A Grassroots Revival
by Barry Hart
Way back in 1941, electric cooperatives faced a serious problem. The nation was gearing up for almost certain involvement in a world war, and copper wire needed for power lines was in short supply. Leaders of those electric cooperatives felt they were not getting their share of the available wire.
A delegation from Missouri headed to the nation’s capital, where they were met with open arms by the entire Missouri delegation, including both senators, Harry Truman and Champ Clark. After hearing the co-op’s story, Truman arranged a meeting with Vice President Henry Wallace. Wallace, in turn, made sure the case was heard at the Rural Electrification Administration.
Whether it was lobbying for more wire in Washington, D.C., or explaining the need for uniform policies when lines had to be moved for road construction in Jefferson City, electric cooperatives in those days enjoyed tremendous political clout. Today, we are still welcomed with open arms by our congressional delegation. But the job of protecting rural people from those issues that threaten low rates and reliable service has grown a lot more difficult.
That fact is due in large part to a recent Supreme Court decision that opened the doors to almost unlimited corporate contributions to “super PACs.” If access to elected officials becomes based on how much money an organization has to spend, rural people are in trouble. We do not have the money to go head to head with many of the special interest groups out there spending millions of dollars in campaigns.
Fortunately, there is still great strength in numbers when it comes to political activism. Together, the nation’s electric cooperatives serve close to 42 million consumers. In Missouri alone, there are around 1.5 million people with a vested interest in low-cost, reliable electricity from their electric cooperatives.
Last year, Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, issued a direct challenge to the leaders of the nation’s electric cooperatives. In the forceful terms of an evangelist speaking at a brush arbor revival, he told managers, key employees and directors that they must recommit themselves to building the political muscle that electric co-ops were known for in the early days of the rural electric program.
“There is nothing that you can do as a manager or a director that will have more impact on your members’ electric bills than getting involved in this fight and building your political strength,” English said in his address to the 2012 NRECA annual meeting.
He called the 42 million electric cooperative members a “sleeping giant” waiting to be stirred into action.
When it comes to Missouri’s electric co-ops, English was preaching to the choir. We already have an excellent grassroots program that can be called upon to reach elected officials when we have an issue that needs their attention. But we can do better.
We need to reach deep into the membership at each and every electric cooperative in the state in order to build a new grassroots army. Our only chance to be at the table when issues affecting rates come up is to get members such as you involved.
Please answer the call as your electric cooperative puts its “grassroots revival” in place. Together, we can keep rural Missouri an affordable place in which to live.
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