We’re not so different

I read with interest Wendell Berry’s “What New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman Gets Wrong About Rural America” [March 21]. Whether Mr. Krugman can serve “as a representative of urban America” given the complexities and contradictions of urban places, he may well represent a perspective and set of assumptions and beliefs held by a particular affluent, elitist class of urban dwellers who thoughtlessly accept overly simplistic ideas of white rural people, while also holding equally simplistic ideas of urban “people of color” whose families, neighborhoods and communities they do not know. Most of them do not seem to understand that much of what they hold in contempt about rural white people are values, views, and practices that rural whites often share with urban working class people of color.

I am a person shaped by urban living, but my roots are decidedly rural (Tuskegee, Alabama, of the 1950s) and they are roots that I proudly claim. Also, by virtue of study and experience, I have long known that the struggles of urban and rural communities have common roots as each exists as internal colonies in our industrial, extractive economy. With this I am increasingly concerned about the ways that political parties, ideologies and much of our media work to keep us divided, angry and afraid of one another. This makes it near impossible for us to perceive our common interests let alone stand together on common ground.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I began writing a series of brief articles I intended to give the title “in search of common ground.” However, while writing the first article, it dawned on me that we already possess much common ground, contrary to what people like Mr. Krugman would have us believe. At the height of social unrest and tensions following the killing of George Floyd I wanted to remind my north side Madison neighbors that we still have much in common and reason to hope. I believe this is also true for working people in rural and urban communities. My current hope is to find ways to be in conversation with rural peoples in my county and state as a Black urban voice in favor of hope and our common ground.

Jeffrey L., Madison, Wisconsin

In search of lost time

I was born in 1940, and I mourn almost daily for what I grew up with and loved, surrounded by small farmers who came to the cheese factory daily in their tiny pickup trucks with 5 or 10 gallon milk cans in the back, or came by mule and wagon with their milk cans. After emptying the milk, they filled their cans with whey to take back to the pigs and chickens on their farms. No chemicals, ever. Farmers who came to my dad’s large shop after supper to sit around the giant wood stove and talk and argue and smoke their cigars or pipes while my dad listened to “The Grand Ol Oprey” and fixed things in the shop. Riding my horse nearly from dawn to dark, visiting farmers who showed me their horse and mule harnesses and taught me how to use them … so many good memories.

Bonita S.

Who’s to blame?

Mr. Berry writes many enlightening ideas, but perhaps like Mr. Krugman misunderstands rural America, Mr. Berry seems to misunderstand urban America. For example:

If rural Americans love nature so much, why do so many of them vote for Mr. Trump, who hates every form of sustainable energy? He disparages solar, land based wind, offshore wind, geothermal, everything except for fossil fuels. Wonder why? His billionaire funding sources are largely made up of fossil fuel wealth. After all, Trump gained lots of votes in 2016 by promising to stop the coal fuel business from sliding into oblivion, even though that meant cutting the tops off of even more mountains.

Don K.

Open your eyes

Thanks to Mr. Berry for pointing out, once again, what liberals tend to miss regarding rural America [What Liberal Elites Don’t Know About Rural Americans Can Hurt Us]. I would like to suggest, though, that there are plenty of Democrats who support small farms and rural rejuvenation. I would bet there are many more elected Democrats of this persuasion than there are elected Republicans. Rural voters who support Trump haven’t looked very hard! I’m afraid that much of the popularity of Trump is driven not by rational disagreement with Democrats, but rather by bigotry and hatred (fanned by Fox News). Rural voters seem more interested in fighting culture wars than in rationally confronting the tyranny of corporate farms.

Dave D.

Where has it all gone?

I found Wendell’s Berry’s, article very interesting. I have felt the same way for a long time here in Michigan. I have seen thousands of acres of farmland destroyed, and rural culture has been destroyed to be replaced by Walmarts and Rite Aids that pop up like herpes. Where once dairy farms were only 30 years ago there are now strip malls and subdivisions. It’s very disheartening and soul crushing. Rural Culture is disappearing from this country at an alarming rate and we have a generation that, even if they wanted to farm, can’t afford the price for land. I don’t see things changing as a population in this country continues to grow and become unsustainable. 

Joseph B.

Love it or leave it

Having lived in both the rural and urban cultures, including the rural cultures of South Vietnam, Taiwan and Okinawa, Japan, I only add my own full agreement with Wendell Berry. Adding words to his full critique of the urbanites’ ignorance of the decline and fall of rural culture is wasteful. I can only cite the recent example of my adopted hometown, Belle Fourche, South Dakota, which is experiencing new immigrants fleeing from California. They, on arrival, seek to change rural Belle Fourche into their former, lost California. Belle Fourche seems to be pushing back with an attitude of “If you want your California culture, please go back there.”

Larry K.

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