Building Welcoming Communities

This year, ROP is honing our focus to an ambitious project: building welcoming communities.  This means that we’re devoting extra of our most precious resource, organizer time, to working with small groups of people to run proactive campaigns to make their communities more welcoming to immigrants.

Seem like a tall order?  Well do you remember that popular quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead?  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

And in fact, we’ve actually already seen this work.  What begins with a small group gains momentum, bringing in civic leaders, allies in the media and government, and captures the imagination of the community.

For example, Lincoln County’s Immigrant Information Response Team started in 2010 with a year of movie nights and cross-cultural relationship building that grew their group, then moved onto opening dialogue with law enforcement and county leadership about immigrant safety and inclusion, then began passing town resolutions to honor the innate dignity of immigrants and native-born, and committing to values of fairness and acceptance.  They have now passed 4 resolutions in Newport, Yachats, Waldport, and Toledo.  These are powerful steps that over time cause a deep change to take root.  We have been inspired.

Nearly all human dignity groups have a history of working for immigrants rights, it is part of our commitment to human dignity.  We’ve complemented local organizing with advocating for changes to the laws that created today’s immigration flows and second-class of undocumented immigrants. Now, we step again into our role as local community leaders and ask:

  • What can we do right here, right now, to unite our community, immigrants with native-born, and make us visible to each other?
  • What are some of the daily hardships that immigrants experience due to our community’s untrusting or hostile attitude, and how can we mend that trust?
  • How can we build a cross-cultural fabric strong enough to easily expose the fear-mongering of anti-immigrant policies when and if they come to our town?
  • How can shift the public storyline around immigration by honoring the richness of our heritage as a nation of immigrants – but include current immigration flows among those who greatly contribute?

The work that we’re talking about is possible when we make a long-term commitment to local transformation.  We, and no doubt you as well, have seen this happen.  We’ve drawn inspiration from your groups, and also from a national collaboration of groups that we’re a part of who are figuring this stuff out, called Welcoming America.  (This approach was recently featured in the New York Times!)

To get started, we’ve shared a toolkit as part of our immigrants rights toolkits series that compiles the best that we’ve seen to answer these question in Oregon and around the country.  Check it out on our website here.  (To cut to the chase, just download this Menu of Options and bring it to your next group meeting!)

Then, we’ll be getting in touch with member groups who are working on immigrant fairness work to see how this approach can be useful to your local work, and what tools and ideas you have to add.  As always, our number one priority is the strength and vibrancy of the human dignity network, so we’ll be available to travel to your community in these coming months to support you in thinking through a local approach that will work in your town to advance fairness and integration of immigrants into our communities.