July 2005    Vol. 14, No. 7  REAP HOME PAGE  A publication of the Center for Rural Affairs    
REAP Rural Business Roundtable

Topic: Meaningful Economic Development  Policy for Rural Communities

Questions for discussion by REAP members or others interested in rural communities, other microenterprise provider organizations, and economic development professionals are listed below. Discuss some or all of the eight points that follow.

For groups larger than 5 to 6 people, split randomly into smaller brainstorming discussion groups. When the discussion time is over, report back to the main group with summaries of the thoughts expressed in the brainstorming session.

Roundtable Discussion Questions

  • What’s your reaction to the challenge of recognizing the collective strength of organizing for more power and accountability on meaningful economic development for rural communities?

  • What are possible organizing approaches to get this kind of discussion started in a positive way?

  • Are you comfortable with organizing on issues relating to health of your micro- enterprise business?

  • Do you see it as a logical extension of your marketing and business promotions efforts to provide time to do some of this?

  • Do you feel powerless to change your local economic development efforts?

  • Have you ever lobbied regarding Nebraska’s economic development legislation?

  • Would you participate in lobbying if someone helped you to learn how? Do you need help in doing this or just more time?

  • What rural organizations would be logical resources to help organize this effort? Is the Center for Rural Affairs a logical organization to assist in doing this type of discussion? Can you think of others?

Feel free to call the Center for Rural Affairs for assistance in your efforts, 402.687.2100. You can also browse the Center’s website: http://www.cfra.org or http://www.cfra.org/reap for more information on programs dealing with these issues. See blow for some guides on leadership development, including citizen advocacy, from the Center for Rural Affairs website.

Get Active on Behalf of Rural America: Letters to the Editor

Your local paper and your state’s largest daily newspaper both want to hear from their readers. This is one of the best ways to advance your issues.

Some issues just cry out for you to express your opinion. Here are some tips for you to consider when you want to write a letter to the editor.

Keep it short. The letter should be fewer than 250 words and should focus on one or two key points. That gives the letter a better chance of being published and read.

Use the letter more than once. Send it to the major daily and local daily newspaper in your state. Weeklies are good outlets too, but remember they work on different deadlines than do daily newspapers; call your local weekly to find out what their requirements are.

Don’t delay. If the issue you are addressing is hot and timely, write your letter right away. Some newspapers take several weeks to publish letters.

Identify yourself. Put your name, address, and phone number on the letter.
Unsigned letters are not used. The newspaper may want your phone number to verify your letter.

Make it legible. Some newspapers may require typed letters. If you have email, smaller newspapers may ask that you send it via email so they don’t have to re-type the text.

Make it personal. Use your own words and, if appropriate, examples from your own life or community to make your points. This is your letter, and it can take any form you think is appropriate. However, ranting and raving is more silly entertainment than informational. Make your letter thoughtful – something readers can learn from.

Call for action. If there is something that readers can do to help the cause or issue that you are addressing, tell them so and be specific.

Get Active: Beginning a Dialog with your Elected Representatives

Writing a letter to your member of Congress or state legislator is one of the most effective ways to voice your opinion on a specific issue.

Too many people believe that one voice doesn’t matter in the big picture. That is patently untrue; the rule of thumb in Congressional offices is that one letter equals the voice of 100 people. Both state senators and members of Congress track the letters that come into their office weekly.

Things to remember when writing your elected officials:

Be respectful and polite. Usually when people sit down to write a letter they are hopping mad about something. But, when you are trying to persuade someone to do something (this applies to everyone, not just legislators) making them mad and offending them won’t get you any closer to your goal. In fact, most often they’ll stop listening altogether.

Have a clear point and be specific in your illustrations. Provide examples and/or tell them how this proposed law or amendment would effect your life. Tell them the ‘why’ along with the ‘what’.

Always end your letter with the phrase, "I look forward to hearing from you." This lets them know that you expect a reply. When you get that reply and you don’t agree, use the letter as the starting point for your next letter to them on this issue. The whole purpose for writing a letter of this nature is to begin a dialog. Make sure they know whom they represent and what issues are important to you.

Source: Center for Rural Affairs website, leadership training. this page also has advice on Testifying at a Hearing and Building Media Relationships.

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