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About RDI

RDI offers a high impact program of coordinated rural civic engagement, communications, policy advocacy, and community organizing efforts.

RDI is a coalition of local and national rural innovators and aligned funders working in states where powerful, progressive, and permanent civic infrastructure in small cities and towns will have the biggest impact on public opinion, elections and redistricting processes. We are building sustainable infrastructure that supports rural people working to transform rural America – and therefore our national politics – for decades to come.

The RDI Approach

Rural Democracy Initiative invests in civic and political change in small towns and rural communities. Building power in these communities is essential if we're to establish an enduring progressive, multi-racial national majority, and implement the policies required for rural and small town communities to have vibrant, thriving futures. 

Progressives are winning again in small towns and rural communities.

In 2018, it became clear that progressives and center-left candidates can win in rural communities. Even though rural areas voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016, rural Democratic gains in the 2018 midterms were actually larger than the gains made in urban and suburban areas. 

A grassroots movement comprised largely of rural women, people of color, and young voters fueled a historic progressive bounce-back in rural areas.

Why RDI 

Despite shrinking numbers, small town and rural voters maintain disproportionate power to shape national politics.

The progressive movement was built on a strong coalition of rural farmers and urban laborers. But in recent decades, progressive leadership and funding infrastructure has largely withdrawn from non-metro areas. A recent analysis found that just .5% of foundation grants have the word “rural” in the description, and only about 6-7% of all grant dollars go to rural areas which contain 19% of the U.S. population.

At the same time, regressive interests have invested heavily in rural voters. They’ve built massive organizing, policy, and communications machines to spread misinformation and ignite fears among rural electorates, promoting their own political agendas to deepen urban-rural divides.

As a result, between 2008 and 2016, the Republican share of the urban vote hardly changed, but in rural areas Republicans gained nine points while Democrats lost 11. Of the 592 counties that shifted at least 20 points toward Trump, 387 had populations under 25,000, and 133 had populations between 25,000 and 50,000—only 26 had populations greater than 100,000. 



Our Team

Sarah Jaynes

Sarah is the Director of the Rural Democracy Initiative. She also serves as a Senior Advisor to Committee on States, coaching emerging donor alliances in states from Alaska, to New Hampshire, to Alabama. Sarah previously served as Executive Director of Progress Alliance of Washington for thirteen years. In this capacity she helped found some of Washington state’s most important civic engagement organizations including the Washington Bus, Fuse, and the Win/Win Network, and co-led development of the Heroes’ Narrative project.  Sarah is recognized for her expertise leading innovative campaigns integrating field experiments, digital platforms, and transformative narrative. An organizer at heart, Sarah has dedicated 25 years to working for shared prosperity, democracy, and a healthy environment. When she’s not working, she is raising four kids and enjoying the spectacular Washington mountains.




Susan Kroger

Susan is our new Program and Operations Manager. She has served in leadership roles in issues- based nonprofits over the past 15 years. She holds a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Northern Iowa and is completing her PhD in Rural Sociology at SDSU with an emphasis in gender and policy. Her research interests include the use of social media within social movements and barriers to social movement participation. She's a Co-Founder of LEAD South Dakota, a grassroots organization that has helped thousands of new South Dakotans become involved in politics and helped elect several progressive candidates to office since its inception in 2016. Susan spent the last three years as a research director with a large healthcare provider where she consults on over 25 evaluation metrics projects as a data scientist. She lives in Sioux Falls with her 9 year old daughter and 8 year old son.




With strategic investments, progressives can win again in rural communities, we are changing the political landscape of rural America.