“Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dear Friends of the Rural Organizing Project,
Dr. King’s quote points to the dilemma and the key question that ROP and our members keep asking each other and our neighbors. The temperature is rising in rural communities in Oregon, and it’s not just from climate change. As rural families struggle more than ever to keep their heads above water, deep chasms between neighbors are emerging, dividing, and isolating communities.
Instead of respectful disagreement and dialogue among neighbors, we see increasing polarization, tension, and backlash in rural Oregon. Good people are buying into xenophobic and racist explanations for the pain and frustration they are facing in their daily lives. Militia and “patriot” groups are successfully recruiting members, training leaders, winning elections, and shaping how local government works in towns and counties across Oregon. Threats and intimidation are being used to silence opposition. Rural activists in our network are receiving death threats simply for writing letters to the editor.
ROP members are finding ways to respond that bring people back together in the face of such polarization – to ensure that we move toward community and not toward chaos. We know this division is emerging in part because rural communities have been de-funded, destabilized, and seemingly forgotten. Imagine raising a family in a place where you call 911 and only an answering machine picks up or where it takes hours for a sheriff’s deputy to show up in an emergency. Rural people are making the decision to leave for cities, or taking on second and third low-wage jobs. Given these circumstances, it’s no shock that far right groups are successfully recruiting in these communities, offering paramilitary training, and suggesting that a neighborhood militia would do better than the government.
As rural and small town progressives, our work is cut out for us. As rural Oregonians, we know that we need to tell a different story or the militant right will continue to dominate the conversation. Based in our core values of human dignity, democracy for all, and the importance of just and welcoming communities, we offer a different understanding of rural Oregon. An understanding that points to systemic injustice, capitalism, and corporate dominance as the root causes for the difficulties so many rural folks have in accessing basic necessities like shelter, food, and health care. We believe in building community first and foremost, and using our shared connection to create channels for dialogue between neighbors. Groups like Feed the ‘Burg are responding to hunger and homelessness not by pushing neighbors away, but by serving free community meals for low-income and unhoused folks in Roseburg every Saturday. Human dignity groups all over the state have joined the call for a $15 minimum wage, an end to racial profiling, and access and opportunity for immigrants.
ROP and human dignity groups are building collective security through grassroots people power. People in small towns and rural communities are challenging racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and transphobic narratives and building community around the values we share as rural Oregonians. Mass mobilizations have brought attention to police brutality and exposed the depths of structural racial injustice not only in places like Ferguson, but in Oregon towns like Bend where hundreds of people mobilized in solidarity with the call of Black Lives Matter.
The Rural Organizing Project has a unique and important role, working with small town human dignity leaders across the state, and building a broad values-based movement for justice and dignity in rural Oregon.
Our agenda for 2016 is already packed:
We will be working directly with communities on the frontlines of the growing militia movement, creating and offering organizing tools, and strategizing with local organizers around the deeper systemic problems that create fertile ground for militia recruitment.
We will stand together to promote living wages and to ensure all wages worked for are received, and look for common ground as we grapple with low-wage economies that no longer provide for our families.
We will work to defeat anti-immigrant ballot measures, digging into difficult conversations to unpack the rhetoric that scapegoats immigrants for our struggling economies.
ROP is tiny but mighty, reaching the far corners of the state with a bare-bones crew of organizers and a lean budget. We need your support to continue and strengthen the work we do to help build stronger progressive rural communities. We are the progressive voice speaking out and addressing the challenges facing rural Oregonians, ensuring that the militant right does not recruit in our communities unchallenged.
This need for a progressive voice for rural Oregon continues, just as it did when Marcy Westerling and rural leaders formed ROP 23 years ago. Your generosity and investment in our movement will make it possible to carry this legacy forward.
Please make a donation today or, better still, make a pledge of $10, $25, or $50 a month. Monthly pledges give us the promise of a steady, reliable income, which ensures our work is sustainable. Your support keeps ROP strong and, in these divisive times, this is more important than ever.
Ultimately, it is up to all of us together to answer Dr. King’s question of where we go from here. We know you’ll stand with us to continue to unite our communities and protect them from chaos.
Jessica Campbell Cara Shufelt
On Behalf of the ROP Staff and Board of Directors