Marcy Westerling, Rural Organizing Project Founder
December 8th, 2014
Dear Friends of the Rural Organizing Project,
Big-time elections can make genuine political conversation impossible. And when the voting is over, superficial analysis often leads to over-simplified conclusions. But human dignity leaders in the ROP have a tradition of taking the time before, during and after elections to understand what is happening around us. And then we decide our best organizing strategy. Our strength is that we are ordinary people unifying to do extraordinary things collectively. We are the inclusive democracy.
In 2014, Oregon was again a testing ground for right-wing politics. The racism wedge was deployed, targeting immigrants and rolling back common sense. Over 60% of Oregon voters seemed to believe that we would be safer if we made it impossible for some community members to be licensed and insured when driving on our roads. Crazy. Wrong. Mean-spirited.
Millions of dollars were spent to defeat the GMO labeling measure, making Measure 92 the most expensive ballot measure in Oregon history. We all know that corporations will continue to throw money into policies that maximize profit at the expense of our rights, our health, our work and our safety. Without even considering national results we could plunge into despair.
We have been teetering towards plutocracy, a government by the wealthy, for decades now. (Thank you Ronald Reagan for institutionalizing this path.) Corporations and their conservative front-runners have disastrously skewed the playing field in favor of the powerful. It is not self-evident how we will rebalance our voting power.
However, our neighbors are not all crazy, wrong and mean-spirited. The system is. As human dignity leaders this is a message and guiding strategy core to the successes of the Rural Organizing Project. If we lose faith in our neighbors, the work of the Right is complete.
In 1992, exit interviews showed that the largest group voting Yes on 9 (that heinous anti-gay ballot measure) were parents under the age of 40. We could have condemned that group as “bigots”, but we chose to understand them as stressed, harried, under-informed voters concerned with one primary goal: keeping their kids safe. As bigots we would have hated them. As distracted parents we understood them. We spent years developing capacity to talk with these opponents. Today we find in this demographic some of the strongest support for marriage equality. Our opponents can change if we work at it.
This is called being strategic and building for the long haul. This is what the Rural Organizing Project and our network of human dignity groups are all about. In 2014, human dignity groups expanded community across the state. Human dignity groups took on giants and won. We got Sheriffs throughout Oregon to refuse to enforce mandates from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to violate the civil rights of immigrants. Yes, rural Oregon Sheriffs stood up against one of the best-funded government agencies because of our work in 2014 building relationships and growing local grassroots momentum. We have also kept post office privatization at bay despite the schemes of corporate privatizers and Congress. We have made addressing racism a focus throughout rural Oregon with a series of standing room only teach-ins and hard-hitting living room conversations that ask what communities need to be vibrant and healthy in the decades to come.
Here is another story: post-election, one great photo showed a young Latina woman holding a sign over her head that read, “F#*k pot. Legalize my mom.” It was an iconic image that captured the real pain of election losses. But it is not that simple. Marijuana legalization is a victory of 2014 built on decades of lives lost in the USA’s anti-people drug war that criminalized disproportionately the poor and people of color and weakened many Central American countries. It is the refugees of those societies in crisis that our media hypocritically labels “illegal immigrants”. And it is human dignity leaders who can speak to the pain of election loss while working to overcome divisions among people who should be allies. We are the ones that can show how organizing over time creates results. There are no easy election wins.
ROP and human dignity groups walked out of the 2014 elections sad, mad and stronger because our eyes stayed on the prize of expanding the number of rural Oregonians who see Latino neighbors as valuable community members demanding dignity and driver’s licenses. Latino/a neighbors built leadership and presence that no election loss can take away. Remember the old cheer, “we are here, queer, get used to it”? That was updated with great success.
Non-profits who lead movement work face diminished funding. As the progressive foundation funding world shrinks, it is up to us to decide what we fund, how we fund it and what’s needed to ensure that we all can stay in this for the long haul.
ROP does not rely on a big budget to sustain organizing in every county across the state. Our low budget model is based on helping people build their local, autonomous human dignity groups as their political home in their small town. Our human dignity groups are maintained, not by centralized paid staff, but by locally based people becoming organizers in their own hometowns. ROP is the coordinating backdrop and hub.
ROP keeps our expenses minimal: a small office that we own, a donated car we keep on the road, a small staff of organizers that prioritize being in communities. But being here takes dollars and we turn to you. ROP is your organization. You own ROP. It is your time as local human dignity leaders and your money as members and supporters that keep us strong and focused on the realities of rural Oregon.
If you believe in this work, we need you to fund it with your dollars. Please take out your checkbooks or credit cards and make a donation or, better still, make a pledge today for $10, $25, $100 a month. Monthly pledges give us the promise of a steady, reliable income, which is more important than ever during these changing times. In return, we at ROP promise to continue to expand our movement, building the community of justice-pursuing organizers in Oregon. Make your donation online here today. Or mail a check to: ROP PO Box 1350 Scappoose, OR 97056.
Whether your donation is $10, $100 or $1000, every cent makes a difference and every dollar ensures ROP’s sustainability not for just this year, but for the long term.
Cara Shufelt, Director/Organizer
On behalf of the staff and Board of Directors of the Rural Organizing Project