Over 140 rural organizers and community leaders from 25 counties convened on Friday, May 31st and Saturday, June 1st in Cottage Grove, OR for the 28th annual Rural Caucus and Strategy Session!
In this ROPnet, we share highlights from the weekend including the affordable housing tour, the city-wide art walk and a full day of strategy sessions and making connections across the state. Local leaders coming together from across the state made this year’s Caucus possible and filled the weekend with discussions of how we can continue and strengthen the fight for immigrant rights, economic justice, and so much more.
Affordable Housing Villages Tour
We started off the weekend with a tour of affordable housing villages in Eugene and Cottage Grove, meeting villagers and brainstorming about the possibilities of bringing this model across the state. Throughout the Caucus weekend, many named how hard families and individuals are being hit by this housing crisis. So many people who have lost their homes and are sleeping in their cars or on friend’s couches aren’t even visible when we look at the problem locally and those who are visible are often targeted by local enforcement. ROPers came away inspired by the ways residents are working together to create and manage the village and excited to see if a version of these villages could work in their own hometown. We ended the tour by brainstorming other ways to start taking action, like shifting zoning laws, changing the conversation about why so many people are unhoused in our communities and building solutions with people who are most impacted.
Cottage Grove Art Walk: ROP’s Grand Opening!
On Friday evening, we opened the doors to the public for the first time for the grand opening of ROP’s new rural community organizing center! Cottage Grove’s monthly Art Walk was bustling up and down Main Street, and over 250 people came in to look at Catharine Filmer’s art and talk with us about our hopes and dreams for the space! Catharine Filmer was a beloved community organizer and art teacher in Cottage Grove for many years, and it was moving to hear former students reflect on her life and work. Both locals and ROPers arriving for Saturday’s Caucus brought the space to life with joyous reunions of old friends and beautiful new connections.
Rural Caucus and Strategy Session
Saturday kicked off with stories from organizers around the state including our host, the First Presbyterian Church. The First Presbyterian Church has been a hub of Cottage Grove organizing for over 100 years. Their deep roots in fighting for immigrant, economic, and health justice grounded our day in what it means to truly fight for the long haul. We also heard from the Rural Organizing Fellows and other local leaders about their work around the state, from forming and strengthening Human Dignity Groups in their hometowns to creating art with people transitioning out of the criminal justice system and back into the community as a way of practicing healing justice and decolonization.
(Photos by Barbara Harrison)
In her keynote speech, Meredith Martin-Moats of McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources shared her group’s insights from organizing in rural Arkansas. Like many of our communities across Oregon, Dardanelle, Arkansas, and its surrounding county have a long history of rural organizing. Meredith held up rural communities’ amazing ability to use spaces in creative ways, like the tire shop where you also rent movies, pay your water bill and find the woman who does clothing alterations.
Over the course of the day, multiple people reiterated her point that the interconnectedness of rural communities is like a spiderweb. Sometimes the web is sparkling in the sun with morning dew and sometimes you walk through the web accidentally and it’s impossible to get it off your face. The crowd chuckled and nodded as Meredith drew this connection to the ways that sometimes organizing in a small town comes together beautifully when you go to the tire shop and leave with a movie for the night and your water bill paid, and other times you just can’t manage to get groceries without running into the school board member you vocally tried to unseat in the last election.
Always bringing it back to organizing, Meredith called on us to build up our tolerance to discomfort. “I’m not asking you to let go of your values, I’m asking you to live them out more deeply. So if we believe that no one is disposable, let’s prove it.” She suggested we find tools to process, care for each other and stay in the fight because we will never all agree on everything.
(Photo by Barbara Harrison)
We spent the rest of the day in strategy sessions with topics ranging from immigrant justice and youth organizing to affordable housing and reproductive health access. (Check out the day’s full agenda below!) We will certainly continue to update ROPnet with more specifics on how we are moving forward into the coming months, but here are a few of our immediate takeaways:
1) The fight for human dignity continues: While we marked victories over the past year in ending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts in local jails and stopping the repeal of our state’s Sanctuary Law, our communities are facing new attacks as immigrants, unhoused folks, and other vulnerable community members continue to bear the brunt of scapegoating and disinvestment. At the Caucus, communities working for immigrant justice shared what they have learned and are working on. Groups are talking with county circuit court judges to ensure they have and enforce a commitment to not collaborate with ICE in our county courthouses. Others are holding public forums to advocate for Driver’s Licenses for All (House Bill 2015) to create one less avenue where people can come into contact with local law enforcement and ICE. Teachers, students, and school board members are passing district-wide inclusivity resolutions and looking for ways to support students whose studies are disrupted and whose lives are impacted by the threat of detention and deportation.
2) Creating new ways to connect: This year we held space for skill building around creative ways to bring folks together to talk about what matters most. Our keynote speaker, Meredith, shared her knowledge of podcasting on a shoestring budget with those eager to capture and tell stories of resistance and resilience beyond their organization. We came out of the Caucus dreaming big about building and strengthening progressive local media (newspapers, radio stations and more!) There was art making throughout the day, including a DIY button station with messages of rural pride and a place to fold paper cranes that will be a big, beautiful display to start conversations in unexpected places about healthcare for all. In one session, young organizers shared tools and strategies for creating systems of mutual support, from Dreamer’s clubs and centers on college campuses to Human Dignity Groups!
3) In times of disaster, infrastructure is power: Communities across Oregon are figuring out how to prepare to keep each other safe during severe weather, economic disasters, wildfires, and ICE raids. Creating emergency phone trees, hosting community potlucks, distributing water jugs and building relationships with community members who have conflict resolution skills are all key ways we can more effectively meet everyone’s needs, both today and when things get worse. Watching disasters result in unfair distribution of emergency relief and the expansion of far-right groups, we feel committed to rewriting the playbook as disasters become ever more frequent and applying the lessons we gain to ensure all our neighbors have food, shelter, and community now.
We ended the day as one big group, reflecting on what each of us will be taking home and getting to work on. Gratitude and a renewed sense of hope echoed throughout the First Presbyterian Church as we gathered for a group photo and a call for donations that totaled over $2,300 to help ROP continue the work across Oregon! If you would like to contribute, you can donate here.
Want to know more about what came out of the weekend? Contact Emma@rop.org or stay tuned over the next few weeks as we share more updates, outcomes, and ideas coming from this year’s Rural Caucus & Strategy Session.
28th Annual Rural Caucus & Strategy Session Agenda
Saturday, June 1st, 2019 in Cottage Grove
8:00AM: Registration & Breakfast
9:00-10:15 AM: Building Stronger Together in Times of Crisis
Groups deeply rooted in rural communities across Oregon and the South are building bigger and stronger networks to take care of each other and to wield the power of the people to dismantle structures of injustice. Share your stories and learn more about the powerful work of the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources in Yell County, Arkansas from our keynote speaker Meredith Martin-Moats!
10:30AM-12:15 PM: Strategy Sessions I
- Oregon HORSE: Nope, we’re not going to teach you equestrian skills at this Caucus… we have something even better! Zachary Stocks, one of our Rural Organizing Fellows, has been working to build Oregon Heritage Organizations for Rural Social Equity (HORSE), a network of museums across the state that are making an explicit commitment to being open, safe, and welcoming spaces for dialogue among all community members. We will brainstorm ways that museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions can serve as key spaces for connection and collective action, learn more about the vision of Oregon HORSE, and discuss the possibilities of working more with your local museum or library!
- Just Communities, Just Migration: Across Oregon groups are organizing to stop Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from tearing rural communities apart. Come share strategies from building systems of mutual liberation and support with undocumented folks and asylum seekers, lobbying the legislature so every person can get a driver’s license, to holding accountable our law enforcement for collaborating with ICE!
- Storytelling for the Movement: DIY Podcasting: Podcasts are an easy, do-it-yourself option for telling local community stories. Meredith Martin-Moats of the McElroy House will share her experience using podcasting as a rural organizing tool. Learn how to create a podcast using your smartphone and free software, and strategize about impactful storytelling that builds movements!
- Budgets Are Moral Documents: While corporations make record profits, our communities continue to struggle. In this session, we will discuss how we can work to ensure public resources are used in line with our values of democracy and justice, including funding the services we need most from libraries to schools. In the wake of library closures from slashed budgets at the county level, counties are getting creative and leading successful campaigns to ensure their doors stay open and public! From teachers strikes to county governments facing bankruptcy, how do we prioritize funding for basic needs while pushing for fair and equitable taxation?
- Democracy in Action: Strategic Interventions for Local Elections: The results of recent elections included massive victories and disappointing losses; Oregon defeated Measure 105 and defended our state’s Sanctuary law, and many school board elections had slates of Right to LIfe-funded candidates running, some of who won. Join us to reflect on lessons learned from local election work over the last two years and strategize about possible interventions in upcoming local elections to build people power to defend democracy and advance justice in 2020!
12:15-1:30 PM: Lunch and Human Dignity Awards
1:45-3:15 PM: Strategy Sessions II
- Communities United Against Hate: From sending neo-Nazi businesses packing to convicting white power organizers of hate crimes, Oregon is embroiled in discussion about the best strategies for defending communities from white power movements. Together we will share victories, struggles, and strategies to collectively respond to active recruitment of people in our communities who are desperate for belonging, and brainstorm how we can use these crises to build stronger, more united communities that can take on the next battles to dismantle structures of white supremacy in our communities.
- Defending & Expanding Rural Reproductive Healthcare: National discussion of abortion rights has reached a fever pitch. While Oregon has progressive policies on the books, many communities do not have access to reproductive healthcare and holistic education about our bodies and their rights. Together we will strategize about how we can protect and expand reproductive health resources in our communities!
- Building Mutual Support Systems: Undocumented and DACAmented students are carving out space on their campuses and undocumented people of all ages are doing the same in communities across Oregon. We will share stories of building human dignity groups, student clubs, and Dreamers Centers across the state and discuss the possibilities for the future!
- We All Do Better When We All Do Better: Paul Wellstone said it so succinctly, and it couldn’t be any more true for rural communities and small towns: “we all do better when we all do better.” Across the country, the politics of fear and exclusion are taking hold as narratives sowing divisiveness, polarization, and scapegoating ramp up. While national leaders scapegoat immigrants, militarize border zones, criminalize humanitarian aid, strip away the rights of LGBTQ+ people, and make corporations richer while our communities struggle to meet basic needs, we need to keep our eyes on the prize and keep each other as safe as possible. We will dig in together about how we can build bigger and stronger networks of mutual aid and support and what this moment calls for from rural freedom fighters.
- Making Art For the Revolution: Get ready for your next banner drop or community event! Brian Heath will share his knowledge about how to make high visibility banners, stencils, and other tools from recycled materials and household items. Come ready to get messy and take some movement art home for your next event!
3:15-3:30 PM: Grab a snack and head to your next session!
3:30-5:00 PM: Strategy Sessions III
- Undeterred: Community Resistance in Rural Border Towns: People in Arivaca, Arizona live in a militarized zone. They are on the front lines of receiving migrants making a dangerous and difficult journey to enter the US. Join us as we screen segments of Undeterred, an hour-long documentary that tells the story of how rural communities on the Arizona border are building power to push back against the militarization of the border and their community. We will discuss bringing organizers from the film on a tour around rural Oregon to share their lessons and to strategize together with rural Oregonians. **Please note: This film shares detailed accounts of crossing the border and information about inhumane treatment and deaths that can be traumatic to watch, particularly for those close to or with lived experiences related to crossing the border. This information should be provided to everyone interested in seeing the film.
- Rural Youth Organizing Caucus: Young organizers are leading movements for justice locally and globally, and in rural Oregon youth are starting Dreamers Centers on college campuses, building powerful youth-led organizations, leading anti-racism workshops, and amplifying the call for Drivers Licenses for All from every corner of the state! This session, led by and for youth organizers, will share stories, strategies, and tools from the powerful organizing to advance human dignity and democracy across Oregon. Participants will gain tools for their organizing toolboxes for holding effective meetings and creating action plans.
- Community Centers and Disaster Preparedness: In times of disaster, infrastructure is power. Communities across Oregon are talking seriously about how to prepare to keep each other safe during severe weather, economic disasters, wildfires, and ICE raids. Together we will learn from groups that are building (and rebuilding) community spaces for people to come together to problem-solve and help each other during disasters, strategize about how to get ready and stay ready as communities, and share ideas about how to build our networks of mutual aid and support across rural Oregon.
- Community Media is Community Power: Rural communities and small towns are only as strong as the networks that share reliable and timely information. In an era where locally-owned newspapers are closing their doors and corporate media dominates the airwaves, we need community media now more than ever! Together we will learn from rural Oregonians who have built community radio stations, holding down local newspapers, and creatively using online platforms to advance democracy. Join us as we strategize about how community-owned media can strengthen disaster response, share a multiplicity of viewpoints to keep temperatures low in moments of community tension and break isolation as we get the word out about our important work!
- Affordable Housing: Building Infrastructure for Resilient Communities: The entire state is experiencing a housing crisis that our infrastructure is not prepared to handle. Hundreds of Oregonians are becoming homeless every month from devastated economies, lack of jobs, and skyrocketing rents and housing prices from rentals being turned into vacation homes. Come discuss local strategies to build shelters and housing our communities need. Have you worked on creating more short-term shelters, transitional or affordable housing in your community? Have you worked with zoning and budgets to creatively address this issue? Join us!
5:00-5:30 PM: Resilience and Resistance in 2020 and Beyond
5:30-6:30 PM: It takes a village to raise a Caucus! Grab a broom and help us return First Presbyterian the way it was generously shared with us!
6:30-8:30 PM: Dinner and a Movie!
Join us for dinner and a screening of Undeterred, an hour-long documentary that tells the story of how one rural community on the border in Arizona is building power to push back against the militarization of the border and their community. We will discuss bringing Arivacan organizers on a tour around rural Oregon to share their lessons and to strategize with us here in rural Oregon! **Please note: This film shares detailed accounts of crossing the border and information about inhumane treatment and deaths that can be traumatic to watch, particularly for those close to or with lived experiences related to crossing the border. This information should be provided to everyone interested in seeing the film.