It’s a lot easier to be courageous when you know how the story ends.
For the past three days, I’ve been surrounded by people who have been courageous during the most difficult times – when the results are uncertain, the stakes are high and the final words have yet to be spoken. If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like how things are today, you aren’t alone.
The 2018 National Rural Assembly concluded Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina, after three days of sessions focused on the theme of civic courage. There was plenty of bravery to go around among the participants, who numbered 177 from 35 states:
Today, these folks have lived these stories through to some sort of resolution. Even when they didn’t achieve victories, at least the stress of uncertainty has been released.
But these examples of courage are not ancient history. Just three months ago, for example, Pearson didn’t know a thing about receiving an ovation at the National Rural Assembly. But she did know she could face years in prison if she was convicted of helping a new voter learn how to use the voting machine. Pearson knew she had done nothing wrong, but that didn’t mean a jury was going to reach the same conclusion.
For so many participants at the Rural Assembly, the jury is still out. When people push forward under those conditions, they personify civic courage.
Even the less dramatic acts of civic courage are built on a willingness to take a chance, try something different and fight the community’s urge to just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.
Throughout the three-day gathering, each person I met exemplified some aspect of civic courage: arts programmers who are looking for ways to support rural programs when high-brow urban programs are the ones with the clout; rural leaders who are risking their reputations by trying to overcome generations of distrust and rivalry between county and city governments; Native Americans who are building on traditions to address current concerns; organizers and artists who are focused on cooperation and shared values at a time of political divisiveness.
Few if any of these folks know how those stories will end. Some will thrive on the anxiety that uncertainty creates. Others will barely tolerate it. Most will endure. And when their work reaches some resolution, I bet the majority of these people will have already started blazing their next trail into the unknown. In fact, I’m certain of it.
Tim Marema is editor of the Daily Yonder, which is published by the Center for Rural Strategies. Rural Strategies also coordinates the National Rural Assembly.