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Newquist to Young Grandson: South Dakota Not for You

David Newquist hopes his one-year-old grandson can find his way out of Aberdeen and South Dakota. Dr. Newquist deems South Dakota hopeless for Democrats of ambition and good conscience. As usual, his full essay is worth reading, as it ties many issues together. Here are some key passages:

...South Dakota is mired down by prejudicial, bigoted attitudes, and people who want productive and contributory lives come to the realization that they must either move or resign themselves to hoping that they can make changes that make such lives possible.

...Accomplishments in academics and professional life outside of South Dakota are lethal, particularly if those places carry the aura of prestige. Many South Dakotans hate accomplishment and performance that exceed anything that might raise the level of expectations in South Dakota. The GOP has been successful in fanning that resentful sense of inferiority into a political rage that wins elections. If you hold degrees from institutions that demonstrate excellence and you manage to accomplish things in high places, you have committed the unforgivable sin against South Dakota. Unless the state needs someone of such attainment and accomplishment to go to Washington to bolster the federal subsidies on which the state depends for its existence, it will not elect such a person to Congress.

...And there is the matter of opportunity in South Dakota. The Governor actually went to the Mall of America to try to recruit young people to the state. There are number of groups touting life in South Dakota and attempting to lure young people to return. I spent the past week with a large number of young people who have left South Dakota. When telling them of the efforts to lure young people, the inevitable reply is, "To do what?" One of the emigrants said it was her intention to return, but after the elections of 2004 and 2010, she said the state showed an aspect of life that is simply too discouraging. She is among those who started her education in the state, but finished out-of-state. She said there is no opportunity in the state to use her degree, and the fact that she earned hers out-of-state would always be a demerit. She will build her life where she has opportunity to do so [David Newquist, "Where Are All the Young Democrats?" Northern Valley Beacon, 2013.05.20].

I sometimes feel like we South Dakota Democrats are bowling alone. Can we Dems get a league together when culture and demographics and crony-corporate political money keep busting our balls?

I invite my readers to submit their signs of hope for building a state where Dr. Newquist would not be afraid to see his grandson live and work.


  1. El Rayo X 2013.05.21

    I hope the good doctor's medication has child-proof caps. I wouldn't want little Kace to get into it.

  2. Owen Reitzel 2013.05.21

    Whining?? How about an opinion. He makes sense.

  3. Anne 2013.05.21

    As usual, some commenters do not bother to read what they are commenting on. If they had, they would have come across this line which seems to apply: "Where denial is a way of life, there is very little life. "

  4. Chuck 2013.05.21

    I am thinking the American Culture War is escalating to a point of No Return. If you were a young person in this State today what would you do? In the end this State is very proud of it's Anti Intellectual persona. This hurts the State more and more. So if you are a conservative, christian, gun advocate you can stay here and be happy. If not, you might look around and say, why would I stay here. I can go to another State, get as good or better education, as good or better job opportunities and live a happier life. Our future is not dictated as much by who will come here as who will not.

  5. Kelsey 2013.05.21

    Move to Vermillion! :) Seriously, though, the key to survival seems to be finding a buffer of like-minded people who make you feel like you aren't alone out here. Lately, though, I wonder if it's worked too well. I'm so burned out on South Dakota politics, it's easier to stay in my little oasis and ignore anything going on outside of it. Being angry all the time is exhausting and these days I just don't have the energy for indignation I used to.

  6. TCMack 2013.05.21

    Vermillion is very nice, but it is not a true sense of South Dakota reality. It would almost be better to build another enclave of Democrats on the West side of the state, or somewhere else. I agree with Kelsey I am getting sick defending everything and listening to flawed logic. The worst of it is I can count on two hands personal friends that have left the state in the last two years for better jobs and opportunities. This is the biggest problem for the South Dakota State Democratic Party how do we keep quality people in the state?

  7. Vincent Gormley 2013.05.21

    "You can get there from here" if you have an (R)? That's called preferential treatment. It makes those who have that (R), "elitists".
    Whining? That's it? It appears and sounds as if you are the one whining. And put your hand back in your pocket. (R)'s whine about the "gubbamint" but they always got their hand out for that "free stuff".Don't want to get out of your comfort zone now.

  8. Michael Black 2013.05.21

    If you are looking to a political party to solve South Dakota's problems, you will only be disappointed. Each one of us can do something positive.

    I can give you two examples:

    DeLon Mork raises money for Children's Miracle Network. Madison's DQ surpasses his goal every year.

    Bernie Hunhoff explores South Dakota and shares stories through his magazine.

    Maybe we need a Jack Kennedy moment here: instead of asking what can SD do for me, maybe we should ask what each and every one of us can do to make it better.

  9. Rick 2013.05.21

    I've long gone past blaming the Republican Party for dumbing down the state. There is a hiccup in the South Dakota personna which others have described here and for which there appears to be no relief in the near future. I think the average voter out there no longer cares who's in office as long as it doesn't affect their insulated world. To regular folks, political discourse is just a lot of noise. Oddly enough, if you ask folks if they vote Republican or Democrat they'll say "I vote for the person." Sadly, they don't bother to find out much about candidates on the ballot which makes them easy prey for the better funded negative blasts in the final days of a campaign.

  10. Owen Reitzel 2013.05.21

    "Maybe we need a Jack Kennedy moment here: instead of asking what can SD do for me, maybe we should ask what each and every one of us can do to make it better."

    I agree Michael but thats means we have to sit down together and work to get through our problems. And that means compromise, which I don't feel the far-right or Tea Party wants to do. Their attitude is their way or no way. Nobody has all the answers-even liberals

  11. I am not going to wade into the discussion of politics here. As a journalist, my views of politics are for off-the-record discussions over beers only.

    But regarding the idea that smart, ambitious people have no place here: I can see what has Mr. Newquist upset. I have experienced some of that "let's not let anyone get to big for their britches" mindset. But good grief, it's only a problem if you decide to let it bother you. Who are these thin-skinned smart people who can't handle some challenge or criticism, or can't live among people with different views?

    Second, nothing wins people over like success. If you go away, gain some education and experience, come back and start a successful business or practice—well, there are always people who will grumble with that "too big for britches" argument. (Even beyond South Dakota.) But the majority of the people around you will at least respect what you've been able to accomplish.

    And the answer to the "To do what?" question: "Anything you want." Seriously. You can probably find someone in the Dakotas doing pretty much whatever you can imagine. The pay might be less, and the "prestige" of it is certainly less. But it's hard to imagine places where one person's efforts are more meaningful. What, in the end, is more likely to lead to a happy life?

    I have a caveat to that "anything you want" answer, though. I don't recommend people never leave their home county or state. The world is a heck of a lot bigger than small-town South Dakota, and we are not just Dakotans—we are citizens of the nation and, really, the world. We need to know our place in it better than the view we get from here. The life plan I recommend highly (especially, this time of year, to high school graduates) is to go away to school as far away as you dare, start getting your work experience in a place that will challenge you—and then, as you want to settle and focus outward instead of educating yourself, come home to your rural place, or settle in a new one.

    The culture issue is a concern, though not as much as it used to be. I keep up with lots of college friends who now live all over the country, mostly in urban places. Their lives, from what I see on Facebook, are not all that different from my own. We sometimes go see movies in the theater. Most of the time we watch shows on TV or Netflix for entertainment. They go for bike rides or walks through parks. I head out for a stroll on our gravel road, birdwatching as I go. They probably do see more live music than I do—but really, considering we go to the Cities about four times a year to see family, we could go to shows as much as they do if we arranged those trips a little better. (We also listened to one of the best bar bands I've ever heard at a summer concert in Simmons Park in Frederick two years ago. Culture isn't entirely absent here if you seek it out, or bring it to you.) Probably the biggest lifestyle difference is I drink my coffee at home most of the time.

    And, on the plus side, I know (and like) my neighbors, even though we probably disagree on most political issues (we don't talk about politics much here). And even if we didn't like each other, we would take care of one another anyway. This weekend, we had a minor drama with a girl who ended up hot and tired, biking a little too far from home. She was picked up by a neighbor who couldn't take the bike along when offering her a ride home. Everyone who saw that bike by the side of the road shortly afterward started calling the neighbors: Is your daughter out biking? Is everything OK? And when they figured out what had happened, another neighbor took the bike back to the girl's house. People around here genuinely care about one another. Would that have happened in the city or the suburbs? It certainly wouldn't happen everywhere.

    I really feel like by living here I am sacrificing very little, and gaining much.

    I have to wonder if those people who can't imagine themselves in South Dakota have let their imaginations wither.

  12. Michael Black 2013.05.21

    Owen, we don't need to waste time sitting down and planning out what we are going to do. It's time for action.

    What type of action?

    Volunteer as a coach a local softball team. Read to kids at the library. Help out a neighbor. Visit a nursing home. Contribute, contribute, contribute...

  13. Jana 2013.05.21

    Many Dems already do what you are suggesting Michael.

    Had an interesting chat with a SD emigrant who suggested that part of the reason her family left was because the deck was stacked and it wasn't what -or how much- you know, it was who you know. She also pointed out how the political nepotism and it's power has been inbred for generations.

  14. Douglas Wiken 2013.05.21

    Thanks for the "book", Heidi.

    I have only spent a couple years outside SD in Rochester, NY. What I noticed there was that you could squabble about politics and the next day your "opponent" was still friendly. In South Dakota far too many will never speak to you again if you counter their "wisdom". I suspect that too many South Dakotans view criticism of their ideas as criticism of them as persons. It is a sign of tremendous insecurity or knowledge that they are where they are because of luck or connections.

    Places like Madville Times and even my rabid Dakota Today can find a "community" of a kind large enough to remain interesting. Mt. Blogmore was sort of like that on a bigger scale, but charging to post coupled with Sunday School editing has nearly destroyed what was one of the better blogs in the country. It is now a standing example of the problems in South Dakota.

    Of course, virtual friends are not nearly as satisfying as sitting and yacking over a cup of coffee.

    While I was sitting in a lounge area at Sanford in Sioux Falls, I picked up a magazine that indicated the percentage of very, very smart people in a population. That suggested that about 3,000 people fit that category in South Dakota. My guess is that many of them are on the edge of frustration and depression and perhaps also have a sense of acute isolation.

    Making South Dakota a better place requires more than helping people in nursing homes or coaching more irrelevant sports.

    Current WIRED magazine discusses the benefits of working at home alone and working in groups. Research they note suggests that a mixture of both is better option than either alone. Most of us sit alone thinking. That has some advantages, but also limiting disadvantages.

    Something like regional brainstorming meeting sessions might be useful even if a "not invented here" attitude prevents much improvement that could be made at minimal cost. A couple of local minor examples.

    The local post office has a handicap accessibility ramp with guard rails on both sides. It parallels the slope of the sidewalk. Opening it at the south end would reduce walking by handicapped in half. The Post Office is mired in regulation from afar by experts who aren't.

    A local agency uses a private house as residence for clients. The house had a garage on one end which is now closed with a regular door rather than a garage door.
    The concrete driveway there drops steeply from the street to the door like a funnel for rain. In the past weeks, all the concrete was broken up and a new driveway with a steep slope was again made. Moving the "new" driveway about 15 feet north would have made it level. The area where the driveway had been could have had benches around the area, etc.

    Anyway, those are tiny examples without huge benefits or costs, but which are the kind of things that could make South Dakota a better environment.

    I haven't searched for "Dakota Repressive Syndrome" for years, but it might be worth reviewing again.

  15. Bill Fleming 2013.05.21

    All that said, The Black Hills are like Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. I know. I've tried about 5 times over my 63 years.

  16. Richard Schriever 2013.05.21

    Have had the experience of having someone tell me in a public meeting to "Go back to California" and stop meddling in "local issues" - even though my family has been a part of this community - socially and politically - since before statehood. This predicated on my having gone to grad school in California, and admitting to having returned to SD to attempt to apply some of the things I learned.

  17. Jessie 2013.05.21

    Kelsey and TCMack, why Vermillion? Does the presences of a university make a difference? And, if so, why that university? Just curious.

  18. Donald Pay 2013.05.21

    I left South Dakota, my native state, so that we wouldn't have to starve in retirement. When one third of your family is Indian and one third is a fairly active progressive, you are going to face some employment discrimination in South Dakota. I knew all these issues coming back home in the early 1980s, so we started our own public interest research organization, which kept us from starving, while fighting the good fight. As long as one of us had outside employment in some survival job, we could make it. I immediately doubled my salary by moving two states east, and while I won't be rich, I will be able to retire.

    When I was younger, the lack of money didn't bother me. It was really the complete lack of social and environmental justice that kept me in South Dakota for so long. I enjoyed the fight, and as long as we could make a difference, it was fine to just barely get by.

    When my daughter went to college in Minnesota, I hoped she would never return to SD and make the same mistakes I did. So, after years in Kunming and Beijing, she's now ensconsed in southwestern SD. I guess the love of the state, as much as you hate a lot of things about it, brings you back until you can't take it anymore. Then you leave. Anyway, my daughter is hatching chickens, making rhubard preserves and, I hope, making plans to get the hell out as fast as she can.

  19. John Hess 2013.05.21

    There's no utopia, but it's a joy to be around curious people.

  20. Michael Black 2013.05.21

    Maybe you guys are right: we should all just give up and move on.

  21. Jana 2013.05.21

    No Michael...that's not what anyone is saying.

    I think we all know that the biggest thing that keeps people in SD is family. That's what brought us back 12 years ago.

    What you misinterpret out of frustration is actually a deep commitment to making SD a better place for everyone and not just the politically connected. A commitment to social and economic justice and a commitment to expecting a better tomorrow for all people and not just the chosen few.

  22. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.05.21

    Heidi, I disagree with much of your comment. I am a born and raised South Dakotan, graduating from Miller High School and Northern State College in the 70s. I first left in the 90s to earn a graduate degree in St. Paul. While gone I did a one year internship in northwest Washington state. I returned to SD and worked from 1997-2006. I've got the bona fides.

    It is Not possible to do anything one wants in SD. A feminist book store has already failed. A gay marriage bumper sticker on my car was spray painted, in addition to more of my car. I got completely worn down from decades of being harassed, belittled and shamed for being a liberal Democrat.

    It's not a question of the thickness of one's skin. I've lived in Minnesota since 2007. I've been heartily disagreed with and enjoyed spirited arguments. There are those who might devolve into personal attacks, and plenty of folks who help police a fair discussion.

    By the way, I know my neighbors and they know me. Those stereotypes of big city anonymity are just that. Accordingly, there are some parts of the metro like that, and many that are not. This metro area is full of block clubs, community betterment groups, etc.

    I miss the land in South Dakota, and some of the people, every day. And I love living here. I don't have to fight through ignorance and fear every day. I feel so much more free to be.

    There are many South Dakotans here, and we tell very similar stories. Greater choice in music, theater and movies is only the tip of the cultural ice berg of differences. We just legalized gay marriage here! All kinds of people are wanted and welcomed here - even American Indians!

    Minnesotans are much less defensive about this state. Oh, there is so much more. I will always love South Dakota, and always hope that somehow the state will learn to be less fearful and more brave. Sigh.

  23. Donald Pay 2013.05.21

    Several months ago on this blog I recommended Josh Garrett-Davis' book "Ghost Dances: Proving Up on the Great Plains." It weaves the personal historical narrative of a kid growing up in South Dakota into historical facts about the Great Plains. I found it very illuminating about what many of our kids experience in South Dakota, why they leave, and the state still keeps a hold on them.

  24. John 2013.05.21

    Life is too short to battle this crap (small mindedness, voting against your interests, single party etc.). I'm proud that none of my kids are in South Dakota and hope the same for my grandkids. Fewer than 6% of my more than 50 first and second cousins stayed in South Dakota - all left for opportunities elsewhere. The 4 that stayed won the genetic farm lottery. What a lousy way to destroy a rural economy, small towns, and progressive advancement.

  25. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.05.21

    I have 5 siblings. 1 remains in SD. I have 8 adult nieces and nephews. 1 remains in SD.

  26. Michael Black 2013.05.22

    No Jana, what I am hearing is that Democrats see NO future in this state and we must all send our kids away or we are poor parents.

  27. FAO_Schwartz 2013.05.22

    An interesting aspect of the Newquist essay pertains to his usage of the word "provincial."

    A professor at South Dakota State University felt that the provincial nature of citizens of this state was due to the fact that no train service ran entirely through the state during its settlement years. The railroad companies brought settlers to the state for them to stay.

    Perhaps the easiest manner to visualize this concept might be illustrated with our Interstate Highways. Imagine if both highways simply dead-ended in the state rather than allowing individuals and commerce the ability to freely interact with residents of other states. In an end result, an insular and unsophisticated crust develops on individuals as they stagnate in the confines of a geographical location.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.22

    Kelsey provides a good example of the "checking out" that Newquist has previously identified as a self-preservation strategy for liberal South Dakotans.

    Michael, we could all accept political fatalism and focus our efforts on buying Blizzards and reading nice articles about South Dakota. But our politics are important, and our politics remain in the grip of a crony-capitalist machine whose power must be checked.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.22

    Heidi, no need to apologize for "books". I welcome all my neighbors to put their thoughts on the record, even if (perhaps especially if!) those thoughts are lengthy.

    Let me try to synthesize two points. Heidi wonders who these thin-skinned smart people are who leave South Dakota because they can't tolerate different views. Michael says he hears in this discussion an accusation of bad parenting if we don't send our kids out of state. Both of those points exhibit one bit of judgmentality I'm trying to get away from. I don't want to portray either choice—stay or go, BHSU/SDSU or Harvard/Stanford—as a sign of moral superiority.

    Developing a thick skin and succeeding is one reasonable (and rather fun) response to South Dakota's anti-intellectualism. So is ditching the yahoos and taking one's business elsewhere.

    Encouraging your children to attend BHSU or SDSU for an affordable in-state education in a program that suits their talents and interests is responsible parenting. So is pointing out the educational opportunities available out of state. The most responsible parenting makes clear to kids that, wherever they go, the quality of their education will depend on the effort they put into it.

    I encourage every young, energetic progressive I meet to stay and fight. But when some (most?) of those young progressives do their own calculus and decide to take their energy to other climes, I will not deem them cowards or deserters. If one chooses to stay, then we can argue that one has a moral/civic obligation to fight. But no one has a moral obligation to stay and fight.

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.22

    Doug: "Dakota Repressive Syndrome"—is that a past meme? Do you or someone you love suffer from it? If so, what does one take to cure it? :-)

  31. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.22

    John, Deb, interesting (and dismaying!) family ex-pat stats. As I review my own family tree, of cousins who grew up in SD, I thing the current count is 8 in-state, 7 out. Perhaps interestingly, my two siblings and I have all stayed in SD.

  32. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.22

    (FAO, I've wondered if a similar psychic harm might come to suburban folks living in cul-de-sacs. I once dated a gal who lived in such a neighborhood, and every time I went to pick her up, I had to drive by a "Dead End" sign. She's a very nice girl... but I married someone else! :-) )

  33. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.22

    (By the way, this conversation is more thoughtful and heart-felt than anything I read on Dakota War College. Thank you, and by all means, carry on!)

  34. Pamela Merchant 2013.05.22

    Our nation and state are becoming more "local" and we'd best get used to it. I honestly believe it is what you make of it in your own part of the world. I've had many frustrations having served locally on our school board in Brookings and having made it, miraculously, to the state senate for one term. It has been an uphill battle all the way, but it is one that I'm so very glad I've traversed! Having been from a small town in ND, and a farm girl, I've always known that one has to work hard for what you achieve. And, you gain the most by helping others. Sometimes it feels very difficult to keep going on and trying to make more of this state, but that is when you change your game plan a bit.

    First, think local. What can you do to groom young people, yourself and your community? Locally, our family has worked to create the community theatre and I'm starting a foreign language camp over the next many months, to be introduced as weekend classes and ones in the summer. We are active in service clubs and have hosted 8 international students in our home. I'm lucky enough to be able to go back to college and am seeking a degree in history, and minors in German and Non-Profit Management. This past spring, our PTA took 50 8th graders to the legislature; I serve as the middle school president and planned the trip. It wasn't difficult and I had both the Brookings County Democrats and Republicans fund the trip! Our own state party had over 30 high school students attend the first YELL (Young Elected Legislative Leaders) weekend this past April and I personally invited and drove 6 to Pierre. I've decided that perhaps it is not in the card for me to be re-elected to state level office; but I want to help groom others to be ready.

    If you look to your own lives and accomplishments, they may actually be greater here in SD because of the "big fish in small pond" situation. I'm often very tired and feel like giving up but in all honesty, while at the legislature I met many good-hearted people. If you can find an in-road and form a personal interest, often you can get somewhere with them. Change is very, very hard in SD; many refuse it. It is often like a time-warp here, where things we know need to change take many more years than it does elsewhere.

    I'm proud to be a transplanted South Dakota Democrat; I know it is not Minnesota or Denver, or Europe. I'm going to make the most of it while I live here. Will my children stay here? One has already moved to Colorado mainly because he loves the mountains. My other two are teenagers and there may not be choices for their future here. In our Brookings microcosm, I feel they have received a good education, but having said that... the overriding underfunding of K-12 and higher ed as well as low teacher pay is the biggest problem we need to face in this state. Our educators try very hard to make it work, but with our teacher pool aging and retiring, I'm not really certain we have the same quality entering into the profession in SD.

    A close second problem is our lack of investing medically in our people via Medicaid expansion. This should alarm everyone that has ever thought about not having access to ongoing medical treatment and preventative care.

    The tax system in SD needs much work and many Republicans know this as well. Each and every year the legislature tries to divvy up the funds they have to work with, albeit shoving more into the too-vast reserves that we seem never to tap into. Working incrementally to make the changes would be the best way to go about this. It does not mean we need to jump to an income tax; this may never happen in SD. But, looking at rearranging our existing system to remove sales tax from food to non-food items would shift the tax burden from those that can least pay to those that can more easily pay.

    So, should we stay, live and work here? We all have to make our own decision on that one. I say, do what you can wherever you live. Sometimes it is very hard and you need to change your game plan.

  35. Ben Cerwinske 2013.05.22

    "I don't want to portray either choice—stay or go, BHSU/SDSU or Harvard/Stanford—as a sign of moral superiority."-Cory, on my first day of college, my sociology professor said that BHSU was the "Harvard of the West" :-).

  36. Douglas Wiken 2013.05.22

    "Doug: "Dakota Repressive Syndrome"—is that a past meme? Do you or someone you love suffer from it? If so, what does one take to cure it? :-)"

    Should be something like Dakota Depressive Syndrome. Google used to find the discussion of it. Now all it turns up are links to medical, psychiatric sites. I don't remember who coined the phrase originally. It was common to hear it about 30 years ago. Maybe somebody with better memory than mine will remember that humbug. It may have been a pseudo-explanation for the backwardness of South Dakota.

    Oh well, nevermind.

  37. Upon a day's reflection, my earlier comment included a little more exasperation than it really should have.

    Here's a more significant point: It might well be good for individuals to leave the Dakotas for areas where more money, prestige, and like-minded connections can be found. But more the more that people leave, the more that people put themselves into like-minded enclaves, the worse it will be for our democracy.

    I've been listening to podcasts of discussions that were part of the Civil Conversations series, sponsored by Krista Tippett's On Being radio show. On one of them, Jonathan Rauch, a gay marriage activist, has a conversation with David Blankenhorn, a pro-family activist who recently changed his opinion on gay marriage in large part based on his friendship with Jonathan. There were many great quotes in that discussion, and I'd recommend listening to the whole thing ( But this is relevant to this discussion:

    "I believe there's an element of patriotism about (these difficult conversations). I believe that there are higher values ultimately than what each of us wants as individuals. ... we have to share the country. And it is our duty as citizens to find ways to live together, and that that's a higher value still. I equate that with a form of patriotism. When I see someone who won't compromise, I see someone betraying the core purposes of our Constitution, which is to force compromise. That's what James Madison was doing."

    There's a freedom in our mobile society, that we can live wherever we want. And I don't think we want to go back to a time when we felt a prisoner to a place. But this mobility has a downside, in that there is less of an incentive to work to make any one place better. If you have the means and the brains, it's easy to go where life is easier.

    It feels great to be around people who are like us. But we don't grow that way. And if we never or rarely have meaningful relationships with people who aren't like us, the "other side" becomes less than human. Our civil discourse becomes increasingly uncivil. Compromise is near impossible, because why would you listen to what "they" want?

    I also view this from the point of view of someone who cares about land and agriculture. When fewer people live on the land, fewer people care about it. And the care of it among the few hands who still work it becomes less. If those who leave still own land, there's another problem of absentee landownership, which incentivizes abusive land-use practices: When all landowners consider is the amount on the check that comes in the mail twice a year, because that is all they see, farmers are pushed toward maximizing short-term profit. It doesn't have to be that way, if one or another of the parties pushes for a different path, but the structure of the relationship is such that long-term care of the land isn't a priority unless someone makes it a priority.

    When people first established the farm communities in the Dakotas, there was a lot of cooperation. And part of that I think was the expectation that they were going to have to live with these neighbors whether they liked it or not. The lack of mobility was an incentive to work together.

    Cory, I have to say I would not encourage young people with ambition to "stay and fight." We fight plenty already. I would encourage them to go, see the world—then come back and live in meaningful community.

  38. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.05.22

    That is a good comment Heidi. I will say that I left in search of a balanced, civil discussion after 45 years of trying. I heartily agree with your suggestion that people leave to experience other ways of living, thinking, being, for at least a year so that they have an authentic experience.

    Not all of this is a SD/rural-only experience. I'd love an opportunity to bring inner city youth of a variety of races to central SD farm country for a summer, in exchange for a farm/sm town group spending the summer in St. Paul. It would be so good for all them of all ages.

  39. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.23

    The patriotism of compromise... there's a lot to think about there, Heidi!

    South Dakota does offer plenty of opportunity. Not everyone will choose to seek that opportunity here. But we need to make it easier for people to to choose to come here and stay here. We can't change the weather (well, actually...), but we can change the cultural climate. We can invest more in public goods and make our tax system more progressive, as Pam advocates. We can protest strongly when our leaders make intellect and achievement sound like liabilities.

  40. Karl Kroger 2013.05.29

    Fast Company Magazine had a great quote in a recent article about Detroit, "Where everything's broken, anything's possible."

    There is indeed so much to be depressed about and rage against in this state, but there's also much to celebrate. Better yet, there's plenty of work to do. I hear stories every week of people working to improve people's lives and chip away at injustice. We just need to get better at coordinating our effort and communicating our message--without resorting to dirty politics and demonizing our opponents.

    I have hope.

  41. BLY 2013.08.13

    I am late to this conversation, but have found the discussions here very interesting as I read through them. I can offer my brief insight as an "outsider" who moved here less than a year ago and will be moving out of the state--not a moment too soon--in just a few weeks.

    I have lived, worked, and travelled around North America and the world, and cherish the empathy I have learned to utilize in my interactions with people who are similar and dissimilar in many aspects to me. This character quality combined with my friendliness, intelligence and education, have always served me well to successfully integrate myself into the places I've lived and worked.

    I came to South Dakota with some apprehension, but was determined to find the way to be successful and contribute to my new community. Instead, I found I was constantly running into walls; what had previously been attributes (my diverse experiences and background, top-tier graduate education, creativity) became liabilities.

    Very shortly, this feeling of being socially and professionally ostracized began to wear me down. I started believing there was something wrong with me and sunk into a depression. I had to make the decision to leave as quickly as possible to preserve my health and sanity.

    My personal story serves to illustrate that part of building a healthy society is to accept willingly and utilize the talent that does come. As much as I see enormous potential and beauty in South Dakota, I just could not handle the toll being here took on.

    I would urge everyone here to continue to try to build a state culture where listening without judgement comes first. The only way to have a worthwhile conversation is to seem out as many voices as possible.

  42. Jessie 2013.08.14

    I hear you. After nearly 20 years in this benighted state, I'm worn out and ready to go. If I could I'd leave now, hoping to find a new place where I could know like-minded folk. We'll probably have to wait until retirement.
    I wish you all good things wherever you end up.

  43. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.14

    "diverse experiences and background, top-tier graduate education, creativity" becoming liabilities instead of merits? Ugh. BLY, those are exactly the attributes any community should be glad to recruit and put to use. I'm sorry my neighbors and I have chased you off. I can live with telling a newcomer that you have to be tough to put up with weather extremes and long distances. But our erecting cultural resistance on top of our geographical challenges is self-destructive.

    Jessie, I'm not encouraging you to leave, but what keeps you from leaving? Basic household economics?

  44. BLY 2013.08.14

    Thanks for the responses to my story. I told it here not to extract sympathy necessarily, but more as a cautionary tale. Earlier comments discussed "thick vs. thin skin" for folks here to take on in dealing with opposing viewpoints. I wanted to point out that sometimes even the thickest skin is just not enough to cut it. Talented and skilled people don't want to invest in and settle down in a place where their skin has to be tough constantly...

    I'm sorry to have only found this blog now, but thank you caheidelberger for all you do. I do have to laugh at your weather comment, though! In a very peculiar South Dakota way, the weather becomes an almost mythical strength gauge...I can't count the number of times I was asked "do you think you can handle the weather?" Or when people heard I was leaving, "Because of the weather?" I learned quickly that nobody cared that the two places I lived prior to coming here were dessert (Phoenix) and as-cold-as-it-gets northern Canada. Nothing South Dakota could throw at me phased me after those two extremes! Yet, it seemed that nobody in South Dakota could quite understand that there are other places with less-than-perfect weather and a person could have successfully lived in several of those places.

    I wish for all of you who want to leave that you have the opportunity, but I certainly hope that you all can keep asking the questions to help South Dakota grow meaningfully.

  45. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.14

    Thanks, BLY. And you make a fun side point: we think we're tough, but as my uncle in Phoenix and my friend who worked in the Yukon (maybe you crossed paths!) can attest, there are tougher climes!

    Things are tough all over. We don't need to make them tougher by being insular, intolerant, and blind to the talents that folks from elsewhere can bring to our communities.

  46. Jessie 2013.08.14

    What keeps me here? Good question.
    About two years ago I ran afoul of a cabinet secretary in Pierre. She made it really easy for me to resign and I suspect really hard for me to find another job in state govt. That's my take on it anyway.
    I've been unemployed since then except for a part-time job that drove me to therapy for serious depression and stress. I had to quit to save my sanity. That's one reason I could really hear what BLY was saying.
    So I'm unemployed again, my kid is starting college and we are determined not to saddle her with student loan debt. Can't afford to pull up stakes when my husband's job is what's keeping us going.
    Can't count how many job offers I lost because "We think you are over-qualified and wouldn't be happy with us." If that's what you meant by basic household economics, yup, can't go now.
    I want to live where no one cares that I'm liberal, atheist and feminist. I want to be around well-educated people who know what tolerance means and practice it. I want to admit I have a doctoral degree and not get the looks I get in South Dakota.
    'Nuff said. More than enough.

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