2017 Winner: Can the Heartland Be Healed?: Challenges to Community Organizing in Poor White Rural America

Project Information
Can the Heartland Be Healed?: Challenges to Community Organizing in Poor White Rural America
Social Sciences
Community Studies
In light of the current political climate, more notice is being given to poor rural white America. Research on the persistence of rural poverty provides theory on the importance of community resources and the effects of social isolation that many rural places endure. Political, sociological, and cognitive science research on the conservatism of these poor rural white communities provides explanations for the political preferences and individualist beliefs which often undercut public goods in areas already suffering from poverty and lacking resources. My own perspective as a community organizer connects these theories to my own research to explain how rural poverty and white conservatism impede the work of community organizations attempting to organize these communities for their own economic justice. My body of field observations comes from interviews, daily interactions, and participating in community life while living and working in the community of Alton, Missouri at an organization attempting to mitigate poverty and promote food access. In today’s polarized and volatile political climate, which has in part been produced by the hardships and insularity of poor white rural America, community organizing in these areas is more urgent than ever. I put forth the notion that community organizations must take the serious obstacles I identify into account when designing interventions. Finally, I suggest some practices and changes for community organizing initiatives and concerned activists looking to surmount the challenges their initiatives face and achieve economic justice for the white rural poor.
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  • Madeleine Lorna Keller (Kresge)