In the heated moments of the last six months, we have witnessed both a chilling swell of support for Trumpism and the continuing rise of transformative leadership from people of color led movements such as the Standing Rock Resistance and the Movement for Black Lives. White folks around the country are becoming active and politicized to take bold action against white supremacy. These volatile moments often have us looking for easy answers, or a direction to point fingers so that we can be one of the “good guys.” One way this plays out is urban or city dwelling white folks putting blame on rural communities as the owners of racism in America.
Rural communities have long been abandoned by movements on the Left, academics, and liberal politicians. This has left rural communities without resources to navigate the painful impacts of economic downturn and extreme poverty. As the timber industry collapsed, coal mines and plants began to close, and manufacturing jobs left the US, rural and small town communities have largely had to fend for themselves. It has also allowed the Far Right, such as Patriot Militias, to build a base in these areas and prey on folks who are struggling to get by. Meanwhile, urban organizers have avoided taking accountability for their stake in ending systemic racism as cities gentrify, schools privatize, city jails fill up, and police budgets grow. Racism is alive and well in every square foot of America, and all white people have a part in ending it.
We also cannot forget that rural communities have been organizing for generations. Throughout the early 1900s Union members of the IWW held anti-racism trainings and pushed for policies that protected all workers, resisting both Jim Crow laws and the racism of larger unions like the AFL. Rural communities have anchored anti-Klan, White Nationalist, and Right Wing Militia resistance for decades. This work has been carried out with fewer resources, and many obstacles, yet it heavily influences organizing around the country. Our rural partners can teach us a great deal about how to call others in, work from mutual interest, build strong enduring relationships, look to the leadership of people across generations, mobilize in multiracial coalitions, and do the work when there isn’t a budget.
Falling into the blame game against rural communities actually helps our targets, because we focus on disparaging our rural neighbors instead of organizing to take on white supremacy. There may be some Trump supporters living in rural communities, but the political and corporate interests that have built power from the Trump campaign call major US cities their home. American racism has been fueled by economic violence against poor and working class people, particularly those in rural communities. Until we work together to address this intersection, we will not succeed. It is true that rural and urban organizers will use different tactics in our work, but we have to keep focused on shared targets. City folks must not turn on our rural partners.
We cannot undermine white supremacy and build the kind of world we all want to live in without a rural organizing strategy. Rural community leaders have shown bold leadership and critical perspective for the movement to end racism. It's long past time to pay attention.
Folks who live in cities can support rural organizers by:
Giving financially to rural organizing groups such as Rural Organizing Project
Listening to the leadership and wisdom of rural leaders, especially when it is different from your lived experience
Practice leaning into the values of mutual interest, calling-in and working class organizing
Call-in others who you see blaming rural white communities for racism
Holding teach-ins for your base on the history of rural resistance and on who the real beneficiaries of racism are..
- Do our own work organizing campaigns to undermine white supremacy in our communities.
By Zoë, Erin and Jeff