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What do Ajo, Arizona; Charleston, West Virginia; Eastport, Maine have in common? For starters, they were all featured in a recent panel discussion that Our Towns hosted at the Rural Women Everywhere digital summit, which you can now stream on-demand here:

“Three Rural Women Who Inspire and Drive Rural Resilience,” Rural Women Everywhere

As the discussion reveals, a town ‘down east’ – which is actually in the far northeast of the country – has more in common with the capital of West Virginia and a former copper mining town two hours south of Phoenix than one might initially think. And each identify both shared and distinct-to-their-town ways of what being “rural” means to their communities and have inspiring, innovative, and impressive women leading various charges.

No strangers to the Our Towns reporting journey, Ajo, Charleston, and Eastport – which you can check out Our Towns coverage of here, and here, and here – illustrate how local residents have been working to address challenges of the now as well as ones decades in the making. They’re also showing what 21st century American renewal looks like in the face of those challenges, both new and persistent.  

In “Three Rural Women Who Inspire and Drive Rural Resilience,” the title of our panel, moderated by Deb Fallows and me, viewers and listeners meet a West Virginia judge who directs a juvenile drug court with an iron compassion (Judge Joanna Tabit); a journalist in remote Maine who informs and connects far-flung neighbors through a regional newspaper (Lora Whelan); and a community visionary and organizer who built a cross-border collaboration among Native Americans, Mexicans, and Anglos in a desert town in southern Arizona (Tracy Taft).

Why connect Ajo, Charleston, and Eastport? Perhaps the better questions is: Why not?

Why connect Joanna, Lora, and Tracy? Again: Why not?

But beyond that, perhaps the answer is because, one, they’d never met before yet are all a part of the Our Towns’ story, and two, they would have to opportunity to inform each other in real time and learn from each other in real time all the while informing the audience — both in real time for those tuning in live and now for those streaming the event on-demand.

Without giving too much of the conversation away (watch it here!), the three tell about their towns – perceptions and realities – what rural means to them, how folks tuning in can adapt and scale the blueprints for success they’ve used there, and more – like a funny-but-accurate creative use of a hand to explain the layout of West Virginia.

So what do Ajo, Charleston, and Eastport have in common? As it turns out, more than you might think.

What do other communities stand to learn from them? We think a lot. We hope you’ll check out this discussion here.

Hosted by Rural Assembly, an all-things rural organization that also produces the Everywhere Radio podcast and publishes The Daily Yonder and does a whole lot more, the Rural Women Everywhere summit spanned two days and featured a wide range of conversations. Those included mainstage programs on the importance of rural agoras, allyship with the rural LGBTQ+ communities; an interview with Diane Wilson, author of “The Seed Keeper;” and a presentation by Edyael Casaperalta, a Senior Policy Adviser at the Rural Utilities Service.

Breakout panel discussion topics ran the gamut from rural public health amidst the pandemic, to stories of rural women journalists, to the 100 Rural Women-led discussion with Indigenous women, students, fellows, and researchers who are working to affect positive change in rural Minnesota and their communities, and more. And there were musical performances and even virtual bingo.

To watch the days in their entirety, click here for Day 1 and here for Day 2, which according to Whitney Kimball Coe, Rural Assembly’s Director of National Programs and host of Everywhere Radio, boasted more than 500-plus live viewers each day.

As a bonus, Whitney shared with me these heat maps generated by Crowdcast, the hosting platform Rural Assembly used for Rural Women Everywhere. As you’ll see below, the Rural Women Everywhere Summit garnered a strong, nationwide audience with viewers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico plus an international audience, stretching from South America, across Europe, through Asia, and over to Australia.

Check them out below and stay tuned to Rural Assembly and what’s to come here:

Crowdcast-generated heat maps illustrating Rural Women Everywhere virtual attendance, courtesy of Whitney Kimball Coe