One of the biggest issues facing rural Oregon is the erosion of trust in local government and in democracy itself. In this ROPnet, we share how the Political Action Committee of the Linn Benton NAACP took action and held Protecting Democracy: Civics Circuit Training, a free and public event that brought together more than 80 community members to learn how to protect and strengthen democracy year-round! Read their story about how they created an interactive space for participants to explore six core elements of a healthy democracy, check out their democracy resources that your human dignity group is welcome to use, and learn how they partnered with local leaders, businesses, musicians, the Oregon Department of Justice, and local elected officials to make the event an overwhelming success!
Protecting Democracy: Civics Circuit Training
More than 80 people explored the six core elements of a strong and healthy democracy. Check out the linked resource sheets that the Linn Benton NAACP compiled with more information about each topic and actions individuals and groups can take to protect democracy:
- Campaign Finance Reform: Oregon Speaker of the House Dan Rayfield shared helpful resources like the current Oregon campaign finance manual and suggested actions like contacting your elected state officials to share your opinion on the issue.
- Local Election Security: Benton County Records and Elections Director James Morales and Linn County Elections Supervisor Derrick Sterling explained their roles and offered information about county election procedures. They explained ways folks can take action, including volunteering to observe ballot handling and counting.
- Misinformation, Propaganda, and Fake News: Corvallis-Benton County Public Library staff member Bonnie Brzozowski shared tools for checking the trustworthiness of sources and reminded folks of strategies to avoid spreading false information.
- Maintaining Civil Rights: Director of Civil Rights at the Oregon Department of Justice Fay Stetz-Waters answered questions and quizzed participants about the history of voting rights. Participants were encouraged to learn more about who is trying to restrict voting access in Oregon and learned about how important it is to vote in every election, all the way down the ballot! Stetz-Waters also shared how voters can check their voter registration status and the timelines for receiving their voter’s guide and ballot on the Secretary of State’s website.
- Role of Local Elected Officials: Benton County Commissioner Xan Augerot answered questions about how elected officials represent our communities in government decision-making. Participants explored possible actions like asking local electeds to have coffee with their group and build a relationship, or running for school board, city council, or another local position where you can make positive change in your community! Augerot also shared resources like a handbook on best practices for local democracy so that we can make sure our electeds are addressing our communities’ needs and priorities.
- Candidacy 101: Linn-Benton Community College Professor Dr. Ramycia McGhee and Albany City Councilor Stacey Bartholomew shared how candidates can be elected or appointed for various positions. Check out the resource page for more tips for those considering running for City Council!
Participants spread out and took their time at each of the stations. At each station, presenters shared for eight minutes and then answered questions for two minutes. A member of the Political Action Committee rang a bell every ten minutes so everyone knew when it was time to go to another station. In between the learning, people bumped into old friends, got to know new people, and listened to live music!
At the beginning of the event, everyone was given a ticket with each of the six stations on the front, and space for them to fill out their name, email address, and phone number on the back. Each station would punch participants’ tickets. Everyone who went to all of their stations and returned the completed ticket got to spin a wheel for a prize! Common Fields, the local business that partnered with the Linn Benton NAACP to host the event, donated prizes including jars of spices and sauces, koozies, and coasters. This allowed the NAACP to collect everyone’s contact information so they could send out additional resources and stay in touch going forward! After the event, the organizers sent all participants a follow-up email with additional resources, presenter contact information, and action opportunities.
Planning for the Civics Circuit Training
The Civics Circuit Training began when five or so folks on the NAACP Political Action Committee started to brainstorm together months ago. They asked each other, “what are the biggest needs in the community? How can we address those needs?” They reached a consensus that a priority for their work is to support the community to exercise their democratic muscles for the upcoming election and year-round. They began discussing opportunities and obstacles to local democracy, and then brainstormed a list of people who could speak about each issue.
Next, they needed a location. They wanted somewhere that was big enough for a crowd, felt welcoming, and that was an outdoor space so that people could feel safe during the ongoing pandemic. They reached out to Common Fields, a local food truck pod and taproom in Corvallis, and the owner embraced the idea! Common Fields provided the space for free and connected the NAACP with their marketing manager to help promote the event!
The NAACP got to work on outreach and posted information to its website and on social media, and shared it with membership over email. Common Fields made a banner for the event to put up outside the venue where passersby could see it, and added the event to their online calendar. NAACP members put up flyers in local businesses and made sure local radio stations were sharing the event in their community event announcements.
As they got closer to the event, the NAACP emailed each presenter to share the format of the event, offered some examples of what they might share and questions they might get asked, and asked them to send the NAACP the information they planned to share. All of this preparation led to a smooth, well-attended event that received overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic responses from participants!
Inspired to take action for democracy in your community? Let’s connect! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Make your group’s election plan and order STAND Election Guides (Small Town Actions for a New Democracy) today! The STAND Guide is created by and for small-town and rural Oregonians to share important information about how to vote in Oregon, resources for tackling this year’s Oregon ballot measures, and beyond! Groups across the state make plans to go door-to-door, hold ballot parties for their friends and family, and more to engage their neighbors about the issues that matter most to our communities. Order STAND Guides for your election organizing by today, Wednesday, September 21st! Email me at email@example.com if you have any questions or want support in making your group’s election plans!