Friday, December 15th, 2017
The victory on Tuesday of Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate race over Roy Moore, a Republican accused of multiple counts of sexual assault and harassment, felt miraculous — but it wasn’t a miracle. A miracle is something that happens through luck or magic. This victory was nothing short of a hard fought, long-haul grassroots effort by organizers and activists in the South working against the long history of structural racism and white supremacy meant to marginalize the political voices of people of color.
How did they win? By not leaving a a single community, county, precinct or voter behind. And – as many Southerners will tell you– this fight began long before and is about so much more than this week’s Senate race in Alabama. Follow this link for reflections from Southern movement organizers Project South and The Ordinary People’s Society on the long haul work of fighting for democracy and against the voter suppression of incarcerated people in Southern prisons and jails.
In recent years, the Right has sought to further erode the gains that came from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of the keystone policies of the Civil Rights Movement, by passing voter ID laws requiring specific forms of identification in order to vote to exclude communities of color and the poor. To win in Alabama, communities first had to fight back against historic and current voter suppression. They also had to push back against horrendous stereotypes about the South and rural America, and claim hope and agency during a time when the rural South is being treated as a scapegoat for the national political crisis we are in.
What lessons can we learn from the South in rural Oregon? We won’t leave people behind because they live outside of urban centers! We know that our rural communities have not only been ignored by politicians when it comes to allocating resources and building infrastructure, but also that our votes are often seen as insignificant. During campaigns, Oregon candidates regularly work up and down the I-5 corridor while ignoring the other thirty counties that make up our state, and as a result the needs and contributions of our rural communities are routinely undervalued. This victory in Alabama reminds us that it is possible to create change in power structures when we strengthen and use our collective rural voice.
In rural Oregon, our history and connection with the South runs deep. Many Confederates moved to Oregon seeking a white homeland after the civil war. Not only do we share a history of struggle against white supremacy, but we also have a long history of shared vision, deep relationships and ongoing collaboration. The human dignity group structure and Rural Organizing Project as an organization were modeled in part after the Arkansas Women’s Project, which was founded in 1980 as a grassroots organization intended to promote support for women’s issues in the state of Arkansas. And more recently, ROP’s work has continued to integrate strategies coming out of the South, including the first rural People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) held here in Oregon just two weeks ago on rural rapid response strategies. The PMA took inspiration from the Southern Movement Assembly, a recurring gathering of people over the last seven years from across the South to make decisions for collective action and power.
The Rural Organizing Project was built by rural leaders with a desire to work across issues and engage with our neighbors around our shared values of human dignity and true democracy. As leaders, members of ROP and local grassroots groups across small town Oregon, we seek to speak to people’s innate desire to build and maintain communities with a moral compass. This approach of working across rural communities and across issues to engage in true democracy is how the victory in Alabama was made possible.
Tuesday’s Senate victory in Alabama reveals again what is possible when we build a movement from the ground up that refuses to leave anyone behind, and that knows that we only win when we all get there together. It is a glimmer of hope heading into the new year. What “organizing miracles” can we create in rural Oregon through connecting and building with each other?
Hannah, Grace, Cara, Jess, Keyla & the ROP Team