The National Rural Health Association hosts an Annual Policy Institute, in which people with a passion for improving health in rural communities visit Washington, DC to encourage Members of Congress to support that passion. While I have experienced this event sixteen times, I will never forget my very first Policy Institute. Unsure of myself, terrified that I would make a mistake, I was absolutely positive that the meetings I had scheduled with Congressional staff were pointless because none of them would care about what I had to say.
Because, too often Rural America is made to feel like we should have to beg for resources. We’re like a little kid at Thanksgiving Dinner and everyone keeps passing plates over our heads. We ask for more and are told that we’ve already had more than our share.
What they forget, what we forget, is that we shouldn’t have to beg, because those resources are ours. The food on that table? It came from Rural America. The wood that made the table? It came from Rural America. The electricity that powers the oven and the lights are from a coal plant or nuclear plant or hydro dam or wind farm or solar field in Rural America. The water that washes the dishes? It’s rural too.
The resources urban America uses comes from rural farms, rural mines, rural rivers, and rural forests. And those resources travel to suburbia on rural roads.
I don’t say this to drive a wedge between urban and rural, but to remind each other that there is value in more than the number of people per square mile. Rural and urban need each other to make this nation function, and if rural starts to fall, it will drag urban down with it.
We need to all work together to find solutions. Which is why, during that very first Policy Institute all those years ago, I was surprised to discover that Congressional staffers did want to talk to me. They were interested in what I had to say and asked questions to learn more about our rural hospitals and clinics and how federal policy plays out in our communities.
At the end of that long, confusing day, I trudged to my last appointment at the Office of Representative Virgil Goode to meet with his Legislative Aid. The receptionist asked if we would mind waiting a while, because Congressman Goode wanted to meet with us.
When Congressman Goode arrived, he didn’t just agree to support the policy proposals we brought to him, he requested our support for a bill of his own. A Member of Congress needed me.
And they need you. Please be a lifelong advocate for rural America, even if you never make a Hill visit of your own. We’re all in this together.
Beth O’Connor, M. Ed.
Virginia Rural Health Association
National Rural Health Association