Recently, I drove 3½ hours to attend an annual meeting of one of my electric cooperative members. It was a long day for me, but that distance is no big deal for rural Oregonians—usually just another trip to the regional hospital or even an outing to shop for common household goods.
Life is hard for many rural Oregonians. They have few of the amenities their urban counterparts enjoy and make far less money. But the sense of community at a co-op annual meeting is something to behold, which is one of the reasons I attend. I also inevitably learn something about the co-ops I represent.
At this particular meeting, I relearned a valuable lesson in, of all places, the buffet line, where I struck up a conversation with a co-op member. He was an older gentleman with leathery skin and a broad, inviting smile. I asked him if he was a regular at the co-op annual meeting.
“I never miss it,” he said. “I like everything about it.”
By that I think he meant the chance to see some old friends and, of course, to enjoy an excellent meal. Then he tugged on my sleeve to make another point.
“I’ve won twice,” he said with pride, looking around sheepishly as though he was boasting too much.
I knew what he meant. Through the years, he had won prizes at the co-op annual meeting raffle. He didn’t tell me what he’d taken home, but I know what is usually at stake. A power drill, a credit on their power bill or perhaps a $50 gift card to The Home Depot. It’s not as if he had won the lottery, but when you’re like most rural Oregonians and working relentlessly just to get by, seeing your number come up on a red ticket in the raffle is a big deal.
It’s an important lesson for any policymaker who wants to impose new costs and regulations on those who can least afford it.
I encourage our elected leaders to come visit a co-op annual meeting. You’ll see what it means to be a part of a rural community: the camaraderie and the chance for some of the hardest-working people you will ever meet to get a well-deserved break. You’ll also see the joy of watching those who have had the odds stacked against them their whole lives have their number pulled out of a hat.