As rural Land Stewardship Project organizing committee members and staff, we feel compelled to respond to recent incidents of racial tension in the broader community of Minnesota’s Winona County, where we live and work. Following this summer’s racist killings in the church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the subsequent removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol, Winona County witnessed a surge of vehicles driven by rural residents displaying large Confederate flags while passing through neighborhoods with high concentrations of people of color. Recently, here in Lewiston, where the LSP office has been located for 30 years, a Confederate flag has been prominently displayed outside a home in a highly visible location.
The story that gets told too often about rural residents is that we are small-minded, bigoted and afraid of change. Contrary to that narrative, we work together every day as rural people for a more healthy, sustainable and just community that treats everyone fairly.
When some of our neighbors choose to act out in racially hostile or insensitive ways, they paint all of us with the same brush. We do not accept these acts being perpetrated in the misguided name of “rural heritage.” The Confederate battle flag has no historical or cultural connection to us in any way. We recognize it as the explicit symbol of racist terrorism as the official flag of the Ku Klux Klan.
Why would an organization primarily concerned with the stewardship of farmland, the promotion of sustainable family farms, and the development of healthy communities feel compelled to weigh in on these issues? Because our capacity to thrive as a community depends on everyone being empowered, welcomed and included. While we are comfortable in our usual role working specifically on land use and farming issues, we are equally committed to racial justice as a critical component of a healthy community.
It’s not good enough for us to know in our hearts that these incidents don’t represent us. Anytime we are silent, we are giving room for racist displays to be carried out in our names. We would encourage all of our LSP members, allies and like-minded neighbors to join us in directly speaking out whenever we witness acts of racism, bigotry and discrimination in our community, and would welcome your engagement about our role as allies to communities of color and our commitment to racial justice.