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Cory’s TEDxBrookings Talk: Holding on to South Dakota and Home by Blog

Whoo-hoo! Scott Meyer and friends are beginning to post videos from last month's TEDxBrookings event! Here's my talk on blogging, identity, and community in South Dakota:

I know many of you love text as much as I do, so here's my prepared text (not a transcript, mind you, since my speeches always morph in the moment):

I'm Cory Heidelberger. I'm a South Dakotan. I write the Madville Times, a political blog about South Dakota.

But I haven't been in South Dakota, not regularly, not as much as I'd like. A year ago, I had to leave. I didn't want to leave South Dakota, but I had to.

How many of you have heard someone say that: I don't want to leave South Dakota. I don't want to leave my hometown. But I have to.

During a blog tour this summer, I was chatting in a café when another friend comes in. We spot each other, say hi, talk a while. I mention how thrilled I am to be back and see friends like this.

“Be back? What do you mean?”

“Well, I've been gone for a year.”

And this friend looks at me and says, “I had no idea. It seemed like you never left South Dakota.”

That comment meant a lot to me. It said I'd succeeded. When we left South Dakota last year, I told myself I wanted to maintain my identity as a South Dakotan. I wanted to stay engaged with my community in South Dakota. And I was able to do that with my blog.

I've been blogging seriously about South Dakota life and culture and politics for about eight years. I called my blog the Madville Times, because Madison was my hometown. When I started, I thought I'd write mostly about Madison.

As I blogged, I found myself drawn into conversations with other South Dakota blogs. I found myself writing about other South Dakota towns and about South Dakota issues affecting the entire state. You see, blogs are just like South Dakota towns and South Dakota people. We don't exist in isolation. We interact; we respond; we challenge each other. In competition and in collaboration, we build an evolving narrative about our state.

Then in 2011, I had to move from Madison to Spearfish for a job. I actually thought, for a moment, “Gee, maybe I shouldn't take this job. I mean, how can I write the Madville Times if I'm not in Madison?” As I said, that was just for a moment.

My identity was strongly attached to my hometown. I wondered how it would affect me to move from the place I'd called home for all my life.

But when I got to Spearfish, I realized the effect my blogging had had on my sense of “home.” When I got to Spearfish, I kept researching and writing about South Dakota issues. I kept talking with and cultivating a circle of South Dakota friends and neighbors and sources. I kept debating and joking with the same bloggers and commenters. I didn't get homesick in Spearfish because I was still home... in South Dakota.

Then came Spokane. My wife had a year-long internship there, her entry into her profession as a pastor. I didn't want to leave South Dakota, but we couldn't pass that up. Leaving was professionally necessary.

My blog had survived the move from East River to West River. But could the blog survive Spokane? Could my identity as a South Dakotan survive? Could I keep participating in the community that I considered my home, even if I wasn't home?

I committed myself to trying. When we moved last year, we did our necessary work and went out and enjoyed the parks around Spokane, but I focused my attention on what was happening back in South Dakota. Every morning I maintained my discipline of going straight to the computer, checking the South Dakota blogs and news sites, and writing about South Dakota. I fostered existing relationships and forged new connections with South Dakota sources.

I even organized some political activism from afar. Last March, some blog readers expressed an interest in challenging a nominating petition. I'll avoid the politics, but I'll tell you that it was a logistically challenging project. We had a document with over 2,800 handwritten names, signatures, dates, and addresses. We had to convert that data to spreadsheet, cross-check those data points with themselves and a few data collections, research election law, follow up on hunches, and prepare a formal report of our findings within a week. I had to coordinate the activities of team members, many of whom desired anonymity, working in several different places.

And I had to direct their efforts without working with any of them face to face. I was 1,200 miles away, in Spokane, navigating a complicated and rushed legal process with an aggregation of South Dakotans whose only common point of contact was me.

Believe it or not, the project worked. The petition challenge itself failed—our research did not identify enough signatures to disqualify the petition. But I was able to use the knowledge and the trust I had built up through the blog to assemble and manage a team and to produce a collaborative document and evidence file that laid the groundwork for a criminal investigation.

That experience taught me that, thanks to the Internet, the choice between South Dakota and opportunities elsewhere is not as binary as it used to be.

The Internet's solvent effect on geographical boundaries is not news. Many of you live and work in South Dakota and use our wondrous digital technology to tap talent and markets and resources around the country, just as I was able to sit in Washington State and tap local talent here to help the folks I call my neighbors and influence the political process in the state I choose to call home.

Wait: wind that back. I'm not in South Dakota. But I choose “South Dakotan” as my identity. I choose South Dakota as my community in which I exert my political will. Does that make me the Koch Brothers? Does that make me George Soros? Do I have any more right to participate in this community than the RVers who rent a mailbox and register to vote in Madison so they can dodge their home-state income taxes?

That moral question is news. Do I really get to choose my identity and exercise it in your community, just because I say so, and just because I blog a lot?

I know I can use the Internet to sustain my presence in my community even when I'm not present. But should I?

I won't try on this stage to work out a complicated Habermasian/Wendell Berryan/Steve Jobsian philosophical framework of the morality of online presence. (Besides, our governor says philosophy is a waste of time, right?)

The question deserves much deeper and more interactive analysis than one ten-minute lecture. But I'll posit a starting point... and a raison d'être for my continued blogging.


I love South Dakota. I love South Dakotans. I want to be here with you. And when I can't be here with you, I will find a way to be here with you, in head and heart if not hand in hand.

I don't think the Koch brothers will say that.

We can sustain connection to the community we love through buttons and screens if we have to. It's not easy. It does not replace being there... or being here, with you, today, in Brookings, South Dakota, having dinner with Judy and joking with Scott and hearing Stephanie's stories about Zachary Lars.

But those buttons and screens are better than saying goodbye. It takes effort—it takes being on fire for the people you call neighbors and for the place you call home. But when you have that fire, you can still find ways to reach out to those screens and be useful to the community you love.

This summer I got to break out of those screens. I went on a blog tour of South Dakota. In eight days, I visited Rapid City, Edgemont, Manderson, Mission, Eureka, Mitchell, Brookings, and Sioux Falls. I interviewed 19 people in person, made one public speech and one radio appearance, covered two political debates, went fourwheeling with a legislator and a scientist, posted 23 articles with two videos and 64 pictures, and put 1,300 miles on my car, all in South Dakota. It was like a vacation... at home.

The blog tour allowed me to reconnect with friends and events and the prairie itself in ways we cannot do online. The friend I happened to meet at that café said it felt like I'd been here the entire time, but I still needed to refill my bottle with South Dakota air and water and chat and dirt (plus that layer of grasshopper guts on my bumper). Like the boyfriend back from college for a weekend, or the soldier on leave before her next deployment, I recharged on home to remind myself of who I am, whom I love, and what I'm fighting for.

I recharged for another temporary absence, this time in St. Paul, as my wife finishes her last semester of seminary.

And when we get back, when my wife gets her first call at a South Dakota church and we settle back into South Dakota, I'll feel as if I never left. I hope you'll agree... and I hope you'll have me back [Cory Allen Heidelberger, prepared remarks, "Always South Dakota: Blogging, Identity, and Community," TEDxBrookings, 2014.10.04].

Stay tuned for more great South Dakota speeches from the October event on the TEDxBrookings Facebook page!


  1. Moses 2014.11.13

    you do a great job presemnting the facts we wait your return

  2. jerry 2014.11.13

    Good work there Cory, enjoyed it.

  3. Jana 2014.11.13

    Nicely done sir. In more ways than you'll ever never left South Dakota. Our job is to make sure that South Dakota doesn't leave you.

  4. grudznick 2014.11.13

    It was a nice speech Mr. H. I hope Mrs. H gets a church in Madison so when you come back to South Dakota you can really rattle a tree or two.

  5. Troy 2014.11.13


    I know at least one set of Koch brothers who love South Dakota. In fact, my step-father and his brother have lived in the state for collectively about 175 years and they love South Dakota. And the Mrs. Koch's both love SD too but their time here is a bit less. Only collectively 160 years or so. Don't know any Koch sisters though so maybe you meant sisters? Except for that very gross inaccuracy, good job.

  6. leslie 2014.11.13

    troy, who would be in the know about the Koch brothers and affiliates who opened a SD office in Sx Falls before the election, what was their mission and how did they go about it?

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.13

    My crass generalization of Koch men undermines the community spirit of the speech. Your Koch friends are welcome to e-mail me their complaints.

  8. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.11.13

    Except Cory, you were making an illustration and mentioned George Soros too. Great talk, you might even have helped me change my mind and stay in this fascist state where the business of government is business, not good governance for all the people.

  9. grudznick 2014.11.13

    You should reconsider, Mr. Stricherz.

  10. SDBlue 2014.11.14

    Leslie, the Kochs also opened an Americans For Prosperity office in Rapid City. They have infested both sides of the state.

  11. mike from iowa 2014.11.14

    Speaking of RVers,Working on Wheels blog recommends UPS Store #1884 West Main Street,Rapid City,SD as thee place for mail forwarding for numerous reasons.

  12. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.11.14

    You needn't worry about me, Mr or Mrs or Ms grudznick, as proved by the past 6 months of political action, I am pretty irrelevant and your voice is being heard loud and clear by the citizenry of South Dakota.

  13. Wayne Pauli 2014.11.14

    Excellent message Cory. I keep coming back also, must be in the water...even though I am an underserved minority(Democrat). It is too bad that we have to put up with the Troy's of the world. I try to put them on mute.

  14. jerry 2014.11.14

    After reading the excellent blog site by John T. and his analysis of the report on labor conditions in South Dakota, it does seem very clear that our state is in for a bumpy ride if the ag market goes down anytime soon. When you are a one trick pony, sometimes the trick wears off. He is also correct in that Daugaard was never called into the question of his stewardship of our state of economic affairs here. So after hearing Cory's take on South Dakota and how much people would surely love to work and live here and John's article about how we continue to slip further down the hole, the only way to accommodate all would be a change in direction in Pierre starting at the top.

    The success of the agriculture industry is fantastic, but it must expand to other sectors or the state will be doomed to a bigger welfare state than it already is, one that is unsustainable without a huge influx of property tax money. Higher wages, starting with I18, is the key to start this engine to prevent all of that. Thanks Democrats for bringing that to the table so the citizens could do what they see as the way to go forward, now take credit for it.

  15. John Tsitrian 2014.11.14

    Thanks for the kind remarks, Jerry. The piece you reference is still on Cory's RSS line-up under The Constant Commoner. My take on IM 18 is that it is indeed a good start toward moving policy to the demand-side. I think the biz and GOP communities will soon grasp that about 77k South Dakotans will immediately benefit to the tune of $15 million/mo and that their "propensity to consume" will send that money right into the economy, giving it a nice bump with lots of rollover effects. Only political downside for Dems? If all goes as I expect, Pubs who are in charge will take all the credit because it will happen on their watch.

  16. John Hess 2014.11.14

    It's love/hate: Cold, conservative, safe, friendly, ....

  17. John Hess 2014.11.14

    Life would be a lot simpler as a Republican.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.14

    John T, we'll have to watch that economic data closely so we can lay credit where credit is due.

    John H, I keep the rest of my life simple so I have room for the complications of Democracy in South Dakota.

  19. Liberal Stuck in SD 2014.11.14

    This was held in Brookings, PP's hometown. Was he not invited to speak?

  20. Douglas Wiken 2014.11.14

    "Life would be a lot simpler as a Republican."

    Even simpler for those fully buried six feet down.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.14

    LSSD, I saw neither hide nor hair of Powers at this Brookings event. I would actually enjoy a chance to share a stage with Mr. Powers.

  22. larry kurtz 2014.11.14

    calvin and hobbes.

  23. larry kurtz 2014.11.14

    darmok and butthead.

  24. larry kurtz 2014.11.14

    fox and rhino.

  25. larry kurtz 2014.11.14

    TED and slug.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.14

    Or just a chance to require Pat to respond directly, civilly, in front of an impartial audience, and demonstrate who really has the best interests of South Dakota at heart.

  27. grudznick 2014.11.14

    Stan and Ollie

  28. larry kurtz 2014.11.14

    Sadat and Rabin.

  29. larry kurtz 2014.11.14

    Daschle and Lauck's little sister.

  30. Jaka 2014.11.15

    Thanks, Cory, for all that you do and bestluck to your wife for putting up with you! You and others on this site have really spread needed knowledge around a state that existing government structure/strictures would love to keep its' people ignorant of.....

  31. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.15

    Jaka, thanks! I'm glad to serve in this strange, unofficial role as state gadfly. I look forward to many more years and many more readers!

  32. larry kurtz 2014.11.15

    Cory, have you quantified the success of your gadfliedness into vote tallies?

  33. larry kurtz 2014.11.15

    So, there is a Regent position open, Cory: have you put your name into nomination or are you forming an exploratory committee to run for US House or for the Legislature in 2016?

  34. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.15

    Larry, I'm afraid quantifying my gadfliedness would show bad results. Since I began blogging, we've seen fewer registered Dems, fewer Dems in the Legislature, and the loss of a Dem House seat and a Dem Senate seat. Maybe South Dakota Dems won't have me back... and maybe the SDGOP will!

    I have no desire to serve on the Board of Regents. While I feel I could be an effective advocate for higher education, I think I'll work better with a broader portfolio.

    An exploratory committee is unlikely; I like what I'm doing. :-)

  35. GoJacksJC 2014.11.19

    Thank you for posting this, Cory. It was very illuminating and insightful. I can identify with the desire not to leave home. The "recharging" aspect of a return to South Dakota is also very salient for me; I have felt it when I looked out of a plane window on the descent into Sioux Falls when returning on leave or first saw the "Welcome to South Dakota" interstate billboard on the drive back from other states where I've lived.

    Unfortunately, I chose to pursue a sociology degree, and as you alluded to, Governor Daugaard et al., view that as an almost worthless degree. Thus, I am curious about your insight on how to counter that and secure employment here in SD, because I too love this state and want to serve its citizens and contribute to a dialogue centered on improving our great state.

  36. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.19

    Hey, JC! Glad to have you! I know that airplane feeling.

    I would think your sociology degree would be very useful in studying our statewide community, figuring out what's wrong in our socio-politico-economic structure, and devising improvements. Of course, that effort by itself gets you a gig as a guest blogger, not a good paying job. :-)

    I'm probably the last guy you want to ask about good plans for securing profitable employment. Remember, I'm a teacher who insists on always coming back to South Dakota.

    So who in South Dakota hires sociologists? Do you need a master's or doctorate to get hired to do research? Could you turn your knowledge into research and writing proposals?

    I'd suggest considering teaching high school social studies, but the conventional wisdom says that's one of the last areas where the teacher shortage will hit, since social studies is traditionally the coaches' choice. Still, teaching is a fine way to serve citizens and lead dialogues with the next generation of leaders.

    Do social service agencies hire sociologists? City governments looking for planning and development specialists?

  37. bearcreekbat 2014.11.19

    JC, your degree in sociology is a perfect path into law school at USD in Vermillion.

  38. GoJacksJC 2014.11.19

    Cory, I guess I am at the point in my life where value congruence is paramount. While I have never met you, your TEDtalk and blog postings suggest that you and I might have similar values/perspectives, so that is why I asked.

    You raise a very pertinent question when you mention one's educational attainment; I do have an MS and PhD, although I have found myself trying to downplay them because, unfortunately, some individuals apparently see those degrees as threats and/or an indication that I am overqualified for positions I apply for. Honestly, I would be fine with people not knowing I completed graduate school.

    I have reached out to a few nonprofits, so we shall see if anyone "bites." What disappoints me most about the whole situation is that I feel that me leaving SD would be abandoning my family to suffer under the rule of a political party that often does not value the interests of citizens like them or consider the implications of its policies on such individuals. Moreover, if everyone who could fight for the underdog leaves, we encourage the creation of an environment like that described by Pastor Niemoller.

  39. GoJacksJC 2014.11.19

    Bear, I did have a prof at NSU try to get me to pursue law when I was there. I would need to get my current student loans paid before I even think about going back to school.

    I am not sure if you have seen The Equalizer with Denzel Washington, but I left that movie thinking "wouldn't it be awesome if I could fulfill a role like that here" (albeit with less hand-to-hand combat and more "girly man" dialogue and collaboration).

  40. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.19

    Value congruence? That's code for, "I expect poverty," right? :-)

    You're right: I have a hard time doing any job that doesn't fit my values. I've tried sales and retail. I hate it. I want to have real conversations, not programmed interactions designed to drive consumption.

    Niemöller—interesting reference! I won't wage a guilt trip on anyone who leaves the state to make a living or to simply enjoy a life in which being liberal, thoughtful, whatever, is not a constant battle. But we can certainly benefit (I can certainly benefit!) from citizens who are willing to stand and fight.

    PhD?! Holy cow! You could teach at the university! You could research for SDSU! Does academia appeal to you?

  41. bearcreekbat 2014.11.19

    JC, practicing law offers incredible opportunities to serve your state and to help others. While the cost can be a huge impediment, in the past USD law school offered free tuition for graduate assistants, such as teaching legal writing to 1st year law students. And I think SD is still relatively inexpensive for SD residents when compared to other states or private schools. Someone with your educational background would have a real advantage over those law students without advanced degrees, and be likely to qualify as a graduate assistant or a recipient of scholarships or grants. Plus, there are student loan forgiveness programs for law grads that go into public service. See e.g.,

    Enforcing laws that are designed to help those in need, but are being ignored by the powers that be is an incredible experience. And with a law degree, you don't have to work for exploiters, you can work with an agency like the Legal Services Corporation, a public defender's office or even hang a shingle and be a genuine benefit to your community and neighbors while you police the authorities and call them out when they engage in unlawful behavior or when they refuse to properly implement federal and state laws that were designed to help the helpless.

    But Cory has a point too - perhaps teaching at one of our universities might be a better fit. Either way, SD needs people like you!

  42. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.11.19

    Having read the posts since 13:48 today, by JC and the others who have commented today, I feel so terribly inadequate and appreciative again of your talk Cory, but also to know that there are others in this State who are willing to work for less than their God given abilities should entitle them in today's society. And I am grateful that they care enough about this planet on which we live and this small corner of that planet called South Dakota, that they are willing to make those sacrifices. A heartfelt thanks goes out to all three of you JC, Cory and BCB.

  43. GoJacksJC 2014.11.19

    Bear, I am afraid I will need to reveal one of the true reasons I did not pursue law school -- the fact that it is at USD (sorry 'Yote fans). I cannot betray my beloved Jacks that way.

    Seriously though, I appreciate your advice, and I have even considered Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) with my current situation. The thing I struggle with is accruing additional debt, or delaying earning a living wage/saving for retirement and risking still not finding work here in SD when I graduate. It would be a gamble, and I am not sure another degree would tilt the odds in my favor.

    Plus, I am an unabashed introvert, and I wonder how I would fare in the legal setting. Have you read Quiet by Susan Cain ( If not, I highly recommend it. Suffice it to say that I know I perform better when mulling over issues and discussing them later, and I see lawyers as being more astute, quick-thinking men and women.

    Lanny, I cannot hold a candle to Cory and Bear, but I appreciate your kind words. Hopefully we can form a strong coalition of like-minded individuals to ensure SD fosters and considers diverse perspectives rather than compelling such people to leave the state or resign themselves to corruption.

  44. bearcreekbat 2014.11.20

    JC, thanks for the Susan Cain book link. Another interesting facet of the law is that introverts can be highly successful and make a huge difference in the development of the law by doing appellate research and writing. The lawyers who do most of the research and writing for motion practice and appellate work are not typically the ones that conduct oral arguments or conduct public trials. Rather, folks who enjoy research and writing are the brains and muscle behind those attorneys who we see in public. In other words, we really do need more introverts in the legal profession, especially those introverted folks with empathy and compassion for those in need.

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