INVESTING IN RURAL LIVABILITY
In recent years, increasing attention has focused on challenges facing rural communities and the need for greater investment in rural livability. This attention is long overdue; many hardworking rural people have long felt that their communities have been passed over. Livability includes all those things that make a community a good place to live: jobs, reliable services like banks and supermarkets, transportation, recreation, and more. Many rural regions lack these elements because rural communities have long been underfunded compared to non-rural areas. Equity in funding is a key part of rural livability, so that schools, hospitals, and other institutions have what they need to serve the community.
Framing: respect, opportunity, self-determination
As policymakers, we aim to unite communities across our shared values. Advocating for rural livability that empowers local families and promotes respect, opportunity, and self-determination is a top priority because these values are deeply held among working people, regardless of where they live or what they look like.
With the support of policy priorities that address equitable food systems like those below, local communities will have what they need to solve local problems. Opposition continues to talk at families, we are forging a new path to ensure legislators are speaking with families. By using effective communication strategies, we can neutralize inflammatory language, unite our coalitions, and pass the policies we all need.
USE SHARED RURAL VALUES TO CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
Effective communications require more than simply reciting facts, but also leveraging the values people share to resonate across race, class, age, gender, and place. The best messages follow the VPSA model (Values, Problem, Solution, Action). First, we unite along shared values to introduce the issue, then demonstrate the collectively held problem, name the solution to the problem, and finally, leave with a call to action joining you to solve the problem. This formula keeps our messages concise while disarming opponents who seek to divide us. To get you started, here are three rural values we feel are particularly relevant for communicating with rural constituents about rural livability:
- Framing: Like everyone, rural people expect respect for their work and their contributions to family and community. Too much of today’s national discussion about rural Americans instead relies on false and disrespectful stereotypes. By truly listening to the experiences and needs of rural families and championing policies for their communities, policymakers can demonstrate respect for their rural constituents and build trust with them.
- Example Statement: (Value)We need to build a rural economy that respects working people—with quality jobs and education, affordable healthcare and childcare—so people can work, take care of their families, and contribute to their communities. (Problem) But for too long, state and federal investments in our rural regions have been a patchwork and have lagged behind those to cities and towns. (Solution) We need a coordinated vision and strategy for rural investments that make sure working people, small businesses, and family farmers have the opportunity and tools to build a good life. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to create a state Office of Rural Prosperity to coordinate efforts and properly fund the things rural communities need and want.
- Example Talking Points:
- Rural educators and healthcare providers are the backbone of our communities. Our bill supports rural institutions to provide high-quality services with respect for all they serve.
- Our Office of Rural Prosperity will be a nonpartisan voice in the statehouse for hardworking rural people, so our small towns and rural routes get the investments and respect they need.
- Framing: Too many rural young people see their small towns as a place to leave, with no educational opportunities or job prospects. Decades of rural “brain drain” have contributed to hollowing out rural communities. But this trend can be reversed. Many young people want to stay near their families and on the land they know. Policymakers can invest in a prosperous future for rural regions by investing in the services and opportunities that allow people to make a life where they are from.
- Example Statement: (Value) Rural young people need opportunities for education and jobs in their hometowns. (Problem) Decades of lack of investment in rural regions have stripped essential services from these communities, forcing young people to choose between staying in their hometown and good job opportunities elsewhere. (Solution) Our Rural Reinvestment bill will provide grants and low-interest loans to new and expanding small businesses.
- Example Talking Points:
- Investing in public transportation will make it easier and less expensive for hardworking residents to get to their jobs, schools, doctors appointments, and stores.
- Framing: Rural families value innovation as a way to address challenges. Due to isolated geography and sheer grit, rural communities often creatively and collectively solve their own problems. Whether fixing broken farm equipment or fixing broken policies, rural families have long thought outside the box to come up with solutions to day-to-day problems.
- Example Statement: (Value) Rural Americans rely on themselves and their neighbors to overcome challenges. (Problem) But since our local bank closed, predatory lending companies have been taking advantage of families and charging exorbitant rates. (Solution) My Community Banking bill would invest in new local banks, giving families more control over their money and their futures.
- Example Talking Points:
- Having the opportunities and tools they need enables hardworking rural Americans to build the future they want for their families and communities.
In practice: Media getting it right
Article | Rural electric co-ops see new opportunity in Inflation Reduction Act, 2022
- WHAT WE LIKE
- The article emphasizes rural solutions and actions. The article leads with the inequity small independent rural co-ops have faced when competing against larger urban electrical grids. The Inflation Reduction Act brings opportunity for more affordable rural livability.
- This article also allows readers to bring together the federal government’s role in providing funds and the need of holding current local leaders accountable in using these funds. The article also emphasizes the importance of livability champions, like the rural co-op President and their role in living out the values customers support.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- Explicitly name the shared values that cross partisan lines and bring together all leadership levels in seeing this program work. The article agrees on the solutions and the visions, but needs to call out how it takes all levels of government to share in these values, so the community collectively can benefit from the vision and solutions.
Podcast | Reimagine Rural
- WHAT WE LIKE:
- Long form journalism allows for a deeper look at the regional nuances of rural livability needs and solutions.
- Directly points to the influx of federal dollars coming into rural communities and how it can be collaboratively used to bring new opportunities to the rural landscape.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- Much of the podcast centers on stories of tourism and attracting newcomers to declining communities. We would also like to see stories on infrastructure improvements for current rural residents, such as hospitals and schools.
If you have questions or feedback about these communications guides, please be in touch with the SiX Agriculture and Food Systems Team. We love to hear from you!