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Inspiration

Finding "The Common Humanity" in the Rural Experience: A Profile of Wayne County 4 Action

Having grown up in Wayne County, Tierney Lyons, a representative of Wayne County 4 Action, has no illusions about the prejudices that can come with living in a conservative, rural area. During a local 2020 Black Lives Matter protest, young white men revved their Confederate flag-flying pickups while waving rifles and yelling racial slurs at the event speakers.

Yet, joyful moments can also be shared with those who hold opposing ideologies. Shortly after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Lyons was getting to leave a parking spot on Main Street after stopping by campaign headquarters to fill her car with blue yard signs, even stuffing some in the passenger seat up against the windows. A man wearing a MAGA hat and carrying a heavy bank bag approached her car, opened her driver's side door, and started to get in, even though she was sitting in the driver's seat! Just in time, he realized his mistake and got out, apologizing. He'd been confused, thinking it was his car. They both had a good laugh and decided we all get lost daydreaming sometimes. They each left, she knowing that he wasn't a torch-wielding Nazi and he knowing she wasn't part of a looting, angry mob. Things were going to be okay.

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“That’s the beauty and the messiness” of living in a rural area like Wayne County, Lyons says, where neighbors will flaunt Trump-themed signs and flags but offer even a liberal neighbor an open invitation to come by and take one of their horses for a ride.

Like many other grassroots political groups, Wayne County 4 Action, in northeast Pennsylvania, began as an Indivisible chapter in the wake of the 2016 elections. Lyons, a medical librarian, remembers how unnerving it was to learn how many of her friends had voted for Donald Trump. Yet, she says, rather than break her long-standing relationships, she and other Wayne County 4 Action members work to maintain human connections. The group focuses on practical, ground level community work that helps everyone – regardless of their political affiliation.

For example, the group's community advocacy ranges from collecting camping gear for the unhoused to donating to the animal shelter and arts alliance. Its Facebook page includes updates on the sentencing of Jan. 6th insurrectionists and the Biden administration’s work bring new factory jobs to the U.S., but it also provides details about a local electronics recycling event and free energy assessments for all residents.  

For all its “across the aisle” reach, Wayne County 4 Action's 300 members proudly, and effectively, focus on electing progressive candidates. Through canvassing, postcarding, phone banking, and more, the group helped boost votes for Democrats by 5 percentage points in the 2022 midterms. Wayne was the only county in Congressman Matt Cartwright’s PA-08 district that Democrats improved their performance from the previous election. While the county did not flip to blue, cutting the Republican vote advantage in such rural areas is essential to winning close national and statewide races.

Reaching out to deep Red neighbors while working to change votes is not easy or neat. But maintaining human connections with their MAGA friends, family, and neighbors is at the heart of Wayne County 4 Action’s work.

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The most important lesson is that conflict breeds conflict. We need to find common ground," says Lyons. Plus, you never know with whom it you will share a laugh after stumbling out of a daydream...

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