Each year at the Rural Caucus and Strategy Session, ROP gives Human Dignity Awards to several groups to lift up and celebrate the powerful organizing they have done over the past year in their communities. This year, we gathered for the Caucus on May 20th in Albany to swap stories, build community, and strategize for the coming year. We’ll be sharing much more about what came out of this year’s Caucus in several upcoming ROPnets, but first, let’s celebrate this year’s Human Dignity Award winners!
2023 Human Dignity Awards
Albany Peace Seekers
Albany Peace Seekers (APS) have been active in Linn County for 20 years, starting in 2003 when they began organizing street protests to promote peace.
APS has been deeply engaged with local high schools and the broader community through many years-long campaigns and projects. Since 2009, the group has given Peace Awards and scholarships to three graduating seniors and Peacemaker Awards to students, faculty, and staff at three different high schools.
APS has been an ROP human dignity group for two decades. They have participated and taken the lead in many ROP campaigns, from hosting the Caucus in 2010, to distributing STAND election guides and having conversations with neighbors in support of democracy every election since 2010, to hosting the Bridging Divides, Defending Dignity exhibit this past year. The group recently lost two beloved members, Sharron Geesler and Don Ray, who passed away. They were passionate, dedicated organizers who will always be remembered. We couldn’t possibly capture all that APS has done and continues to organize around, so if you didn’t get a chance to catch up with them at this year’s Caucus, make sure to find one of the members at next year’s Caucus and find out all that they’re up to!
CTUIR Youth Leadership Council
The Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) Youth Leadership Council has been leading a campaign to breach and eventually remove the lower four Snake River Dams to protect salmon populations. Members of the Youth Leadership Council, who are all in Middle or High School, have been traveling to conferences and convenings to spread the word about their campaign and share about the cultural and environmental importance of healthy salmon populations. This spring they also traveled to DC to meet with legislators!
In addition to their campaign to remove the dams, the Youth Leadership Council is organizing to draw attention to mental health and drug and alcohol use on the reservation, to clean up local parks, to build and strengthen relationships with elders, and to make sure they can learn their cultural practices like beading and cooking through classes on the reservation. The Youth Council’s efforts were recently featured on page 4 of this month’s Confederated Umatilla Journal (CUJ), which includes a photo of the council at the Caucus receiving their award! CTUIR Youth Leadership Council just became a member of ROP this year, and so many Caucus participants have shared that talking with the council members about their organizing was a highlight of this year’s Caucus! If you want to learn more about the Youth Leadership Council’s powerful campaign to remove the four lower Snake River Dams, check out their petition here on change.org!
Linn Benton NAACP
The Linn Benton NAACP was founded in 1971 to pursue the mission of the NAACP, which is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.
The branch has several committees, including political action, housing, health and wellness, and community coordination. The Linn Benton NAACP also hosts annual events like Juneteenth and a League of Future Leaders, which is an opportunity to empower, train, and invest in Black youth between the ages of 5 and 18. One recent organizing victory by the branch was to call out a local Fred Meyer for discriminatory practices and successfully pressure the company to change their practices and invest in DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) trainings for their employees!
At this year’s Caucus, many folks got a chance to chat with Susan, a member of the branch who helped organize Protecting Democracy: Civics Circuit Training, a free and public event last year that brought together more than 80 community members to learn how to protect and strengthen democracy year-round! You can read more about the Civics Circuit Training in this ROPnet, or stay tuned for a detailed write-up and guide from Susan about what it could look like to host a similar event in your community!
Stop the Sweeps
Stop the Sweeps is a Benton County group that came together around a particularly brutal sweep of an unhoused camp (a forced disbanding of an encampment and the removal of individuals and their property) in Corvallis in the winter of 2020.
Alarmed by the lack of support for those being uprooted by the sweeps, a group of people did what they could to help folks move and meet other immediate needs. Realizing they needed to build trust and relationships with their unhoused neighbors, the group began cooking and serving twice-weekly meals in a local park, and eating and hanging out with the folks they were making food for. They named themselves Stop the Sweeps, and have been continuing to provide regular meals and supply resources for houseless community members. Last summer, when extreme temperatures made for particularly dangerous conditions without shelter, Stop the Sweeps did weekly cooler drops of water, sunscreen, and other supplies. The group has also been collaborating with other Benton County groups to put pressure on the city and ODOT to pause or put an end to sweeps.
Mid-Valley Solidarity Coalition
The Mid-Valley Solidarity Coalition came together in 2020 as a space to strategize about a local civil society response if there was not a smooth transition of power after the presidential election. After the election and the events of January 6th, the group decided to continue and broaden its scope, with the goal of improving collaboration between local progressive and left movement groups in Linn and Benton Counties. The Solidarity Coalition has a vision of a powerful community representing a broad range of progressive and leftist perspectives; standing together to demand justice, improve social conditions, and bring an end to the oppression of all people.
The group meets monthly to share, updates, calls to action, upcoming events and projects, and swap strategies and resources. The Solidarity Coalition has been an important hub for local rapid response around ICE activity and can quickly communicate urgent messages out to a network of folks who are trained and experienced in rapid response. The group also hosts an annual solidarity fair, an event that brings local groups together each spring for a full day of creativity, theater, and community-building!
Acompañar is a human dignity group in Lincoln County that was founded in 2018 to provide rides to appointments for Guatemalan asylum seekers. When the COVID pandemic hit, the group shifted focus to providing food and financial support to these community members.
Recently, Acompañar has been working closely with Arcoíris Cultural, a cultural center focused on celebrating and supporting local Latinx and indigenous Mesoamerican community members, to organize a series of trainings for folks wanting to obtain their driver’s license. For many in the community, Spanish is their second language, after their indigenous language, so there are significant language barriers to taking the DMV test. So far, the trainings have been successful in helping folks gain the skills and confidence they need to take driver’s license permit tests! Acompañar and Arcoíris have also been organizing to raise awareness about the importance of dental health in the local indigenous Guatemalan community, and they just finished creating and printing a dental health coloring book! If you’re interested in getting the pdf version of the book, reach out to email@example.com and we can get you connected with Acompañar!
We are so inspired by the organizing of these human dignity groups and all the rest across the state that are leading the movement to advance human dignity and democracy in rural and small-town Oregon!
Do you have an organizing story from your group or another in your community that you’d like to share? Do any of these stories bring up questions or make you eager to take on a new campaign? Let us know by reaching out to Sidra at firstname.lastname@example.org! And be sure to stay tuned for more exciting stories, strategies, and resources coming out of this year’s Caucus!