It’s been a momentous, often stressful, and exciting year. The year began with intense engagement efforts in the Georgia special election, followed just weeks alter by a deadly attack on our nation's Capitol. We’re ending the year with historic infrastructure funding and a promising increase in new jobs. While COVID and new variants are a continued threat, hospitalizations due to COVID are significantly down compared to the start of the year. This is thanks to the community organizing from grassroots groups around the country, as well as improved public health practices and expanded vaccine distribution.

Throughout this high-stakes year, the Rural Democracy Initiative has built permanent civic infrastructure in small towns, small cities, and rural areas. Groups are organizing around urgent issues such as voting rights, access to healthcare, and climate justice with strategies that build power over the long term.

It is challenging to raise funds in “off” years to maintain the strong year-round organizing and civic engagement efforts that rural communities need. We are incredibly grateful that our donors enabled us to grant to groups in our network and build momentum for 2022.

We thank you for your support and are excited to share some highlights of what we’ve accomplished together. We hope you are moved to consider an end-of-year donation that will help us jump start the urgent work ahead!

*Photo at top: MOVE Transformative Conversations Canvassers in Missouri

Civic Engagement

Our network’s civic engagement work literally saves lives and bolsters our democracy. The groups provide critical health, housing, and food aid to rural communities. They lead year-round campaigns to engage voters on local issues, develop leaders, communicate to the public about critical issues, advocate for better outcomes, and register people to vote. Some highlights include:

  • Rural Arizona Engagement’s leadership program teaches youth the critical organizing skills — like power mapping and digital organizing — to advocate effectively. These new young leaders are creating engaging campaigns and mobilizing people to vote.
  • Many of our grantees continued their rural deep canvassing work, and People’s Action established a new Deep Canvass Institute. These long-form, values focused conversations lead to better understanding of constituents and stronger relationships. Ultimately, it is one of the most effective methods to persuade voters. Some stand-out groups include We the People MI, Missouri Organizing and Voter Engagement Collaborative (MOVE), Native People’s Action, and The Mobilization Center, as well as People’s Action affiliates Down Home North Carolina, PA Stands Up, and Michigan United.
  • The Rural Power Coalition advocated for the Retire and Reinvest Campaign, which seeks to retire 300 fossil fuel power plants and fund clean energy upgrades, making a difference for 18 million households in rural areas. They are organizing and supporting the next generation of rural electric cooperative leaders in regions with some of the most carbon-intensive and indebted rural utilities in the US.
  • RDI grantees support workers and small businesses that have been especially impacted by COVID and its economic impacts across industries. United for Respect organizes Amazon, Walmart, and Target workers, and One Fair Wage organizes restaurant workers; retail and restaurants are often the biggest employers in rural areas. Meanwhile, Institute for Local Self-Reliance led meaningful research and advocacy about how monopoly power hurts small businesses, and Small Business Majority and Main Street Alliance organizes small business owners. Family Farm Action and Wisconsin Farmer’s Union advocated successfully for protections for small farmers.

Winning Jobs Narrative

Responding to what we heard from the field, we partnered with the New Economy Fund and other groups to launch the Winning Jobs Narrative. Working with top narrative practitioners and advocates, we’re creating a compelling economic narrative and a blueprint for successful messaging about jobs and work. In early 2022, we’ll be rolling out a toolkit and sample content and will work with groups to implement effective and persuasive communications that build support with working people.

Learning Community

We are actively learning about, and sharing, successful strategies for rural organizing. Our grantees conduct original research that benefits rural people. Through message-testing, GALvanize developed highly effective responses to polarizing issues. RuralOrganizing.org polled voters and identified significant messaging gaps.

We’ve pulled out the top ten challenges in non-metro organizing as well as what is working in rural and small-town organizing. It’s summarized, with examples from groups in our network, in a new report: “Investing in Rural and Small-Town Voters.”

We’re seeing the changes in rural America and continue to call on our leaders to see rural people for who they are. One in 4 rural residents are people of color. That’s up from 1 in 5 from 2010.

Racial Justice and Rural Democracy Initiative

In 2021, RDI has worked to refine our approach to racial equity. In partnership with W.A. Pritchett & Associates, we launched a racial justice planning process that includes RDI staff, members of our board, and our grantees. This process is helping us understand and address the unique racial equity challenges our grantees and our own organization face in our small town and rural work, and with rural-focused narratives and philanthropy. We started this process with a comprehensive survey of our staff, board, and grantees. From there, we are establishing strategic priorities and will draft a racial equity plan that details how we’ll operationalize these goals over the next five years.

RDI understands the urgency and timeliness of this work. 42% of our grantees are led by or primarily focused in Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities. We also fund groundbreaking anti-racist work in majority-white rural communities.

Looking Ahead

In 2022, the RDI network will be on the front lines connecting federal funding to local projects and making sure small town, small city, and rural residents feel the impacts in their lives. Our grantees will be doing the person-by-person work of engaging voters who are frustrated with things not changing quickly enough, and who in many cases face crushing voter suppression.