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Ballot Measure 9 would have turned LGBTQ+ Oregonians into second-class citizens. The Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA), and groups like them, spread the idea that not everyone deserves access to public programs like schools, libraries, and healthcare. They used this type of scapegoating as a way to build support for cutting funding to these services, slowly eroding programs that are vital to rural communities.

We connected with each other in our home communities and across the state to protect, defend, and build an all-inclusive democracy. We looked to the World Book Encyclopedia for the definition of democracy. The four basic principles of democracy are:


Inclusion of all and equality for all


Majority rule and rights for all


Well-educated and well-informed people who participate in the democratic process


A reasonable standard of living

ROP Founder Marcy Westerling shares the lessons organizers learned while defeating Ballot Measure 9.

From “ROP History Overview,” Rural Organizing Voices

The OCA then presented itself full force, that same summer that Lon Mabon announced the abnormal behaviors initiative that would rewrite the Constitution for the first time in international history to declare a group of people, which started with gays, lesbians, bisexuals, necrophiliacs and pedophiles. Eventually the necrophiliacs and pedophiles got seen as not that much of a threat. So it was just queers. By that time, the lessons that made that history of value, we’ve learned that rural didn’t matter to urban progressives, we’d learned that we really were playing catch up, the other side was more organized, and that we could have fun. We could have a lot of fun organizing to challenge these problems. So those are kind of the three things that we walked into, what would become a real crisis moment in the state of Oregon.

Gathering Leaders

In 1994, the ROP Wisdom Summit brought rural leaders together to discuss our next moves as the OCA continued its attempts to dismantle the civil rights of gay and lesbian Oregonians through initiatives at city and county levels.

Human dignity group leaders discussed what we were seeing in our communities and developed action plans to push back.

Finding Solutions Together

We come together in local communities and across the state to share stories about the threats and opportunities our communities face, think through solutions, and develop community organizing strategies.

We learn from each other about what works (and what doesn’t).

Cris Lira reflects on sharing stories of challenges and victories at ROP Board of Directors meetings and the hope this brought to her own work. “I learned that change can happen.”

From “Cris Lira – I learned that change can happen,” Rural Organizing Voices

I loved hearing what people were doing. You know, like when we would check in, we would talk about what people were doing and what were some of the challenges and some of the victories. That was really good. And I really hope that the board continues to do that, that they take that approach of giving voice to that because that’s where I learned a lot. I learned that change could happen. There were little victories being made all the time. I wanted to organize and respond.

Conversation at the front door with an ROP Organizer, mother, daughter, and the ROP STAND Election Guide.

Building Bridges with Neighbors

Through talking and getting to know each other, we find common ground to build lasting relationships with our neighbors. One big way this happens, every other year, is by going door-to-door around election time, discussing what’s on the ballot and how those choices align with our shared rural values.

Together we identify the threats to democracy and human dignity that our communities face, find ways to solve them, and take action.

Amy Dudley suggests that sometimes the best antidote to feeling isolated is to go knock on your neighbor’s door and chat with them about the hot-button topics of the day.

From “Finding Common Ground,” Rural Organizing Voices

Amy: Just the process of getting ready to knock on your neighbor’s door and ask them these questions, that were well framed but – 

Interviewer: But still really hard questions to ask.

Amy: Hard questions to ask.

Interviewer: You don’t want to ask your next-door neighbor about the Iraq war, especially at that time. Now you don’t mind, because everyone… is fairly, agreement, at some level of agreement around it. But at the time –

Amy: So there was kind of the pre-survey, like kind of, this is hard to do. I’m kind of scared, I’m kinda, you know… I’m not really out as a progressive in my town, or I don’t use that language at all. Or you know just, kind of how people felt.  And then how surprised and pleased people were. To feel like, as they were talking with people, they were finding common ground, and they were finding nice people, and they were finding, you know, neighbors. A place to work from. And I feel like that, for me, and for the people we work with… that’s a huge part of changing the way that we think about what’s possible in our communities, when we feel like we’re really isolated and there’s not a lot of common ground. And I think ROP has always worked to kind of create that common ground and to find the common ground and to build on it. And I think that was a moment of saying we actually have to literally do a little bit of this knocking on the door. It’s a time. It’s a moment when people are talking about these things anyway. And we can be a voice for this and not just as a letter to the editor in the paper. Not an anonymous, or you know, faceless. And just how I feel like that translates into what’s possible for people’s organizing. That people then were willing to write their thank you notes and make their follow up calls and have events and actually want to bring people in. Because it’s hard, it’s hard to keep doing the same thing with the same people and to not feel like you’re growing. Or to not feel like you’re really fully at home in your community.

Taking Action as a State

Once we have identified the issues affecting our communities, groups determine local actions to take. Regionally or statewide, we take on challenges together. Below is a photo from the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections facility in The Dalles, where people being held indefinitely in inhumane conditions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) went on a hunger strike to demand nutritious meals, reduced costs for phone calls, and an end to NORCOR’s contract with ICE. When community leaders heard about the hunger strike, they began organizing to amplify the hunger strikers’ demands, and the hunger strikers won!

About 50 people gather outside the barbed wire fence of NORCOR, holding signs and chanting to the people detained by ICE inside.

After two hunger strikes and almost three years of organizing to end the inhumane conditions for people detained at NORCOR, the NORCOR Board voted to end their contract with ICE!

ROP in Action!

Ready to talk to your neighbors about the issues impacting your community the most?