Missouri: A Cautionary Tale in Two Parts

Be fast; have no regrets. … The greatest error is not to move. ~Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO

The state where I live, Missouri, is “a cautionary tale.”

It’s not just me saying that. It’s basically everyone in epidemiology.

Our Republican Governor refused to issue a mask mandate, ever, instead relying upon the overwhelmingly urban areas, where most of the population is concentrated, to do the tough work of containing the pandemic for him … while he waxed poetic about “personal responsibility” and “local control.”

He shrugged as local officials in big cities and small counties alike had to play the bad guy and issue masking and occupancy protocols. He stood silently as their houses were protested, their families threatened, their public meetings overrun with people crying that wearing a mask was starving their brain of oxygen and not being able to play soccer was going to scar their child for life. He did not make a public address telling people to knock it off, or explain how wrong-headed the disinformation was. He quietly put up a website with FAQs about disinformation that I don’t think anyone else even knows exists.

Our Governor funneled vaccines to rural areas first in a tacit admission that not only did he care more about protecting his own voters (rural Missouri is overwhelmingly Republican) but that without masking protocols in place they were also at higher risk.

And then, in spring, with vaccinations in arms and dwindling COVID numbers, the Republican supermajority legislature pushed through a bill taking local control away from public health departments – during a pandemic. They claimed to want to make sure there would be no government “overreach” requiring that people get vaccinated, wear masks, or limit occupancy.

They bravely chose the time when COVID seemed to be finally receding to make their stand for “personal freedom.”

This week, Missouri had the highest per capita COVID rate in the country. With dismal vaccination rates in the red rural areas of the state (due to rampant disinformation, see above) this new Delta variant is spreading like wildfire.

Now, everyone in the country can look upon Missouri’s rising case rates and make decisions for their future based on what they are seeing happen here in real time. It’s terrifying to live in it, by the way.

Missouri is a cautionary tale in other ways, too.

In 1992, it was a reliably Democratic state. Barack Obama lost Missouri by 3,000 votes in 2008. Huge swaths of farmland used to be solid blue territory. Now the state is a Republican supermajority and trifecta, with only one statewide office in Democratic control.

Missouri voters passed Medicaid expansion; the Republican supermajority refused to fund it. Missouri voters passed election reforms; Republicans tricked their voters into backing another measure that undoes the reforms. Missouri voters rejected “Right to Work” ballot initiatives time and again; every year, Republicans refile. They’ve clawed back city-based increases in minimum wage, gun-safety laws, and even public health departments’ ability to regulate concentrated animal farm operations.

This session they passed a law forbidding local law enforcement from enforcing federal gun laws, and this week they’re arguing that Medicaid shouldn’t pay for (certain kinds of) birth control. It’s an open question as to whether they’ll successfully ban coverage for IUDs and Plan B. Today they apparently debated whether Missouri even needs Medicaid.

Now, everyone in the country can look at what our GOP supermajority is doing and make decisions for their future based on what they are seeing happen here in real time.

Like I said. Missouri is a cautionary tale.

We are the test case – the Petri dish for Republican legislative fever dreams. Want to ban coverage for birth control from Medicaid? Our legislature is game to try it. How about nullifying federal gun laws? Sure! Give it to Missouri. They’ll try anything.

There are plenty of reasons why Missouri lost its balance over the years. We can point our fingers at the media ecosystem, at gerrymandering (more like geographic packing in this instance), at loss of population, at term limits, at the continued reliance on a failed strategy prioritizing urban areas coupled with limited resources to organize in rural Missouri …

There are plenty of reasons, excuses, explanations. But at the end of the day, the simple fact remains.

We are a cautionary tale.

We are what happens when a virus goes unchecked and spreads like wildfire through communities where there is nothing to slow or stop it.

As I was reflecting on the dual nature of Missouri’s failings, I thought, too, about the number of articles I’ve read about how Democrats need to “win over” rural voters and invest in rural America. A lot of ink has been spilled about the radicalization of rural America.

And then I realized that, with all of the articles I’d seen and read, I’d seen very little action.

That’s a problem. At the beginning of the pandemic, some very sound advice was given to local governments by Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization. He emphasized: “Be fast; have no regrets… If you need to be right before you move, you will never win…. The greatest error is not to move. The greatest error is to be paralyzed by the fear of failure.”

That is good advice – both in a pandemic, and in many ways, in politics.

Democrats are wonky folks, who love stats and studies. We like being right. We like having the model, the program, the peer-reviewed data.

But what we really need right now is action.

In 1992, Missouri looked nothing like what it looks like today; decades of disinvestment hollowed out our rural areas.

So we have an opportunity – maybe even a moral obligation – to stop what has happened in Missouri from happening in other states. But that requires more than reading an article – it requires action. It’s tough to do when you don’t live in rural areas, because “the messenger is the message,” and parachuting into a rural district to knock doors isn’t effective … or practical.

But even from afar, we can fund rural nominees and support organizations that are working to train, support, and recruit candidates in these areas. We can advocate for policies that will actively help our rural areas. I’m going to give you some ideas in Friday’s action item below.

Because I live in a state that’s a cautionary tale. I wish that wasn’t the case.

I don’t want yours to become one, too.

Now, let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of June 29, 2021

Tuesday at 6pm: Training – Telling Story of Self

Join the National Democratic Training Committee and the Missouri House Democrats for a training on how to tell YOUR story of self.

Whether you’re running for office, working on a campaign, or building your local party’s or organization’s infrastructure, you need to connect with your supporters. We’re here to help! How can you do this when you can’t meet in person?

In this session, you will learn the following:

  • Understand how you connect to your audience with your message
  • Recognize how to tailor your story according to different settings
  • Practice using the story of self framework

Check it out and register here: https://traindemocrats.org/event/ndtc-missouri-house-democrats-train-on-how-to-tell-your-story-of-self-6-29-2021/

Wednesday: Deadline For Democracy Events

Throughout the recess, Indivisible and Indivisible-aligned groups will be joining for Deadline for Democracy events. These events are happening all over the country.

If you’re in Missouri, there is a Deadline for Democracy event on July 1 in St. Louis at Kiener Plaza. See more and look for an event near you here: https://deadlinefordemocracy.org/find-event

Thursday: Let’s Get Ahead – With Vote Forward!

Our letter writing campaigns for Virginia are LIVE! We’re writing 1.5 million letters to Virginians ahead of the general election this fall, starting with “vote by mail” letters that are available now! These letters should be stockpiled until the mail day, September 18. These “vote by mail” letters are the first of two waves, and when they’re all spoken for, we’ll roll out our “please vote” letters! We’ve added campaign names and mail dates to the voter list cover pages to help you stay organized ahead of the mail dates this fall. Start writing to Virginia voters now by visiting votefwd.org/dashboard!

Friday: How To Help Rural Democrats

Okay, as promised, here are a few ways you can help rural democrats.

First, if you are don’t live in a rural area: It Starts Today, an organization founded after the 2016 election that funds Democratic nominees with small-dollar recurring donations, is planning to expand its state-based project to four new states. Full disclosure that I run the Missouri pilot project for It Starts Today, and we’ve raised $232,000 for Missouri’s Democratic state legislative nominees, ensuring that every Democrat has funding. We believe that Democratic nominees in rural districts are basically supercharged organizers, and we want to give them the support they need to succeed.

Now we want to take that successful pilot to other states: Georgia (!!) Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. We can’t do that without securing funding, and we’re trying to hit our target. If you want to see more sustained, grassroots investment in rural America, I hope you’ll chip in to help us get started in those states. Even better – make it a $10 recurring donation! Go here to do that: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/it-starts-today

Rural Organizing: For those of you living in rural or ex-urban areas, the website RuralOrganizing.org has great resources, like progressive strategies for rural engagement, how to fight misinformation in small towns, and how to leverage yard signs in Rural America. https://www.ruralorganizing.org/resources Note that these resources are going to be most helpful for folks who are either in Rural America or who are working on a statewide or regional campaign and can actively work in the community.

Rural Democracy Initiative: If you don’t live in Rural America, you can still support policies and initiatives that will benefit the rural areas in your state. The RDI has put together a policy report (with action items) that just came out today! It’s the 2021 Rural Policy Action Report, and you can find it here: https://ruralpolicyaction.us/about-the-policy-summit/ MANY of the policy recommendations echo recommendations you see for urban areas. Go check it out!

I know many of you live in Rural areas! Please don’t be bashful – let me know what resources you’ve used and how you’d like folks from urban areas to pitch in.


If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

P.P.S.: If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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