I read an article in the NY Times this morning, right after the midterm elections. Democrats flipped the House of Representatives and for the moment stand in the majority. The article addressed the fact that politicians, specifically liberal democrats are not connecting with those in rural areas. To quote the article, “these folks would rather vote for a dog than a Democrat.” While I am FAR from a politician, I totally connect with the fact that those who make policy (at local, state and federal levels) do not do a great job connecting with those who are rural. It is a challenge. I know this because I work in a rural centralized school district. When I once commented on the isolated nature of the district, a parent commented, “You know that this is what we choose, right?”
So how is it that we can help with understanding? How is it that we can get people what they need? I have one word: LISTEN. I facilitate solution focused meetings in many forms including a model called Community Cafes (some may know it as the World Café model). The magic of these meetings and the general premise is listening, visually recording thoughts of participants, and parsing out the answers community members have within them to solve their own challenging situations. The questions are simple leaving the facilitated conversation open yet structured. The outcome, people feel empowered to share their voice and realize that they do have answers within them. The problem lies in the lack of power to make those solutions a reality.
The disconnect with these meetings comes to what is done with the “harvest” or the information collected. I have done these in several counties in rural Upstate NY and after each on I feel like we have listened whole heartedly to the needs and solutions these folks have shared. And while we try to share the information with those in the know, it is always a struggle. People in power, those who hold the money are busy. They are hard to access.
As Democrats and Republicans alike think of ways to reach the rural areas of the country, think about that one word: LISTEN. And to come full circle: the reason people might vote for their dog over any other candidate. Their dog is a very good listener.