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For decades, our communities have struggled with division, scapegoating, and greater economic hardship for families while a few wealthy corporations and individuals have seen their wealth skyrocket. When talking about “divisive” issues, the human dignity groups that make up ROP ask the question, “Who benefits?” We break down the myths that blame immigrants and people of color for economic challenges as we organize for rural communities where everyone thrives and everyone can feel safe and welcome.

Same Playbook, Different Scapegoat

Ramon Ramirez, co-founder of PCUN, reflects on early collaboration with ROP as immigrants became the new focus of anti-democratic attacks after Measure 9’s defeat.

From “Walk for Love and Justice,” Rural Organizing Voices

In 1992, when Rural Organizing Project’s founder Marcy Westerling was driving across the state with lesbian and gay activists during the No on Ballot Measure 9 campaign, a stop in Woodburn laid the groundwork for a longstanding collaboration between ROP and PCUN (Piñeros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste), Oregon’s farmworker union. PCUN taught ROP how to envision a future of human dignity in the face of discrimination. In the mid-90s, PCUN would credit ROP with helping to defeat ballot measures that threaten the dignity and safety of immigrants.

ROP has continued to develop antiracist education and action. We work to break down the myth of scarcity that blames immigrants and people of color for resource shortages in rural communities. It is wealthy corporations, not rural people, who benefit from such scapegoating. Knowing this, the human dignity groups that make up ROP are fighting to end harassment and violence against members of our communities, so everyone can feel safe and welcome.

Supporting Each Other Across County Lines

Four smiling women from Lake County Hispanos Unidos hold up their group’s ROP Human Dignity Award in 1997, in front of a brick wall with a large painting.

In 1996, an anti-immigrant group with ties to militias and white supremacists started a petition in support of ballot measures that would have banned undocumented people from attending public schools, applying for driver’s licenses, or accessing social services. To fight this, ROP leaders helped form a new coalition: Latinos and Others United in Response (LOUR).

LOUR brought together local chapters of national groups like Hispanos Unidos and the Mexican American Citizens League with human dignity groups from Deschutes, Jefferson, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Klamath, and Lake counties. These partnerships helped the groups in LOUR build power together to keep the anti-immigrant proposals off of the ballot!

A two-page newsletter on deep pink paper, entitled L.O.U.R. Newsletter, from Latinos and Others in Response, dated July 1, 1997.

L.O.U.R Newsletter, July 1997

Groups in 7 counties came together to form Latinos and Others United in Response, which kept exclusionary proposals off of the 1996 ballot!

In a more recent example, when anti-immigrant scapegoating had Columbia River Gorge families feeling scared for their safety in 2016, Martha Verduzco Ortega joined with other Latinx community leaders in Hood River County to start the Hood River Latino Network.

From “Rural Community Building,” Rural Roots Rising

Latinos and People of Color felt that there was nothing there where people could feel comfortable calling and saying, “Hey, where do I go talk to an immigration attorney?” ”My husband is beating me and I don’t know what to do, you know, other than call the police” or  “I have a letter that’s in English. I don’t know what it says and I need somebody that I can trust.”

Coming Together to Learn: Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?

In 2014, during a living room conversation led by ROP in Josephine County, community members asked, “Why doesn’t our county have more racial diversity?” To help answer this question, ROP teamed up with Black history professor Walidah Imarisha and Oregon Humanities to bring “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?: A Hidden History” to 12 rural communities in 2014 and 2016.

Professor Walidah Imarisha standing behind a Western Oregon University podium, addressing the audience with a sign language interpreter to her left.

Walidah’s research shared Oregon’s history of racial exclusion and highlighted vibrant Black communities across Oregon’s history. After the conversation project, ROP led brainstorming sessions where participants shared how racial exclusion continues in their communities and developed ways to confront that legacy of white supremacy. Ten new racial justice campaigns and human dignity groups formed immediately after the tours!

12 rural communities hosted Walidah Imarisha’s conversation projects on Oregon’s history of racial exclusion. 10 communities formed new racial justice campaigns and human dignity groups!

A Welcoming Warming Shelter

Amanda Aguilar Shank reflects on a living room conversation she led in Hermiston, which began with the topic of building welcoming communities for immigrants and ended with a decision to build a warming shelter.

From “Amanda Aguilar Shank – Unexpected Outcomes,” Rural Organizing Voices

So I talked about efforts that were happening in other places to build a welcoming community. Some of the concrete organizing strategies. I talked about what I envisioned to be the ideals of a welcoming community, what that looks like. And invited people to talk about what they thought a welcoming community would look like and what some of the barriers to that might be in the local community. And it went in a direction that was a little bit unanticipated, which is looking at the way that the good old boys network in that town was a problem and a barrier to doing anything. And so there was an unwillingness on their part to serve LGBT people, People of Color. And also a lack of interest in really doing what was needed to get people out of poverty. And that was a problem. It’s interesting, because it’s a very local angle on what’s a barrier to building a welcoming community. It’s incredibly local. So I felt that was really of value in connecting, letting people identify what was the problem in their community. And at the same time connecting that with the larger vision. I wanted it to be related to immigration but it didn’t turn out being. That group started a warming station, they started a warming station. There were people of faith there, who were like – There were two of the leaders of two different Episcopal churches who had attended the conversation. So their church became a main supporter of this new group that formed. You know, it’s interesting because they haven’t become like, necessarily completely politically aligned with ROP, but that’s kind of, you know, valuable in my mind. That we can open up spaces for things to lead in the direction that people would naturally have them lead. And sometimes that’s gonna mean coming closer to ROP and staying with ROP for the long haul, and sometimes it won’t.

From Rural Oregon to Standing Rock

In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe gathered thousands of people to protect their water from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas oil company, planned to transport oil across tribal lands and under the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of drinking water. After two years of being ignored, the tribe physically stopped construction with a peaceful encampment. Feeling the injustice of a big-polluting corporation pressuring a rural community, Oregon human dignity groups sent skilled builders, many of their members, and truckloads of supplies to North Dakota (including the folks pictured below).

Every single Oregon county held solidarity rallies, gathered supplies, coordinated caravans, and fundraised to support Standing Rock!

Seven Oregon activists dressed in winter clothes stand in front of a tan-colored tent on either side of a sign shaped like the State of Oregon. The sign reads: Oregon Stands with Standing Rock.

While the Dakota Access Pipeline has yet to be stopped, the protest elevated the national conversation about Indigenous self-determination and environmental justice, offering inspiration to ongoing local organizing in Oregon communities. Through powerful local community-building work, a similar pipeline in Southern Oregon was shut down in 2021!

ROP in Action!

Ready to unite with other rural Oregonians to fight for justice and human dignity?