Rural community leaders and activists joined together in Redmond for the Rural Caucus and Strategy Session on June 25th to celebrate, strategize, and build relationships for the year to come! After over two long years of social distancing, we took the time to celebrate powerful human dignity groups that have won lasting victories for their communities since the pandemic first hit.
Five incredible human dignity groups from across rural Oregon received Human Dignity Awards this year: Pendleton Community Action Coalition in Umatilla County, the Ashland High School Truth to Power Club, Central Oregon Peacekeepers, Indigenous Helpers in Central Oregon, and Redmond Collective Action. Read on to learn more about these groups’ powerful organizing for dignity, democracy, and justice!
2022 Human Dignity Awards
Pendleton Community Action Coalition
Since getting started in 2020, Pendleton Community Action Coalition’s (PCAC) mission has been to confront injustices and dismantle barriers through education, sharing resources, and community organizing. This has included holding rallies on street corners for Breonna Taylor and leading the community’s free Christmas meal when it was almost canceled due to COVID. Despite agreeing to run the meal at the last minute in 2020, PCAC gave free food to 200 families in person, delivered to families both on and off the Umatilla reservation, and has expanded since then. PCAC has created opportunities for neighbors to show up for each other, from Black Lives Matter rallies to feeding each other when times are tough.
Since the Caucus, PCAC’s campaign to get the City of Pendleton to stop preserving sidewalk stamps that memorialized Confederate Army Generals was successful! Briana Spencer, a PCAC leader, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and a former Rural Organizing Fellow shared in her public comment at the city council meeting in December 2020, “If you want to preserve history, this land belongs to my tribe.” You can read the full story of their victory in this ROPnet!
Truth to Power
Truth to Power has been organizing inside the halls and classrooms at Ashland High School and in the broader community for more than two years. Started by two sophomores, the club quickly grew to thirty members and has been creating powerful episodes of their podcast, Tea, Toast, and Truth. This podcast offers a youth perspective on the issues that matter to their community, from wildfires to police violence, housing to first love. Their approach to creating podcast episodes is deeply collaborative and democratic, which has built up club members’ skills in interviewing, script writing, music selection, and editing. Since we interviewed them last summer, they have also expanded from podcasts into broadcast radio with a new show called “Truth to Power Hour” on KSKQ, the community radio station in Ashland! Read more about Truth to Power’s organizing and community work by listening to the Rural Roots Rising episode featuring them here!
Truth to Power always pairs its podcast episodes with community action. When Aidan Ellison, a young Black man, was murdered in 2020 for playing music, Truth to Power organized a response to call out and address racism in the community. The club hosted anti-racism workshops for the community, screened the documentary 13th, and painted a mural to commemorate and celebrate Aidan as well as other prominent Black, Indigenous, and People of Color from Jackson County. Between painting the beautiful mural on Ashland High School, hosting a podcast and radio show, organizing supply drives for unhoused community members, and more, Truth to Power has made a big impact in Ashland!
Central Oregon Peacekeepers
You may already be following the Central Oregon Peacekeepers on social media! Peacekeepers are a powerful force for good by leading de-escalation teams at rallies as well as researching and exposing racist, homophobic and anti-democratic activity by local elected officials. One of their biggest victories started with the question: What is the Bend Police Department doing when it comes to the safety of people publicly demonstrating for Black Lives Matter? They asked the City of Bend for public records about Bend Police’s response to the local 2020 demonstrations for racial justice. The City of Bend responded to the request stating that it would cost $3,600 for them to prepare and provide the information. When Peacekeepers appealed, the District Attorney ordered the city to turn over the records free of charge, citing that the documents were important to the public’s interest. Afterward, the city sued Peacekeepers for $3,600 for fulfilling the public records request. More than a year and a half after the original incident, the Peacekeepers with the support of the ACLU of Oregon, won the lawsuit and received the records. As the Peacekeepers shared, “We learned that the Chief of Police lied about ordering the SWAT team to respond to a peaceful protest. We learned that the same Chief assigned a Bend Police officer to spend her work hours monitoring local activists [and running] criminal background checks on people simply for attending protest events.”
When a houseless Bend community member died from the cold in the winter of 2020, community members joined together and asked, “What can we do?” A few folks decided to go down to where they knew a group of people was camping with a pot of soup and coffee mugs. That first free meal turned into a regular table on Hunnell Road that quickly rippled out into multiple mobile routes, community meal sites across Deschutes and Jefferson Counties, and collaboration across human dignity groups and houseless camps. Over time, Indigenous Helpers in collaboration with many other groups provided sack lunches, socks, hats, water, propane, showers, laundry, trash cleanup, vaccines, and more. When you talk to groups involved, everyone will say, “We could never have done this without Indigenous Helpers.”
Founded and led by native organizers who are working to reconnect with their cultures, Indigenous Helpers have shifted their focus towards the root causes of economic injustice and are putting their energy into “re-Indigenization.” This looks like supporting each other and other community members to reconnect and relearn native traditions including hide-tanning, canoe carving, and more. They are working to re-establish tribal food sovereignty by running a buffalo ranch and preparing to supply a healthy source of meat to people in need, particularly native elders.
Redmond Collective Action
Redmond Collective Action (RCA) was formed by community leaders who were leading Black Lives Matter rallies in 2020. RCA then began collaborating with other community groups, like Indigenous Helpers, to provide community meals and other resources to folks who are hungry or unhoused. One of RCA’s biggest victories has been holding their local elected officials accountable to a basic standard of human dignity! This past winter, Ammon Bundy’s far-right People’s Rights network showed up outside a local high school encouraging students to protest the mask mandate and handing out free food coupons for students that came to talk with them. In response, RCA showed up on the streets and coordinated drop-offs of care packages to make sure that teachers and students who disagreed with People’s Rights knew that they had community support.
RCA used the social media platform Next Door to reach out and provide values-based information to their neighbors about who People’s Rights are, what the dangers of their organizing are, and what people could do about it. They focused their communications on the platform Next Door because it has stricter rules of engagement than Facebook, so comment threads wouldn’t devolve into useless shouting matches and it was possible to follow up on positive comments by sending direct messages to people. With this method, RCA was able to engage new folks in conversation and it led to directly inviting at least five people with shared values to testify at the next school board meeting! On September 25th they held a Let Freedom Read event to celebrate the freedom to read what you want and proactively address anti-democratic book banning efforts across the country.
We are continually inspired by the human dignity groups that are leading the work for justice in their hometowns and rural communities every single day! Is your group doing community-building work for democracy that you’d like to share? Do you know of a human dignity group doing amazing work in your community that we should highlight over ROPnet? Share your stories by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org!