Big questions in small towns‏

December 4th, 2014

Dear ROPers,

Last week doing holiday errands and walking through my small town, I ran into many human dignity activists who shared passion, confusion, anger, and much more on a continuum around Ferguson, leaving me thinking, “Wow, we are all struggling so to figure out how one death in Ferguson is creating such an extended, international movement moment — and where we and our human dignity group might plug in.” Today I write to you right after the news of the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to hold a trial for the officer who killed Eric Garner in a chokehold, a tactic banned by the NYPD, all caught on video. In fact, the only person charged was the person who took the video. As these stories of injustice make the headlines, what conversations are rural Oregonians having, and what do our human dignity groups have to offer these conversations?

In this ROPnet we share with you a few opportunities and examples of ways to engage:

There are two conference calls coming up this week (note that the ROP conference call has been changed to Saturday at 5PM so it does not conflict with the national conference call).
Stories of how folks in small towns are taking action and opening up conversation.
For those of you looking for a place to dive deeper on this topic, here are two opportunities to do so:

1. Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is holding a national conference call to share tools and strategies for building capacity of white people to hold local actions on Ferguson across the country. Folks will share stories about their actions (you might hear a familiar voice on the call!), and Maurice Mitchell from Ferguson Action and Alicia Garza from #BlackLivesMatter will discuss the importance of white folks speaking up and taking action in this movement moment. TONIGHT, Thursday, Dec. 4th at 6PM. Click here to register for call-in information!

2. Join other small town and rural Oregon human dignity group organizers for a *rescheduled* conference call to think together on how can rural and small town Oregonians be a voice for human dignity in this moment?
Saturday, December 6th at 5:00PM! Click here to RSVP and we will email you the call-in information!

Stories from the Field

Here are a few examples of simple actions that small town folks are taking to raise the conversation.

Central Oregon: A Central Oregon human dignity organizer emailed out a call to action last Wednesday that read:

“Tomorrow (Thanksgiving) is a day when most of us gather to feel and express our gratitude for family, friends, and community. We are entering a season, however flawed, in which we take time to celebrate, to adorn ourselves, our homes and public spaces with color and light during the darkest days of the year.

And these are not just literally dark days. Our nation is dealing with a tragedy of humanity and a tragedy of justice in the fatal police shooting of the unarmed, 18 year-old Michael Brown: shot dead in the street, denied justice in an aberrant process, and demeaned, without any opportunity to defend himself, in a gratuitous public statement by a callous prosecutor. All along traumatized local people were met with militarized suppression of their fundamental rights to assemble and protest. These cumulative tragedies have moved people all over the country to take action, to harshly question our legal and justice systems, and to demand change.

A time to grieve; a time to give thanks. A time to stand up for justice; a time to celebrate the work we have done for justice.”

The announcement began a community conversation where folks expressed the spectrum of emotions being felt right now. Everyone involved sought to engage thoughtfully with each other as human dignity leaders despite vastly different opinions, lovingly maintaining common ground, sharing articles such as this piece by Tim Wise. Some of the 20 folks who came out to attend the emergency Friday vigil in gale-force winds, cold weather, and rain said it was that email exchange that encouraged them to attend.

Cottage Grove: My neighbor in Cottage Grove put together an email as a call to gather and organize a response on the 11th: “Cottage Grove is not Ferguson – but All America is Ferguson. Over the last week I have felt a need to do something, put something together, make some sort of statement, start some community discussion in Cottage Grove-South Lane County about these issues. Actions that are mostly ‘reactive’ bring sudden attention, yet seem to not have the staying memory of those which have been more of a ‘proactive’ nature, and can continue. But sometimes there seems a need for elements of both. I cannot imagine a more human and humanist community than Cottage Grove, Oregon. But it may take a lot of Cottage Groves together to elevate folks from this recurring dilemma across our continent.”

Josephine County: The flourishing new human dignity group in Josephine County has decided to invite the community to a documentary screening and discussion tied to Ferguson on the 18th. The documentaries they are considering showing are White Like Me, Crisis of Distrust, and Ferguson Speaks: a Communique from Ferguson. This moment comes after this group hosted both Walidah Imarisha’s “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?” and a structural racism training by Ahjamu Umi, building up a base of Josephine County residents that are eager to discuss race openly.

As we weigh actions, check out the Journey for Justice, a march that started left from Ferguson on Saturday to walk the 120 miles to the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson. Today, Mile for Michael Brown, a one-mile march in solidarity, took place in Spokane, WA — click here for photos.

We hope that all of the above opportunities and examples of local organizing can help you and your local human dignity group with ideas and tools to support your communities in digesting the headlines and making sense of this moment. What is coming up in your community? Share with us the stories, questions, conversations that you are running into.

Looking forward to sitting down and thoughtfully weighing this moment and our role as rural Oregonians with you on Saturday,