First, read this from the Nation, on rural strategies. It's important, and I wish I'd written it myself.
I live on a small family farm in Illinois. It's been in our family since the 19th century, so I have some very real ties that bind me and mine to this land. I don't want to leave and go back to the city, where I spent much of my adult life. It's a far better place to raise my son, for one thing.
But the farm barely pays for itself. In a bad year the farm doesn't even pay for it's own property taxes. In a good year there is enough money left over to provide one person less than a minimum wage income. I take care of my son and my elderly mother on that land. So I write, and I do other things, and we get by. I make about 70% less per year income than I did when I was a corporate suit in the city. And that big farm subsidy bill? Well, the most this farm has ever gotten in a year from the government is $300. Whoo-hoo, we can really party now.
I'm hardly alone. The other farms around us have either sold off to agribusiness, turned their family farms into noxious factory hog farms, or work one or two other jobs to get by. There are more people by far (including my father and a dozen or so other ancestors) in the local cemetery than there are in the town. Oh, and one more thing: my neighbors are heavily Republican.
That doesn't have to be so. In fact, a lot of my neighbors are dissatisfied with BushCo and the gang. They think we should have minded our own business in Iraq, think agribusiness is ruining our rural way of life, and would like farm subsidies to keep family farms afloat rather than further enrich millionaires who buy up their land like a reaper pulling up wheat. But, they are mostly pro-life and pro-gun; everybody out here has guns, most go hunting, and I feel for the burglar who thinks he can come out here and get through the dogs and guns to steal something.
The guns is an area where I agree with Howard Dean. I understand and agree with the need for gun control in areas like Washington DC. But one size doesn't fit all. There hasn't been a gun crime in our little burgh since the 1950's. And everyone has a gun. That doesn't work everywhere else, but it works here.
It's time we Democrats gathered in these rural voters. While we'll always be pro-choice, we can gain large numbers of rural voters on economics and farm policy. Revise farm subsidies to benefit family farms, not agribusiness, and save family farms and billions of dollars at the same time. We can even open up our trade barriers on cotton and sugar and such because the family farms will still be taken care of, and the agribusiness can go buy up African farms instead of ours.
While we aren't huge in raw numbers of voters, the Nation article brings up a huge point: each rural state gets 2 Senators just like New York and California. We can't afford to ignore and give away these seats any longer. It's time to take a populist stance with regards to the rural hinterlands and bring a ton of new voters and some new seats to the Democratic Party.