Before joining the League of Rural Voters, Niel Ritchie spent 14 years with the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy serving in a variety of roles, including eight years as a national organizer responsible for outreach and networking among U.S. farm and non-farm groups. He has managed statewide and Congressional campaigns in the Midwest, and is the author of numerous articles and op/eds on food, farm, and rural economic policy. In 2010 Niel Ritchie was serving on the boards of Rural Community Assistance Partnership, and Main Street Project, and on the political committee of Clean Water Action Alliance of Minnesota.
People's World interview
- In the Midwest and Great Plains, the League of Rural Voters is working to activate rural voters on the fundamental bread-and-butter issues. Niel Ritchie, the organization’s director, believes the Republican effort to divert these voters with anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-immigrant hysteria is running out of steam. “Farmers aren’t sitting around the table worrying about gay marriage — they’re worrying about health insurance,” Ritchie said.
- “We think there’s a lot of opportunity” to involve rural voters in questioning the political decisions that affect their lives, Ritchie said. The Iraq war is a striking illustration of how politics affects rural areas, he noted. Their sons and daughters enlist in the military as “economic refugees, seeking help in paying for a college education, a little second income.” Now the casualties are being disproportionately borne by rural communities. “These people have given a lot, and for what?” he asked.
- Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s cuts in vital domestic programs are taking a real toll in small communities, Ritchie said. “‘Get the government off my back’ doesn’t really work when you’ve got one guy who plows the roads,” he commented.
- The LRV, based in Minneapolis, has a network of 8,700 people in a dozen states, especially Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. It aims to promote discussion in the countryside on issues of concern to rural voters, and to encourage their involvement in political action. These efforts are drawing a lot of response this year, Ritchie said. While there are many organizations working on farm issues, most can’t get openly involved in electoral politics. “We think of the League as the glue,” he said.
- There’s a lot of mythology that rural people are narrowly self-interested, bigoted or small-minded. “We’re fighting that idea,” Ritchie said. “We intend to fight the right-wing at every turn.”