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Rural Matters

Oct 14, 2020

Michelle chats with Whitney Kimball Coe, director of National Programs at the Center for Rural Strategies and the leader of the Rural Assembly, about the upcoming Rural Assembly Everywhere Festival, and with three presenters at this landmark event including, Kathleen Sebelius, former HHS Secretary, Benya Kraus, co-founder of Lead for America and Executive Director of Lead for Minnesota, and Norma Flores Lopez, chair of the Child Labor Coalition’s Domestic Issues Committee and an activist with Justice for Migrant Women.


Rural Assembly Everywhere is a free, five-day (October 26-30) streaming virtual conference/festival, where you can tune in at any time to find out what’s happening in this critical time in rural America, Coe explains. The festival includes “main stage” keynotes from various authors and thought leaders, including Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Dr. Richard Besser of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Rural Everywhere will cover vital issues and headlines from The Daily Yonder, such as the rural vote in the 2020 elections, and racial justice in rural America. Breakout sessions will focus on more specific issues, including climate change, resiliency, and developing the next generation of rural leaders. Also, Coe notes, there will be a happy hour every day, at which attendees can network with other attendees. To register for this can’t miss virtual festival, visit

The major rural health issues today, according to Sebelius, include access to providers and hospitals; the promise of telemedicine to provide that access in, for example, specialty care and mental health; how resiliency in rural America can attract new providers and residents; and access to fast broadband, especially in education and health. Kraus, who will be facilitating a conversation with author Sarah Smarsh at the Everywhere event, discusses her rural outreach efforts in Minnesota, her relationship with immigrant and other entrepreneurs in Waseca, and the inspiring experience of “working your way back home.” At Lead for America, she explains, potential rural contributors can be matched with rural communities to earn two-year fellowships to enable them to bring best practices back to their hometowns. The Justice for Migrant Women, Lopez says, protects and advances rural and migrant women’s rights through education, public awareness, and advocacy. Rural America is not all white, as some politicians believe, but is actually diverse, and her organization tries to make sure that rural women are truly heard. In this election year, that means getting out the vote, she notes. Migrant farmworkers are essential works, she adds, and while they are starting to get more recognition, that doesn’t mean they’re getting needed workplace protections, such as overtime pay and the right to organize.