For the past six years, my life has revolved around the Center for Rural Affairs. Crisscrossing the state of Nebraska, shaking your hand, maybe observing the soil, flora and fauna on your farm and definitely eating the pie at your cafe. In no particular order, below are my most memorable moments of the past six years.
- First Board Meeting in Anselmo, Nebraska
“We are part of Rural America and Rural America is part of us” holds true when your organization holds board meetings at closed schoolhouses on gravel roads in the Sandhills. This was the perfect setting for inspiring conversation.
- Standing Room Only Wind Forums in Scottsbluff and Cortland, Nebraska
Rural Nebraskans care deeply about renewable energy development and want a voice in the process, evidenced by standing-room-only wind energy events I organized in Scottsbluff in 2009 and in Cortland in 2015. Both events were packed and people left empowered.
- Women Caring for the Land Meetings
Women landowners + conservation practices + on-farm examples = awesome. Women like Phyllis McCain, featured in the video clip below, had excited me with their conscience, knowledge and courage.
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- Fighting for Medicaid Expansion for Three Years
Fighting to close an unfair gap in health care access for working, low-income Nebraskans for three consecutive Unicameral sessions gave me the opportunity to work with persistent advocates and great people across the state. My baby son and I attended a rally and I was interviewed by the Lincoln Journal Star at a Medicaid Rally in 2013. Will 2016 be the year when we finally close this needless gap? Gosh, I hope so.
You’d be surprised by the number of times providing childcare became a part of my work. As an organizer, it’s my job to engage rural people in decisions that impact their lives. Sometimes that means holding a baby while their mom attends a workshop for women beginning farmers or watching two-year old twins in a lobbyist's office while their brave mom meets the speaker of the Nebraska Unicameral. We do what it takes to help rural people participate.
- Venango Hamburgers
If you’re ever in the Nebraska Panhandle town of Venago (pop. 164) you’d better stop at the Tin Can Cafe for a hamburger like Traci Bruckner and I did during a trip across the state meeting with Unicameral candidates in September of 2014. Rural organizing is hard work, but there are perks.
- Rural Organizing on Health Care Reform
The Center was talking about health care reform way before it became a hot topic. Rural people, farmers, ranchers, and small-town business owners have been struggling with the high cost of self-insurance for decades. This meant their was no shortage of powerful advocates for health care reform. Sometimes they went above and beyond - showing up at health care meetings with dozens of baked goods, coffee, and passion.
- Fremont Ordinance
When the city of Fremont, where I live, had the opportunity to repeal the discriminatory housing ordinance on illegal immigration, I knew I had to be involved. The Center supported the effort, and Fremont locals launched Fremont Yes to organize Fremont voters. We were ultimately unsuccessful, but I met remarkable Fremonters in the process. Since then I’ve been invited to serve on several boards and try to contribute to Fremont positively as much as possible.
- Gas Station Organizing
When you’re traveling in teeny-tiny towns people notice when you show up. Everyone from the overall-wearing morning coffee club at the gas station to the waitress serving you at the cafe wants to know who you are and what-the-heck you’re doing in town. I almost always take the opportunity to tell them. I’ve added lots of people to our newsletter list this way from beginning ranchers drinking Coors in Chadron to women starting their own flower shops in Auburn to farmers who want to talk about soil.
- Phone Calls
We get many calls at the Center for Rural Affairs on all kinds of topics. Some of the reasons that stick in my mind are:
- They want to start farming or ranching and want a grant and/or encouragement.
- They think their rural mailman is destroying their packages, and they want advice on how to handle it (for real).
- They need legal advice on building and/or maintaining livestock fences.
- They want free land.
- They are lonely and want to chat.
Image: That's me, Virginia Meyer, in the middle with fellow Center staffer Traci Bruckner. We were guests on Siouxland News Talk of the Town at Sunrise.
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