When ROP opened our Community Building Center (the Center) in Cottage Grove last year, we were just beginning to put into action what this new physical space would mean for our work, our network of human dignity groups, and for rural Oregon communities. We could not have foreseen a global pandemic and recession that helped transform the Center into the vibrant hub and haven this building has become for building community. ROP and our surrounding rural communities in Lane and Douglas Counties have worked together to make sure anyone who needs help gets it with no barriers through the pandemic, shutdowns, and wildfires.
Today as I write this, because of work at the Center, I can tell you:
- How much a pack of diapers costs ($35.99), where we can get a break locally on milk, and who will help us process and package a 500-pound steer for distributing to hungry families. Not incidentally, ROP is putting tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy by purchasing food and supplies from local businesses that share our values. The Center has become a hub for resource and culture sharing, food box and hygiene supply distribution, and hot meals, supported by dozens of volunteers and coordinated with local faith communities, the school district, service agencies, farmers, the farmer’s market, local businesses, and beyond.
- What we’ve learned about how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operates in our rural communities and how best to support community members at risk for detention and deportation. That’s because building relationships with families who visit the Center made it possible to create strategies to deal with detention and deportation risks together. We’ve fought together to get our neighbors out of detention–and won! Even when we aren’t able to stop a detention, we have learned how to stop a deportation, and this holiday season we get to celebrate those victories with our friends and neighbors who are finally back home.
- What it takes to reduce the barriers posed by many service agencies to truly support families in need. That’s because we’ve opened the Center to provide food and survival supplies with no questions asked, no limits, and no barriers while pushing local service agencies to do the same, including expanding hours and geographic reach, hiring Mam interpreters (for the Indigenous language spoken by many Guatemalan asylum-seekers in the area), opening during hours that farmworkers can access services, producing materials in multiple languages, and cutting through unnecessary, and often exclusive, red tape.
- What it means not just to talk about sustainability, but to practice and model what this looks like as a community value. That’s because we’ve been expanding on our decades of re-using every scrap of paper available, reducing waste, recycling, and working toward utilizing solar panels, efficient heating and cooling systems, outdoor meeting spaces, and more.
- How meaningful cultural organizing is in making our community safer and more welcoming. The Center amplifies rural and small-town work for cultural change from hosting local artists and opening our doors for Cottage Grove’s monthly Art Walk (when not in a pandemic). On Día de Los Muertos, a rich and complex Mexican celebration of life and death, we organized with South Lane Mental Health a beautiful altar to remember the lives of social justice heroes, first responders, and those we have lost to the pandemic. And on our distribution days, kids are creating art like paper plane designs at the “kids’ table” that is creative and inspiring!
- How having a physical gathering space makes it possible to build rural organizing power for human dignity and democracy across the state. When intense wildfires struck, we collaborated with mutual aid organizations to collect and distribute essential gear for those forced to flee their homes and those stuck outside in terrible smoke. Our COVID food and supply distribution allowed us to connect with other rural distribution sites to ensure that resources flowed not just to urban centers but to all the communities directly impacted by wildfires. And soon, the Center will be home to our Rural Organizing Archive and Library, where organizers across the state can access more than 30 years of collected materials to draw inspiration from and adapt to their communities’ needs.
I’ll finish this note to all of you from my desk surrounded by boxes of diapers, hygiene supplies, and Personal Protective Equipment for distribution, with my deep belief in the Center’s importance to rural community power-building.
The Center will continue to ensure that our strategies are never disconnected from the material experiences of our communities and that direct service workers are encouraged to make connections between the root causes that require people to seek services in the first place and work with us to build a thriving rural Oregon.
This month, your financial contribution could double our resources to support the ROP network and the Center. New and increased contributions to ROP are being matched 1:1 up to $25,000 by a generous gift from the Collins Foundation. A $100 contribution grows to $200 in December! The donate sign will take you to our website to make an online contribution.
If you have already donated – thank you!
With gratitude for all you do as part of our rural movement to thrive,
Jess and the ROP Team