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New RDI Grants Support Vital Organizing in Rural Communities

The Rural Democracy Initiative (RDI) team has been working overtime to complete our 2021 grant making. In September the steering committees of our 501c3 Heartland Fund and 501c4 Rural Victory Fund approved an additional $2,075,000 in grants to build the strong civic and political infrastructure rural communities need. Thanks to our generous donors, we supported 37 groups in 12 states and are busy preparing 35 more grants for October approval.

Meaningful change in rural communities requires ongoing, year-round engagement — with as much attention to passing and implementing policies that improve people’s lives as to voting and electing champions. That’s why the majority of our grants this year maintained strong support for previously funded organizations. RDI provides consistent funding so groups can build momentum for short-term and long-term wins. For example, RDI supports Faith in Indiana, which led a successful statewide campaign to pass groundbreaking police reform legislation. In the coming year, they will deepen their work by expanding voter drives, launching a new leadership development program, and supporting the creation of a new statewide civic power coalition.

We’re excited to double down on our support in rural Alaska with grants to three new organizations. Alaska Public Interest Research Group leads the work on redistricting, fighting for language access — including providing critical translation services in 8 Native Alaskan languages — and facilitating several other coalitions and issue-based campaigns. The new Communications Hub provides communications expertise and coordination to progressive organizations across the state. The Alaska Center is launching a youth civic engagement program, which is especially critical in the nation’s second-youngest state that includes the nation’s three most diverse high schools. Now is a critical time to invest in youth, Black, and Indigenous organizing. Alaska is 16% Native and is estimated to be majority Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the 2030s.

As a nimble funder that supports innovative programs, we are also excited to fund a promising new coalition in Georgia. CASA, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), and New Georgia Project (NGP) are incredibly effective organizations coming together to mobilize rural residents in SE Georgia. NGP has helped more than 500,000 Georgians register to vote and is one of the anchor organizations leading Georgia’s civic transformation. CASA is one of the nation’s leading immigrant advocacy organizations and, with RDI funding, is bringing its grassroots organizing power to Georgia to open permanent operations in the state. SURJ engages rural, white communities for anti-racist mobilization, working closely with Black and people of color accountability partners. Together, these organizations are leading a new effort in Savannah and the surrounding area to engage 50,000 voters and mobilize 1,000 residents to take action on a locally driven campaign to take the people’s power back in Georgia.

The path to progress in this country runs through rural America — places that you hear a lot about like rural Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, as well as longer-term priorities like Montana, Alaska, and Texas. Our grants this fall ensure the 100+ groups in our network can maintain their capacity, help rural people understand how the federal benefits flowing from the Rescue Act and Jobs Plan can make a huge difference in their daily lives and communities, and strengthen their position for the tough 2022 campaigns.