The last few weeks have been a whirlwind! As we catch our breath and begin to think about how our local organizing will build off of the election results, now is a great time to be grounding ourselves in the local issues that we care about and building a wider circle of folks to advance human dignity in our communities. Local organizers in Benton County have been doing just that, and are wrapping up a weeks-long period of hosting ROP’s traveling exhibit, Bridging Divides, Defending Dignity! As many of us are navigating what it looks like to safely gather in person again, Benton County leaders were reminded of the joy of simply being in community with one another, when they gathered around the exhibit, sharing good food and conversation. Read on to find out how hosting the exhibit can support your group in having community conversations about the issues that matter in the coming months!
Benton County organizers hosted Bridging Divides, Defending Dignity: How rural Oregonians have moved democracy forward since 1992! at the Westminster House in Corvallis for two weeks. On the first day, dozens of community members visited the exhibit either to peruse the panels independently or to sit down with other folks as part of two scheduled community conversations that were open to the public. The hosts provided snacks, hot cider, and some background about the Rural Organizing Project and the organizing campaigns highlighted in the eight bilingual exhibit panels.
The conversations focused on local issues that folks most want to address, including the frequent, forced eviction of unhoused campers by police known as sweeps, transphobic and homophobic rhetoric in the community, and the lack of affordable housing. The hosts passed out STAND Election Guides, and the infographic on the guides (pictured below) sparked more conversation about how many families are paying too much of their income on rent. For the local organizers, hosting the exhibit was a part of ongoing efforts to address these issues! Both during the group conversations and throughout the entire time the exhibit was displayed, people wrote what community issues they think are most important on post-it notes and posted those up on a board. The hosts also put out sign-in sheets to collect everyone’s contact information. Local leaders plan to use the contact information they collected, as well as the local issues community members submitted via post-it notes to plan a future living room conversation.
The planning and outreach of the local organizers made hosting the exhibit a huge success. More than a month before the exhibit arrived, Aleita, the lead organizer who brought the exhibit to town, started reaching out to potential venues about hosting the exhibit. She collaborated with the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center, recruited friends and fellow organizers to help her make flyers about the exhibit, and made an outreach plan so that as many community members as possible knew that the exhibit was coming to town.
The weekend before the exhibit opened to the public at the Westminster House, several local leaders set up the panels next to the downtown farmers market, as part of what they called a “Sneak Preview.” A couple of folks took a big sign on an ironing board and walked around the farmers market so that people knew to come and check out the panels. They also passed out flyers with information about where the exhibit could be viewed over the next two weeks. Aleita had called a local newspaper, the Gazette Times, and a reporter came out and interviewed her and took photos. The next day, they made the front page of the paper! The organizers also reached out to dozens of other local group leaders and asked them to spread the word. Thanks to those groups’ strong communication systems, news of the exhibit and corresponding community conversations were also shared over many groups’ email lists and by word of mouth!
Benton County organizers used the powerful movement history in the exhibit and yummy food and drink to bring folks together in comfort and community, spark conversation, and build a wider circle. What might it look like to do the same in your community? Check out our website for more information about the exhibit itself and how to host it! Reach out to us at email@example.com and we can support you in making a plan!