Presenting the Marcy Westerling Award!

June 28th, 2017

Dear ROPnet,

Every year, the Rural Caucus and Strategy Session provides countless opportunities for rural Oregonians do what we do best–story telling! On Saturday June 3rd, more than 160 activists gathered at the Madras United Methodist Church in Central Oregon. We made time throughout the day to celebrate and share stories of powerful organizing. The stories we heard in workshops and strategy sessions moved us to seek each other out over coffee and meals to dive deeper, swap ideas, connect the dots between issues in our geographically different communities, and strengthen our relationships with each other. Read our full report from the Caucus (with photos!) here.

During this year’s Caucus, ROP recognized several groups doing inspiring and fierce organizing with Human Dignity Awards and one leader who has been holding down powerful work with the Marcy Westerling Award. While the last year has seen mass mobilizations and public acts of resistance that made national and local headlines, the Caucus is an opportunity to recognize all of the crucial base-building work that it takes to strengthen our movement for justice. We celebrated the brilliant and heartfelt ways that rural Oregon is courageously responding while our communities are under attack by state or vigilante violence, and appreciated the hard and often invisible labor that it takes to grow our movement, including flyer making, phone banking, and data entry. This persistent, compassionate everyday work builds the resilience that we need to resist for the long haul. Here’s a toast to the amazing organizing that we’ve seen in rural Oregon over the last year!

The Marcy Westerling Award: Rural Organizing Project honors Josefina Riggs!

On our 25th Anniversary, in memory of our founder and in honor of her life’s work, Rural Organizing Project has established the Marcy Westerling Award. Each year at our annual Rural Caucus and Strategy Session, ROP will honor one rural organizer who exemplifies the skills and passion that Marcy brought to organizing: innovation, experimentation, and a deep commitment to rural organizing for democracy and human dignity.

In 1992, Marcy founded the Rural Organizing Project to support and help sustain a statewide rural movement for human dignity in Oregon. Marcy believed that rural people have the power to change our own communities and the world. Her organizing strategies prioritized approaches that built bridges and dismantled the political rhetoric that kept neighbors at odds with each other. Marcy’s legacy lives on through the work of ROP, human dignity groups, rural leaders across the state of Oregon, and beyond. This year the Rural Organizing Project honors Josefina Riggs with the Marcy Westerling Award.

Josefina has worked tirelessly to make Central Oregon, and all of rural Oregon, a just place for all. From traveling to Salem to meet with legislators, to building local groups that serve Central Oregon, Josefina builds rural power with her peers and neighbors. Over the last few years, Josefina has worked to build Recursos and other local Latinx-led groups; worked with human dignity groups in Deschutes, Jefferson, and Crook Counties for racial justice, immigrant rights, and economic justice; and offered trainings on topics that build community resilience, including anti-oppression and suicide prevention. She is a constant advocate for programs and policies that benefit entire communities. Josefina is a testament to a legacy of rural organizing, and ROP is lucky to have the opportunity to work with such a brilliant, compassionate, and innovative leader.

Human Dignity Group Awards:
Racial Justice Eastern Oregon

RJEO has played a powerful and important role in creating dialogue in their community around racial justice, including Native, Indigenous and immigrant rights. Recently, members of RJEO have provided leadership and joined other community members in supporting La Grande’s Welcoming Community Proclamation. La Grande’s mayor passed the proclamation in February of 2017, affirming “the innate dignity of all people in La Grande.” Since February, engaged community members have organized to build support for the proclamation from leaders and business owners in their town. As part of the campaign, volunteers are distributing window placards to supportive businesses and institutions to start conversations about their shared values and create a network of safety. We applaud human dignity leaders in La Grande for their commitment, brilliance, and follow-through in organizing their local politicians to make their communities more welcoming and accessible to their most vulnerable neighbors, and then backing it up with a great campaign plan!

Jefferson County Human Dignity Group
The Jefferson County Human Dignity Group was inspired by young community leaders who are part of a teen book club at the public library. Through reading and storytelling from their own lives, the teens had an opportunity to discuss their experiences with gender and sexuality, race, family, immigration, and more. Through the book club, they built empathy and connected more deeply to themselves, each other, and their community. After attending the 2016 Caucus, the teens were inspired to move these powerful conversations into action. They began pulling in community members of all ages to form the Jefferson County Human Dignity Group. Their mission is to create a stronger Jefferson County through building multi-generational leadership with a vision of their community where everyone can be themselves. Read more about them here!

“Beyond Burns” Tour Hosts
In the fall of 2016, ROP hit the road for two weeks to share research, analysis, and organizing strategies gleaned from two years of working with frontline communities to respond to the growing so-called Patriot and militia movement. In nine communities across the state, dozens of human dignity groups and leaders invited their friends and neighbors to join ROP for a presentation about how militia groups are seizing vulnerable communities that have lost state and county infrastructure, including 911 dispatch and law enforcement. They convened conversations about what rural communities can do to build true collective safety. Because militia members had threatened ROP staff and local leaders, and stalked and vandalized one ROP staff person’s vehicle, developing a solid plan for safety and security for everyone in the room was crucial. Beyond Burns tour hosts recruited teams of volunteers who were trained in de-escalation and developed plans together that met the needs of their communities. Host groups were creative and committed in holding safe events where their neighbors could talk to each other about the issues impacting them most and counter the false solutions and xenophobic scapegoats offered by militia groups. Over 550 rural Oregonians attended tour stops thanks to the brave and visionary organizing by these incredible groups:

Thank you to…
Columbia County:
Columbia County Coalition for Human Dignity
Linn & Benton Counties: Community Action for Racial Equity, Albany Vets for Peace, ASAP, Albany Peace Seekers
Lane County: Springfield-Eugene Standing Up for Racial Justice, Community Alliance of Lane County, Eugene Human Rights Commission, NAACP Eugene-Springfield Oregon Unit 1119
Jackson County: Unite Oregon (Medford office), Rogue Valley Vets for Peace, Rogue Climate, Citizens for Peace and Justice
Deschutes County: Peace & Justice team at First Presbyterian Church, Nativity Lutheran, Building Common Ground
Grant & Harney Counties: Grant County Positive Action, Blue Sage Ministries of Grant & Harney Counties
Baker County: Panhandle Community Alliance
Wallowa County: Peace and Justice Network of Wallowa County
Union County: Oregon Rural Action; Racial Justice Eastern Oregon; Mission for Environmental and Social Awareness, United Undocumented Students, CURRENTS of Justice for Peace

Gorge ICE Resistance
This spring, human dignity leaders in The Dalles and Hood River learned that their regional public jail, Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility (NORCOR), was renting out beds to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). A group of neighbors got together to strategize and began researching. They started showing up at NORCOR board meetings to speak out against the ways the publicly-funded jail was endangering their immigrant neighbors and participating in a system that unjustly detains and deports people. In May, when immigrant detainees at both the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA and NORCOR went on hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions, leaders in the Gorge responded! They quickly mobilized to rally support for the hunger strikers, forming a coalition of local groups called Gorge ICE Resistance (GIR). GIR held daily rallies outside of the jail, amplified the voices of hunger strikers in the media, and created a leadership team that could continue the long-term work of holding jail administrators accountable to meet the demands of the hunger strikers, and to ultimately get ICE out of NORCOR. Behind the headlines, GIR has done the tireless work of building a network of support from local groups across multiple counties, strengthening relationships with local clergy, and creating opportunities for community education about the relationship between NORCOR and larger systems of detention and deportation. The community pressure is paying off! The community and leaders at NORCOR are starting to question their contract with ICE and pay attention to the conditions inside their jail. GIR loves to have support from across the state at their daily rallies! Follow Gorge ICE Resistance on their Facebook page.

Congratulations to the 2017 Marcy Westerling & Human Dignity Award winners! We applaud your courageous leadership, and look forward to the work ahead with you.
Hannah, Grace, Keyla, Emma, Cara, Jess, and the ROP team

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