RA 2018 and Civic Courage

This blog post is from Whitney Kimball Coe, Coordinator of the National Rural Assembly.

Unpacking the 2018 Rural Assembly: Building Civic Courage

As coordinator of the National Rural Assembly, I’ve struggled to come to terms with what is necessary in this moment of deep divisions across zip codes and economies, race and politics.

The 2016 election revealed in dramatic ways how people and communities are being left behind, particularly in rural America, and it has forced our country to confront hard truths about inequities and injustices in communities who bear the brunt of violence, poverty, and extreme weather.

Past Rural Assemblies have focused on developing smarter rural policy agendas to address these disparities, but it is my contention that this moment is calling us to the work of building power for justice and inclusive outcomes in rural communities.

This means we must reckon not only with the overall marginalization of rural America, but also with the injustices and inequities found within our own communities.

In just a few months, 200 rural leaders and advocates from across the country will gather in Durham, North Carolina for the sixth convening of the National Rural Assembly.


This time we gather under the banner of Building Civic Courage, with the purpose of emphasizing the daily, heroic work we know is happening in rural communities, and amplifying it with a national audience.

Since 2007, the National Rural Assembly has convened voices from every region and every state in the United States. Participants represent local grassroots organizers, nonprofit and business leaders, government officials, funders, and next generation leaders. They represent a diversity of cultures, geographies, and ethnicities, and they pour their expertise into creative initiatives that build up their hometowns and communities, ranging from climate and energy solutions to creative placemaking initiatives, from economic transitions to restoring our democracy.

Our participants share a passion for achieving healthier, more sustainable, and more just communities, and they are all courageously taking on the challenges and barriers that would stand in the way.

In Durham, we will hold space for conversations among rural organizers, activists, and advocates, who are courageously working for justice for communities and within communities, across issues of civil rights, immigration, voting rights, and economic degradation.

We’ll hear from:

  • Practitioners who are using civic engagement models to address politicized topics like climate change and immigration;
  • Faith leaders who are catalyzing movements for justice;
  • Philanthropists who are investing in the holistic well-being of rural America;
  • Economic development practitioners who are attacking the systemic barriers that impoverish communities;
  • And next generation residents who are putting down roots in rural areas and creating more inclusive communities in the process.

We’ll engage in morning and afternoon breakouts designed to nurture our civic dialogue skills. We’ll listen deeply to writers, filmmakers, performers, and to our peers, and in some cases, participate in dialogues that push us out of our comfort zones.

The National Rural Assembly has always been a place where we can have frank conversations about deficits and disparities, but in this moment, it seems equally important that we are answering a call to claim the kind of futures we want to see in our communities.

Courage looks like many things, from quiet to noisy acts of resistance to bridge-building exercises like hosting a community meal.

What makes courage “civic” is the way it affects more than a person’s individual tribe or group. Civic courage is about community.

Building civic courage is a task for all of us across the country, in rural and urban America. But I think rural places are poised to offer leadership on this front because we’ve been doing the hard work of showing up, creating, leading, and mending fences for a long time.

We have something to share with the world, and the 2018 Assembly is a moment to capture and amplify our practice.

Registration opens March 5.