Results were posted earlier this month on the latest survey of our region of the country. I wish I had two versions of the report to offer ("first, the good news, and then the bad"). But I have only one and it's not a pretty picture:
You and I, as citizens of Rural American, are essentially irrelevant. In other words, we do not count in any shape, fashion or form. Basically, we are neither here nor there.
You might be surprised to learn the origin of this breaking news. It did not come from either of the two major political parties. The Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think tank, was not the culprit. Neither was the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. The high-brow Brookings Institution, which regards itself as independent and non-partisan, is not responsible.
Can't blame it on the VFW, the Garden Clubs of America, the National Newspaper Association, the Junior League, the Ku Klux Klan (it still exists), the Rotary or Lions, The New York Times, ESPN, the Dow Jones Company, the Weather Channel, PBS, the AARP, the America Medical Association or the United Nations.
This distressing news comes full throttle from the United States Department of Agriculture, the good ol' USD-of-A, that federal brother to the state Extension Service and solid friend of many a Southern farmer and farm family since the country began -- particularly those who have been in the crop-support pipeline since time immemorial.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack tried to break it to us gently: Rural America is "becoming less and less relevant. ... We need a proactive message, not a reactive message. How are you going to encourage young people to want to be involved in rural America or farming if you don't have a message? Because you are competing against the world now." The AP reported the former Iowa governor's remarks from his speech before a recent Washington farm forum.
He cited the lack of a new farm bill, a low voter turnout (only 14 percent) by country folks in the presidential election, successful attacks from animal activists on such issues as increasing coop space for hens and a lack of demographic diversity in rural areas as among the reasons for our desperate situation.
I agree with Vilsack that rural Americans have gotten complacent with our lifestyles. We don't speak up and speak out on national issues. We don't interact much with congresspersons who represent us in Washington. We don't storm city hall or the courthouse when things don't go our way. We scoffed at the recent "Occupy" movement and derided the protesters with bad and poorly-framed names, when perhaps we should have been shoulder to shoulder with them in protest. We are sedentary, taking far too many naps.
Income inequality is getting worse in the hinterlands. The gap between those making the most money and those making the least is widening faster in the rural South than anywhere else (is there a 'rural North'?). We are enormously charitable and will go to bat financially for any individual or family we feel is worthy. But, more and better paying jobs would solve much of that disparity.
It sounds like we need to wake up out here. Set the alarm.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at macmarygordongmail.com.