launched their first ever http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=events.M2EP&item=M2EP-filmmaker