Why, he wondered, had legislation that was once a slam dunk become so difficult to get through Congress?
Vilsack’s answer: Because “rural America, with a shrinking population, is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of the country.”
Well, nationally, the secretary has a point. As the United States becomes more urban/suburban, the needs of heavily populated areas will come first. That’s how democracy works.
That does not mean rural areas will be neglected, at least not if rural regions find in their needs a common cause on which they can unite.
Ron Sparks, the former Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, heard Vilsack’s comments as a call for rural interests to rally and cooperate to make their voice heard.
Focusing on agriculture, the “industry” on which most rural communities depend, Sparks pointed out the obvious — regional interests must unite. “If you’re going to be effective, you need to stand together and be stronger,” he said.
There are, of course, national farm organizations that have long lobbied for agricultural policies that have been favorable to farmers.
Historically, they have been successful. But in recent years, rural America has changed. There is more to rural America than farms and farmers.
Consider Alabama, where 55 of our 67 counties are “rural,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Drive through these counties and you will see a variety interests at work.
Yes, there are row-crop farms, some small and some large, some family owned and some operated by large agri-business corporations.
You will also see pine plantations, catfish ponds, cattle ranches and other agricultural operations that reveal the diversity of the rural economy.
Many rural Alabamians work in agriculture-related industries — usually processing what is grown — but many do not. Drive through rural Alabama on an early weekday morning and you will meet cars leaving the countryside and heading for jobs in towns and cities.
Roads and automobiles mean that in places, rural Alabama is also suburban Alabama. Towns that were once market centers have become bedroom communities.
Rural Alabama, like rural America, is changing.
Any effort at uniting our rural regions to support a common cause must begin with that recognition and build a consensus based on it.