How many more divisions can we bear?

Like you, we are grieving, shocked, and heartbroken by the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg last week. The senseless killing of students and an instructor on their campus, attending their classes, has left every Oregonian reeling, asking, why did this happen? More importantly, all of us are asking, how do we respond?

As our rural community has come together around our Douglas County family, friends, and allies, we have been able to watch the sad magic of a mourning community coming together to take care of each other, and we have also witnessed divisive forces and narratives at work splintering the community.

This ROPnet, written collaboratively by human dignity group leaders from across the state, discusses the ways this moment is being used to drive wedges into communities and offers suggestions for Oregonians ready to take action to build community security.

A climate of fear, anger, and isolation

In the aftermath of the shooting, a cloud of speculation hung over Douglas County as people waited to hear who could commit such an atrocity. Because the shooter was said to have asked his victims about their religion, racist and Islamophobic caricatures were shared with hurried whispers of ISIS. Since the shooter was revealed to be neither Middle Eastern nor Muslim, conspiracy theories of the shooting being a hoax — a “false flag operation” — continue to ring out. A swell of national media has swarmed on Douglas County, covering skyrocketing gun sales and people’s reactions to the tragedy.

President Obama has announced he will travel to Roseburg Friday to meet with grieving families. The Roseburg Beacon, a religious right-wing newspaper, went on Fox News to declare that Obama isn’t welcome in Douglas County. This call has been echoed by “patriot” and militia groups who have quickly pulled together an open carry gun rally to “greet” Obama as he arrives in Roseburg. Carpools are coming in from Washington, Idaho, California, and Nevada to attend. Thousands of racist, Islamophobic, and violent messages have been posted across Facebook groups and media comment sections about Obama’s visit.

The Westboro Baptist Church has announced that they will picket the funerals of the UCC shooting victims, as part of their normal tactic of jumping into the national media to fundraise, generating a new round of outrage.

In neighboring Jackson County, militant right-wing ideological groups called the Oath Keepers and 3%ers have organized a blatantly racist and Islamophobic October 10th “Global Rally for Humanity” event in front of the Medford Police Department as part of a national day of action that is anti-Islam and pro-police. (For more information about their movement and ideology, see ROP’s description of “patriot” and paramilitary groups operating in Oregon.) A counter-rally, United Against Hate, is planned at the same time for folks to stand together for the right for everyone to live their lives fully with dignity and safety (more information is included below).

National news has picked up on Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin’s associations with the Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). Sheriff Hanlin’s membership in an Oath Keeper-affiliated group brings up questions about the neutrality of our public officials in a time where the community needs to have an honest dialogue about safety and security.

Can we bear any more divisions?

As we reel from tragedy and reflect on security, it is clear this is a moment to hold the many complexities and sometimes contradictions of our neighbors coming to grips with the enormity of what is in front of us.

It isn’t easy to live in rural Oregon, to make a living, to stay for the long haul. Many of us have seen our standards of living decrease over the generations. Our neighbors are struggling to meet the most basic needs of security, food, shelter, and healthcare. Incomes are not keeping up, and basic infrastructure is collapsing as our communities continue to be defunded.

These massive and blatant systemic failures do not have simple solutions, as much as we would all like to believe making change could be as easy as writing our legislators. In times of insecurity and fear, it is easy to blame, target, or scapegoat others. In fear, it is easy to seek domination and control rather than to seek mutual respect, accountability, and caring. It is hard to love our communities so much that we are willing to fight to keep them together, living and practicing our democratic values daily.

Many Oregonians take pride in our self-sufficiency and rural ingenuity. Given that strong cultural value, it is easy for people to get isolated. When people are hurting and our pain is being used to divide us, how are we building community and coming together? What does it actually mean to feel secure? We are here together to try to hold each other up, to meet each others’ needs, to build collective security — not to struggle and suffer alone, in isolation.

As rural Oregonians we are proud to be hard working, justice seeking, community building people who love our neighbors even when we don’t understand or agree with them. This is especially true in the wake of such tragedy.  But, really, can we bear any more divisions?

What if we as rural Oregonians began opening up our doors to our neighbors to genuinely dig into what is happening? What would happen if we suggested working together to meet community needs, rooted in our democratic values?

Our shared rural values in action

We speak often of our shared values — human dignity, democracy for all, just and welcoming communities — because not only are they what unite us, but also because our values are what lead us to action. We know that we can live our values of inclusive democracy, and we can make it clear to our neighbors that working together peacefully to create safe and secure communities is an option. The following are opportunities to engage and respond in this moment. Keep in mind, we are in this both for immediate action and for the long haul, and we invite you to show up where it feels right.

Join the Rapid Response Network: In rural communities, security comes from community members coming together, whether in the wake of crisis and tragedy, or to stand against hate and division. By joining the Rapid Response Network, you are committing to joining Oregonians across the state in taking immediate action if racist, Islamophobic, or other hate activities occur in your region. Click here to learn more and sign up.

Join the United Against Hate rally in Medford this Saturday, October 10th at 9AM at Alba Park! This is a counter-rally to the Islamophobic and racist “Global Rally for Humanity” scheduled for the same time in front of the Medford Police Department.

The organizers behind the Islamophobic event are using thinly veiled statements about being pro-law enforcement and pro-humanity. The premise for these vague sentiments is the idea that all Muslims are a threat to law enforcement and our families.

Together we will gather in Alba Park across from the Medford Police Department (the location for the anti-Muslim rally) at 9:00am Saturday Morning October 10th with signs promoting love, solidarity, and religious tolerance. We will stand together to affirm that there is a place for everyone in our community and that no one should live in fear or feel threatened because of their religious beliefs.

– Organize a Vigil for Love & Unity: Across Oregon, human dignity groups are planning vigils for next weekend, October 17th-18th, to stand in solidarity with Douglas County and to call for our communities to stand together in the face of fear and division.

Communities across the state are asking what it means to feel secure. In this moment, creating a space for neighbors to come together to grieve, remember those lost, and unite under our values of love and inclusion is a real way to start building security for our communities.

  • Click here for a handy planning guide.

  • Invite neighbors to come together in a park, on a street corner, or another public space. Light candles, hold signs calling for unity and understanding of each other. Share a few words, take a moment of silence, or have a prayer.

  • Organizing is about building relationships and security comes from people working together to support one another. How are we building relationships and coming together? Are we “calling people out” for their knee-jerk reactions to tragedy, or are we “calling them in” to have a deeper, nuanced conversation about our shared values?

  • Some key folks to engage with in this moment include faith leaders, parent groups, student organizations and clubs, supportive elected officials, and service groups (such as the Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.).

In moments like this, the confusion, fear, anger, and grief can feel overwhelming. But we also know that in joining together with our friends and neighbors we can overcome the differences that divide us, and we can create the communities we want and need. It is easy to feel isolated and alone in our towns, especially right now, but we remember that we are part of a living and loving movement for human dignity with all of you, and movement that grows brighter in the face of adversity. That is something we are inexpressibly grateful for.

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