SaveYour.Town’s Year-long commitment to you: building community despite divisions

SaveYour.Town creates a lasting legacy for rural people. That’s our informal mission statement. 

(If you know us, you know why we don’t have a formal mission statement!) 

At the end of 2020, Deb and I looked at what is going on in the world. The division and hatred especially bothers both of us. It’s not just the U.S., because we see very similar deep divisions tearing at the fabric of other nations where you come from, including Canada, the UK and Australia. We wondered what we could do to make a difference. Here’s what we decided. 

Throughout 2021, our commitment to you is to help you build community and unify diverse groups in your small town. 

Connection in the local community is a powerful antidote against divisions and hatred. Helping people see themselves as members of a community helps cut down on seeing themselves solely as actors in a national political struggle or other violent conflict. 

The diverse groups people see in their own small towns include many different types of divisions, based on what people tell us on our Survey of Rural Challenges. Their idea of diversity included:

  1. Color, race, ethnicity or cultural origin
  2. Age
  3. Education, skills or technology use
  4. Businesses, professions or commerce
  5. Cultures, ideas and ways of thinking

That last item, cultures and ways of thinking, included several important divisions that play out in rural communities:

  • new vs. longtime residents 
  • farm vs. town 
  • city/urban vs. rural/small town
  • full time vs. part time residents
  • opposing political views

Bringing people from your community together across divides like these is the best thing you can do to rebuild the fabric of your community. 

Practical steps you can put into action right away

Every video we present to you throughout 2021 will support building community locally. You’ll learn how you can help people connect with each other even across divisions, and boost your bridging social capital. (We talk more about bridging social capital, below.) 

We started in January with the video Building a Unified Community. We’re keeping it available for sale throughout the year as the foundation of building community. 

We’ll be covering more essential community building topics like these in our upcoming videos: 

  • Rural-urban connections
  • Diversity in rural communities 
  • Food as community building block 
  • Public places for building community
  • Commerce builds communities

We’ll also present some videos that might not sound like community building at first, but that we see as closely related. In our February video, we focused on retail businesses with Beating the Online Competition. We made sure to include the ways that strong local retail businesses support a strong local community. 

We’re also looking at two other frequently-requested topics to possibly cover this year: 

  • Workforce
  • Housing

Again, they might not sound like community building topics, but both housing and workforce are essential building blocks for a resilient community. We’ll share more about how they build community in each video.

Addressing diversity 

Another essential part of building community is helping people see that everyone has gifts and talents to share with the community. All people are contributing members of society. We just each contribute in different ways. 

To help build bridges across the divisions of different groups in rural communities, we’ll be taking action in a lot of ways in our work at SaveYour.Town. A few of those include:  

  • Sharing stories of diverse people and communities. 
  • Calling out the specific challenges that stand in the way of diverse groups in rural communities, especially people of color, people with disabilities and people without post-secondary education.
  • Teaching the value that different people bring to rural communities. 
  • Making our content accessible to people with disabilities, including through captions and transcripts.
  • Coaching communities to bring diverse people into the work we do together like our tours, visits and talks.
  • Addressing diversity in our fourth Survey of Rural Challenges report, coming out this year.

Community happens when people talk to each other 

Bringing people from your community together across divides is the best thing you can do to rebuild the fabric of your community. 

We came to this idea by doing a lot of reading, talking to people and reflecting on our lifetimes of learning. Here are just a few examples of works that inspired us:

  • In the book Why We’re Polarized, Ezra Klein talks about helping people develop “cross cutting identities.” Right now in the U.S., political party identity aligns with too many other identities, like rural vs. urban. The antidote to this polarization is to help people connect with others regardless of party and identify with something that cuts across party lines. 
  • We read a number of painfully challenging stories on violent groups and conspiracy theory adherents from the past and present. A common element was how these groups satisfied the participants’ need for a sense of belonging, community and meaningful work. Surely if we can help people meet those community needs in a positive way in our towns, they won’t have to go looking for them in ways that twist them against other people. 
  • Dr. Natalia Mehlman Petrzela said she sees community interactions as a vital antidote to those corrosive ideologies. “I think more important is exposure to and engagement with a range of communities, individuals, and information sources.”

More on bridging social capital 

Bridging Social Capital is a sociology term. We call it Gathering Your Crowd and Building Connections. All it really means is connecting people across divisions. 

When you bring people together who don’t usually connect, you’re putting deposits in your social capital “account.” Community happens when people talk to each other. 

Talking with and listening to people who are different from you in some way gives you a chance to understand them, taking the first steps to becoming more tolerant of differences. 

When different people get together, they can exchange information and ideas, and create more innovative solutions together. That creativity builds the resilience of your community. 

We like to think that small towns are great at these kinds of connections, but it doesn’t come naturally. Rural communities more often have strong connections between people who are alike (bonding social capital) but weaker connections between people who are different (bridging social capital).

That means we have to put extra effort into bringing together people across divisions and from different groups. 

What this means for you, your community and the world

The small towns that thrive into the future will be the ones that are open to new ideas. The power to act is in the hands of all the people now, including you. 

Throughout this year and always, we teach you the method that unleashes the power of everyday people like you to take action. Little by little, the actions rewrite people’s programming and values in positive ways. And that is how we are going to do our small part to rebuild the fabric of our communities and countries together. 

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