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The Gentrification of the Rural West

By Ryanne Pilgeram - In These Times, February 4, 2022

Most of the windows in the Dover, Idaho community hall face old Dover, still looking over the original mill workers’ houses and church that were transported upriver in 1922. Slipping into the kitchen and peering out the back window, however, is a reminder of how much Dover has changed. In the 1950s, it would have looked at a tangle of trees, then a deep meadow in the distance, and the community’s sandy beach just beyond that. Later, the view would include massive piles of woodchips, the birch trees providing some cover between the building and graying piles of sawdust.

Today, there’s a walking path that skirts the back of the community hall and, beyond that, brand-new homes. Dozens of buildings, from condominiums to bungalows to massive mansions, now sit in the fields where the mill once stood. Adorned with natural wood shingles and crisp white trim, the homes share a similar architectural style, meant to evoke the craftsman style that was popular when the buildings of old Dover were floating up the river. But the homes are unmistakably modern in their attempt to blend the ruggedness of the Pacific Northwest with the comforts of upper-middle-class living.

Lining freshly paved streets, the new homes nestle against the development’s headquarters, which features a fitness club and an upscale restaurant. The development was approved in 2004 after a lengthy and contentious struggle with the inhabitants of old Dover. Since then, new Dover has brought waves of new people to the community, drawn by the scenic beauty (and recreational potential) of the river and adjoining lake. 

When looking out the window of the old Dover community hall, the new homes are so close, it seems like you might be able to peer inside them. But the new homes are built with their backs to the community center so that they can face the lake and river. 

And so it is: old and new, back to back, a path winding between them. 

People's Utility Justice Playbook​

By Yesenia Rivera and Johanna Bozuwa - Energy Democracy Project, October 2021

Have you ever wondered who is in charge of your electricity? And why?

The People’s Utility Justice Playbook has two components:

  1. a “History of Utilities” report to summarize the history of utilities for everyone to understand how our current energy system originated.
  2. a “People’s Utility Justice Playbook” to expose the tactics from electric utilities that are undermining community’s efforts, so we can build our organizing strength—to not only fight back but also to build the democratic energy system for climate justice.

This is the basic information we need to fight back against energy utilities attempting to slow or stop progress toward economic and climate justice.

History of Utilities​

Electric utilities have expanded into almost every aspect of our lives to become one of the most powerful and concentrated industries on Earth. To have a better understanding of what we’re fighting against, we first need to learn about the history of energy utilities! This PDF summarizes the entire timeline and how the rise of energy democracy came about.

People's Utility Justice Playbook

In order to fight the industry-owned utilities’ tactics, we need our own strategies for combat!

We have our very own playbook sourced from energy justice activists on the ground. They suggest strategies and tactics they employ when fighting against utilities that anyone fighting against utilities could use!

Read the History (PDF).

Read the Playbook (PDF).

Utah Oil Slick: funding polluters instead of Rural Communities

By Deeda Seed and Adair Kovac - Center for Biological Diversity, et. al., August 2021

Every year Utah receives tens of millions of dollars in federal lease revenues and royalties from oil, gas and mineral extraction as a way to help mitigate the impacts of drilling and mining. Even before scientists linked fossil fuels to the climate crisis, Congress intended this money to be used to help rural communities experiencing rapid growth and infrastructure challenges. The influx of new workers and increased drilling and mining take a toll on communities.

This report from the Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition shows that, since 2009, the little-known board charged with distributing this public money has funneled more than $109 million to projects that promote or expand fossil fuel extraction in violation of the federal Mineral Leasing Act. That includes more than $2.2 million approved after a state audit found the board was using the public funds improperly.

We examined dozens of public records — including the 2020 audit of the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board by the Utah Legislative Auditor General, meeting minutes, audio tapes and project documents — and found that:

  • Since 2009 the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, or CIB, has issued $109 million in grants and low- or no-interest loans — all of it public money — to finance road construction, engineering studies, attorney fees and other costs to enable fossil fuel development on public and private land. Beneficiaries include well-connected private firms trying to get approval for the proposed $1.5 billion Uinta Basin Railway.
  • Over the past two years small towns, cities and special improvement districts in two counties have identified more than $60 million for community improvement projects that have not yet been funded. Unfunded projects include water and sewer services, recreation centers, road improvements and public safety equipment. Over this same period, the CIB gave more than $48 million in grants to fossil-fuel related projects.
  • The Utah Legislature failed to oversee the board’s activities. Even worse, in 2021 it changed state law to allow mineral lease revenues and royalties to finance fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, which is illegal under federal law. The new law followed the 2020 state audit criticizing the board’s spending and haphazard decision-making.
  • County governments and local agencies continue to seek public funding for projects that facilitate fossil fuel extraction and enrich private corporations over community needs. Since the audit, Uintah County commissioners approved seeking $39 million in public funds to help a private, Ogden-based oil company build a 640-acre oil refinery in eastern Utah.3 The proposed $1.4 billion Uintah Advantage refinery would have the capacity to refine 40,000 barrels of oil a day, and it may also include a rail yard for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway.

The CIB must stop funding fossil fuel development projects. The Utah Legislature should oversee the board’s grant and loan-making process to ensure it complies with the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires these public funds be used to mitigate harm inflicted on communities by oil, gas and mineral extraction and forbids using the money for economic development. Rural communities should call on legislators to ensure that infrastructure needs are met and public money is spent properly.

As Utah and the western United States experience the devastating consequences of climate change in the form of intense heat, drought and wildfires, it is even more critical that the CIB stop siphoning public funds away from much-needed community projects to finance dangerous fossil fuel extraction that worsens the climate crisis.

Read the text (PDF).

Socialist Rifle Association Staff Join the IWW

By Staff - Industrial Workers of the World, March 13, 2021

WICHITA, Kansas — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is excited to announce that workers of the Socialist Rifle Association (SRA) have recently organized with majority support as the Socialist Rifle Association Workers United (SRAWU) under the IWW. As of March 13, SRAWU has submitted a request for voluntary recognition, which is guaranteed by the SRA’s bylaws. SRAWU is thrilled to begin the process of negotiating their contract. Their key demands include a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) policy and the right of union representation at any Assembly meeting wherein matters affecting staff pay, hours, benefits, advancement, or layoffs may be discussed or voted on.

The reputation of the Socialist Rifle Association is that of radical democracy and a vigorous pro-labor attitude. The workers of the SRA have gone too long without workplace guarantees against harassment as well as a lack of representation in matters concerning their working conditions. This has too often led to wonderful, hard-working and talented individuals experiencing burnout and in some cases quitting. Given this, unionizing the SRA workspace is the next logical step in the existence of the organization.

“In 2018 when we started the Socialist Rifle Association, I could never have imagined it growing to the point that it has. So many amazing people have poured their sweat and tears into this organization, and unfortunately many of them have been burned in the process. It’s time for the staff and volunteers of the SRA to unite and organize for their own wellbeing while we continue to do everything we can to support our chapters and membership,” said Faye Ecklar, Director of Mutual Aid.

Socialist Rifle Association workers hold dear the belief that the best and most productive way to advance the goals of the SRA is to work collaboratively on making a productive, safe and healthy workplace.

Nikol Heathcock, Chapters Director, stated, “I am excited about the opportunity to be involved in building something like this for our staff, and personally I’m looking forward to being a union member!”

The Socialist Rifle Association Workers United is asking that you show your support for their unionization efforts by engaging on the union’s Twitter, as well as telling the SRA how excited you are that their workers are unionizing!

Extraction, Extremism, Insurrection: Impacts on Government Employees

The Rural Climate Dialogues: A Community-Driven Roadmap for Climate Action in Rural Minnesota

By Tara Ritter - Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, November 17, 2020

Rural America has a central role to play in meeting the climate crisis and rural residents have innovative ideas about how to do it. Rural America encompasses 97% of the land area in the United States and is home to nearly all the nation’s energy production, including wind and solar farms, oil drilling and power plants. The nation’s vast agricultural and forested land, which are essential natural resources in responding to climate change, are managed by the 19% of the population that lives in rural America. It seems obvious that rural Americans should be deeply involved in developing climate policy; yet, rural perspectives and ideas are too often not part of the discussion.

There are real challenges in engaging rural communities on climate policy, including longstanding political obstacles that run deeper than views on climate change. The divide between rural and urban is not just geographic, but also cultural and political, and here in Minnesota the gap is widening. Urban and rural Minnesotans have grown apart in many ways — age, income, educational attainment, race and culture. Ignoring these differences, or trying to ram through them, has thus far delayed action on climate change.

Climate change offers an opportunity to engage differently with rural communities in a way that focuses on solutions rather than assigning blame. Instead of trying to “sell” climate policy to rural communities, we must engage organizations and leaders rooted in rural areas in the development stage to identify solutions that work for them. As important, we need community-level engagement tools designed to overcome our current toxic political environment and map out rural-appropriate responses to climate change that feed up into policy and concrete action.

Since 2014, IATP, in partnership with the Jefferson Center, has hosted Rural Climate Dialogues (RCDs) in five Minnesota counties. This method of civic engagement emphasizes listening and empathy building; focuses on each community’s distinct hopes, challenges and sense of place; and ultimately creates locally driven climate action plans. This report will discuss the context in which we have done this work, provide an overview of each community’s recommendations and actions, and share what we have learned.

Read the text (PDF).

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