The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Celebrating a Milestone: Five Consecutive Years of Regional Grassroots Advocacy

Posted on April 04, 2008 at 11:50 AM

While it’s usually our role to constantly pressure everybody to do more for our region’s development and we all know we still have a long way to go, every once in a while it is appropriate to stop and acknowledge our accomplishments. From about this time in 2003 to 2008, the Delta regional grassroots coalition is now into its sixth consecutive year of regional advocacy and lobbying for the region. In the more than 20 years I have been working on these issues–first for Congressman Alexander in the east Arkansas Delta, then President Clinton, then as a consultant/lobbyist–I have never seen such a long, sustained period of regional cooperation and activism.

This is quite a milestone, and we will continue our work with our annual Delta Initiative in Washington, DC on June 3-5, 2008.

For the first time we have a permanent, regional grassroots advocacy/lobbying/communications coalition with partners in every one of the eight Delta Regional Authority states and in the Washington, DC area–and several thousand grassroots partners across the region were absolutely crucial in this result.

We obviously still have a long way to go, and it concerns us deeply every day to think that Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, western Tennessee and Kentucky, southeast Missouri, southern Illinois, much of Alabama and the rest of the region still lag so far behind the rest of America. But one fundamental reality I can tell you is this: in those years when there was a substantial amount of grassroots advocacy, the results from the state, regional and national powers that be were much better than in the years when the attitude in the Delta was defeatist, cynical and too many people said “aw, the Delta always has been poor and always will be and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Unfortunately, all too often over the decades what we have seen is that there will be a burst of regional activism for two or three years, and then people will not see any immediate, spectacular results, and they go off and don’t do anything for the next two or three years. Then another burst of activity breaks out a few years down the road, and the cycle repeats itself. So it is a tremendous accomplishment that we have put together five straight years of consecutive regional advocacy, and much more than that, we gradually get stronger every day.

As a reminder that we need to give ourselves constructive criticism, we should also remember that in the period from 2001 to early 2003, there was not very much activity, to say the least, from the regional standpoint. It is not a coincidence that many of the funding issues declined over that same period. While results on federal and state funding issues for our region’s economic development always involve a series of factors and variables, we always come out somewhat better–and sometimes much better–when there is a great deal of grassroots advocacy from all eight states on a consistent, permanent basis, as opposed to years when there is much less advocacy.

Our colleagues in Appalachia have learned the lesson to press their case to the powers that be, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. We need to take a page from their book regarding perseverance.

It is vital that the next President place much greater attention to the resolution of our problems in the Delta. Whoever you support, be diligent in getting Senators McCain, Obama and Clinton to pay more attention to the economic plight of our nine million people in the Delta.

We still have a long way to go, but there has been some progress on some issues. We wouldn’t claim that this is an exhaustive list, but we might mention several key initiatives:

—We have supported the New Markets Tax Credit, Empowerment Zones, Renewal Communities, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other initiatives for job creation, help for lower to mid-income working families, aiding entrepreneurial development and small businesses, and we need to expand in those areas.

—We have a Delta Regional Authority now, and after weathering some difficult times from about 2001 to 2003, the DRA is clearly permanent and well-established and will only grow from now on. From a low of $5 million in 2003-04, it is up to about $12 million in the basic energy and water bill, plus $3 million through Rural Development, and another $8 to $10 million in additional transportation funding channeled to the DRA area. This is still too low, but we have made some progress the last four years and need to stick with it every year.

—We have made some limited, albeit too slow progress on I-69, the Delta highway system and are working hard on a multi-modal system, but we need a lot more progress. Getting I-69 declared a “corridor of the future” should help us during the big opportunity presented by next year’s highway bill. Gov. Beebe passed a severance tax to raise more funds for transportation just yesterday, with support from many members of our coalition, and other states ought to take similar actions.

–We have worked steadily for decent funding for Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, telemedicine, for the underserved areas of the Delta. We have made some progress on the fundamental point that inadequate health care is one of the most serious problems in the region and hampers our ability to make progress on virtually all other fronts.

—We have many organizations like Delta NIRI, America’s Second Harvest affiliates, and many others who are doing great work in the vital area of hunger and nutrition. The food stamp benefits and other key hunger and nutrition programs need to be increased, and we have worked for a decent nutrition section in this year’s farm bill. It has not been fashionable in recent years to express concern about hunger, but many of you in this coalition are doing a great job of informing our representatives in Congress that we need to do much better in making sure that people get a decent, affordable supply of food.

—In education, we have given constructive criticism to No Child Left Behind, which has not been adequately funded and has focused too much on coaching for tests. Head Start and other preschool programs are vital, as are vocational education and aid for student loans. The next President and Congress should do a much better job of helping our educational system. The educational package that Gov. Beebe passed in Arkansas provided a major increase in funding for Arkansas schools, and other governors and the national government should follow his example.

–We have fought to get FEMA to end its tragically inept responses to Hurricane Katrina, the tornado that hit Dumas in 2007, and to end its recent efforts to redraw the flood plain maps all over the region in such a way as to needlessly increase flood insurance costs all over the region. We need to keep after the powers that be to return FEMA to the high esteem it was held when Jamie Lee Witt, Kay Goss and other highly capable people were running it. We are scrutinizing FEMA’s current responses to the flooding in Arkansas, Missouri and elsewhere right now. The long-term economic rebuilding after Katrina has been too slow and mired in red tape.

–We have worked against cuts in rural housing, small business, and other Rural Development infrastructure programs, and we advocated a decent safety net for our farmers in the farm bill.

–We have worked for alternative energy to provide new markets for our producers, create jobs, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and cut pollution. We still have a long way to go, but Congressman Mike Ross and many others in our Congressional delegation are leading the way for alternative energy.

We have many other key issues we have to work on, because it takes an interlocking, comprehensive approach to our problems. Other issues that are also tremendously important include expanding tourism, including ecotourism as well as the cultural and historical riches of the region; –the LIHEAP program helps with energy costs, and including not just help for cold weather but also for heat waves, which actually cause more deaths and problems than cold weather in northern regions of the country–we need progress here this year; –fair trade policies regarding NAFTA and other free trade agreements so that smaller businesses, the environment, farmers and working families are not harmed by them, opening up trade to Cuba, which used to be a major market for Delta producers.

There are literally dozens of other initiatives that are worthwhile and we don’t claim that this is an exhaustive list. We mention those above just to make some effort to have a sense of priorities, since if you ask Congress and the President to do 75 different things it all tends to get lost in the shuffle.

The list of people who have contributed to our progress is so long that there is no way we could list everybody. However, since we cannot operate without funding, we would like to thank those who have contributed financially:

—Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas,

—Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center, East Prairie, Missouri,

—the national Housing Assistance Council,


—the state and national offices of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,

—Inspire Hope Institute,

—Heifer International,

—many banks, chambers of commerce, Empowerment Zones, nonprofit organizations, and business leaders, who made contributions in the range of $200 to $300;

–and MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL–the literally hundreds upon hundreds of registration fees for conferences, annual membership dues, and contributions in the range of $25, $50, $85 and $100. That is the biggest part of our budget now, and it is appropriate for a grassroots coalition to raise substantial funds from a large number of modest contributions.

We work every day for a better economic future for our region. I want to praise all of you receiving this message for doing the Lord’s work in the Delta. Thank you. Lee Powell, MDGC (202) 360-6347