The following article was recently featured at the Council on Foundation's 2016 Annual Conference in Washington, DC. We are grateful to COF for sharing what our partners are doing to strengthen rural communities, and we encourage you to click here to learn more about COF. We also encourage you to learn more about the partner featured in this story, Rural Community Alliance.
The Great Recession hurt many Americans, and rural communities across the US have had to continue fighting to provide residents with facilities to educate their children, businesses that offer goods and employment, and other institutions to meet residents’ needs. In rural communities, it’s not uncommon for children to have to ride the bus for an hour to get to school and another hour to get home. It’s not uncommon for people to have to drive 45 minutes to get their groceries. Broadband Internet is rarely available and residents rely on very slow dial-up connections.
One of the biggest blows occurred in 2011 when the US Postal Service (USPS) announced plans to close 3,700 post offices across the US, 179 of which were in Arkansas. Commercial shipping companies often refuse to transport packages to these communities either because they are too far away or because long, winding roads make them difficult to reach. Closing post offices would have delayed prescription medication elderly residents relied on USPS to receive, forcing them to drive many miles to get to the nearest town. It would have all but completely disconnected residents from the outside world.
Determined to keep mail flowing in these communities, Renee Carr, Director of the Rural Community Alliance, led a movement by organizing residents in rural communities throughout Arkansas to take a stand and keep their post offices open. Members of the movement came together to establish a shared agenda, shared data on why USPS was proposing to close down these offices and what implications it would have had, wrote letters to their political representatives, and took day trips to Arkansas’s capitol city Little Rock to sit down with elected officials to discuss why it was essential to keep these offices open.
“Any more of this and rural communities across America will be down for the count,” Carr said about the proposed office closures. “It will be devastating – the final nail in the coffin.”
Due to pressure from what became a national movement, USPS established a moratorium on office closures. As a result of the campaign in Arkansas, Senators Mark Pryor and John Boozman advocated for an extension of USPS’s moratorium, and Boozman proposed legislation that would prevent post office closures in communities that did not have another office within 10 miles. Many rural communities throughout Arkansas brought citizens together and fought hard to keep their post offices open for business, and residents will have to continue to come together to save their schools, their jobs, and their way of life.