My friend, colleague and peer, Michele Anderson, is running for Minnesota State Senate.

She announced her intentions this week on Facebook and, in a note to friends and family, she explained, “With so much at stake for our state’s future, I cannot sit back and watch things happen without trying to do more. I know that I’m up for this challenge and would be a strong leader for our state.”

When I read these words, I was sitting on my couch feeling glum and rough, wearing the same jeans and T-shirt I’d worn the day before. All around me sat evidence of a week well-lived in the confines of our home: stray socks, half-full cups of apple juice, toys, scattered Cheerios, not-yet-folded mounds of laundry and the newest issue of the “New Yorker,” shredded to bits by our new puppy, Trixie.

The heaviness of COVID-19 feels a lot like depression some days.

But this message from Michele, from a thousand miles away in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, shone through my messy room and resigned heart like the sun.

I first met Michele at a small rural arts gathering I’d helped organize at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, Massachusetts, back in 2011 or 2012. She’d recently been named rural program director for Springboard for the Arts, a remarkable nonprofit that supports artists and accelerates the incorporation of arts and culture as a community and economic development strategy.

Since that gathering at Double Edge, we’ve stayed connected and helped one another carry the torch for rural communities to national stages.

Michele’s work at Springboard has been chronicled by PBS NewsHour, the New York Times and, last October, Michele gave a powerful “Firestarter” keynote at the first-ever Rural Women’s Summit in Greenville, South Carolina. (It’s still available on Youtube.)

And here we are in 2020, in the time of COVID-19, in the midst of one of the most important election cycles our country has seen in a long time, and my friend Michele is wading through the chaos and gloom and declaring that we can do better.

Having run for public office myself, I know something of the sacrifices she’s about to make, particularly in this time of whiplash politics and the intense scrutiny of social media.

A candidate must put herself out there confidently and unapologetically and brace herself for all the judgement and gaslighting that follows. She must protect herself from crippling self-doubt and hang on to the truth of her abilities and her motivations.

This is what pulled me out of my COVID-19 stupor this week, the urgency I felt to shield her and celebrate her, to proclaim that all is not lost, that good and brave community leaders are stepping up to meet the moment with servant hearts.

It’s so important for all of us, whether we live in Athens, Tennessee, or Fergus Falls, Minnesota, to celebrate Michele and all the other women and men who are coming to the similar conclusions right now: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Michele’s campaign page says, “I am a fierce rural advocate and a proven leader. I am joining this race because we can’t wait any longer to include more voices in addressing our state’s challenges. I’m doing this because I want to learn and build from what we have in common, rather than what divides us. And I’m doing this for the next generation. I want to make sure that I do everything I can now to make our children’s future brighter. I hope you will join me.”

I’m with you. Go, Michele. Go!

Whitney Kimball Coe is an Athens resident who serves as coordinator of the National Rural Assembly and director of national programs for the Center for Rural Strategies. She can be reached at whitneykcoe@gmail.com

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Whitney Kimball Coe is an Athens resident who serves as coordinator of the National Rural Assembly and director of national programs for the Center for Rural Strategies. She can be reached at whitneykcoe@gmail.com

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