ROP got started in the early 1990s as a part of the “Fight the Right” movement. The initial human dignity groups that started ROP were on the frontlines in rural Oregon dealing with the Oregon Citizens Alliance’s (OCA) initiative to create a second-class citizenship for the LGBTQ community. The OCA was laying the foundation for a larger Rightist movement in this country by using Oregon as a testing ground for rolling back basic tenants of democracy.
Community members became organizers after they decided they just wanted to go to the post office without being asked to sign discrimination into the Oregon constitution. They came together in living rooms to discuss what was happening in the country, what they were seeing in their communities, and whether this was the time to respond. They formed the first human dignity groups that then launched the ROP.
Twenty years later, the strategies may be different, but the Right is still strongly impacting our communities and our country. We are seeing the results of the seeds sown in the Reagan era, election outcomes that demonstrate the Right’s ability to influence and pull the Republican party, tea party groups and Americans for Prosperity chapters in the majority of Oregon counties, and a recent FBI sting and the resulting backlash used as justifications for the strengthening of a security state.
On Saturday, December 4th the ROP community came together to hear from four longtime friends of ROP- national leaders who were a part of our “Fight the Right” work in the early 1990s (Scot Nakagawa, Tarso Ramos, Suzanne Pharr and Eric Ward). They led an interactive conversation on the strategies of the Right and what this demands of our organizing. ROP leaders from across the state rounded out this conversation by discussing what our neighbors are seeing and feeling in our towns. Who is speaking to them in these times? Who is offering solutions or possibilities to deal with the real economic crises they are living with in their households?
What did we leave with?
A few of the themes of the conversation were:
We are in a fight about who is an American. Who is government supposed to serve and protect, and are those services and that protection equitable for us? Does government serve just one sector of our society, or is it for us all? Does government respond to what our communities want and who our communities really are? Who gets to be protected in a vulnerable moment?
Let’s not be afraid to talk about Race. The rest of the country is having this conversation by challenging Obama’s birth certificate and pushing to eliminate birthright citizenship, effectively gutting the 14th Amendment. The word ”immigrant” has become inseparably conjoined with criminality, terrorism, and, most blatantly, dark skin. Why isn’t the left engaging in this conversation? What would it look like for us to talk about race and belonging?
This is a moment that favors the bold. So, let’s be bold! Can we be the people that define what this moment means and provide an agenda of what to do about it? Can we employ our skills to create a meaningful community dialogue that promotes healthy responses? This moment will favor those who are organizing–and that is what we do best!
It’s time for us to take up space. We need to stake out our position and hold it. Let’s invade our communities with our values. Let’s become an anchor point and build toward the ideals we hold dear. Let’s take ourselves seriously, get smarter about the battles we choose, and understand the staying power it will take to win.
We in Oregon have gathered incredible momentum since ROP’s Founding. From the first human dignity groups formed in the early ’90s through the 50+ groups today, ROP’s legacy is rooted in fierce community organizing to effect meaningful, lasting change surrounding our core values. As we settle in to the holidays and get ready to start off a New Year, let’s build off that legacy in 2011 and take our communities back.