A Rural Survival Guide

So you’re stuck living in rural Nebraska, probably because you’re a teenager, migrant worker, or a woman married to an angry white man. Perhaps you are living with depression or anxiety in one of our extensive mental health care deserts, or think you can’t seek help because there’s a stigma attached to a man seeking therapy. You probably feel very alone, like there’s nothing you can do or change about your circumstances.

We are here to tell you that there are things you can do and things you can change. In fact, we believe change starts at the local level, which is why the focus of our posts is local politics, especially school boards. And that change starts with you.

Please note: If you are a teenager, woman, or minority living in rural Nebraska, we do not advocate doing anything that might cause you harm. 

While being out about your sexuality or politics or religious beliefs is very brave – we shouldn’t have to hide who we are, anyway – it can also be difficult, especially in rural settings. Until you can leave that family or situation, don’t feel guilty if you have to keep your true feelings or thoughts close to your chest.

If, like the children of Cass County GOP Vice Chair, Rich Dreesman, you have a father whose Will disowns you for registering as a Democrat, then there is no shame in registering as Nonpartisan or Republican, and keeping your thoughts to yourself as you suffer through family functions. Sometimes, honesty is not the best policy, because some people are hateful or intransigent, and you may not be able to change that.

Sometimes we need to cut toxic people, be they family or friends, out of our life or minimize contact for our own health. Does it hurt to do that over politics or religion? Of course it does, but that can also be good for us because the hurt reminds us we do love these people despite their intolerance. Please remember you don’t owe them anything, regardless of family ties, and it may be healthier for you to leave them in the past as you move forward for yourself. 

There is, however, also the possibility – depending on how far to the extreme right someone is – that your love and compassion could pull them back from that edge. 

That’s not always possible, of course. We witnessed people attempt to persuade Terri Cunningham-Swanson through compassion that her hate-filled actions were destructive and detrimental to the health of the students she was supposed to represent. In the end, she only reaffirmed that she is lacking the ability to feel sympathy or empathy, as we saw by her celebration of Senator Halloran’s offensive remarks during the hearings on LB 441.

Terri Cunningham-Swanson loves Senator Halloran


Considering what we know about Senator Halloran, and his history of hateful and ignorant statements about women, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone like Terri aligns with him, despite being the very gender Senator Halloran despises. Mind you, Terri also hasn’t gotten over the fact that she gave birth to a gay son…

Meanwhile, Terri’s BFF, Lisa Winterstien, recently provided yet another example of this inability to comprehend the fact that hate isn’t merely a difference of opinion.

Lisa Winterstien does not know the difference between hate and opinion


We know Lisa puts her hypocrisy on full display whenever she posts (not to mention that time she publicly mocked a victim of sexual assault; a glimpse into her character that we will neither forgive nor forget). So it makes sense that she considers the violent rhetoric and conduct of Moms for Liberty as merely a difference of opinion.

As you can see, there are times you simply can’t do anything to compromise with others, especially when mental illness is involved. That is something that all of us must also accept.

It can still be worth trying, at least a little bit. Maybe you can listen to their concerns and show them why they’re not grounded in facts or why the reality they believe is untrue. Many of these people are clinging to conspiracy theories (such as Cultural Marxism, a favorite alternate reality of state school board candidates Linda Vermooten, Liz Davids, Lisa Schonhoff, and Stacy Matula) because they’re scared of something non-existent.

Unfortunately, it’s also a fact of life that some people’s beliefs are harmful, and their irrational fear-turned-hatred may outweigh their love for you. If that’s the case, it’s important to recognize when to stop exhausting yourself trying to help a person who doesn’t want your help.

To those of you who are struggling because you’re in an unsafe environment due to your gender identity, sexuality, race, religion, or political views, know this: you are loved, you are seen, the situation you’re in now isn’t going to last forever, and there is better out there for you. Don’t give up.


National Alliance on Mental Illness – https://naminebraska.org/

Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence – https://www.nebraskacoalition.org/get_help/help.html

Racial Equity Resources – https://diversity.unl.edu/racial-equity-resources

OutNebraska – https://outnebraska.org/

Trans Nebraska – https://transnebraska.org/transgender-rights-resources-in-nebraska

More about Nico Emerson

Nicolette "Nico" L. Emerson is an observer of politics in small town Nebraska, especially as it pertains to education, school boards, and adults who want to decide the direction of the next generation.