Keep the Fire of Rural Justice Burning Bright

“People who are committed over the long haul are the embers who never burn out, and the next fire will arise from them.”Rebecca Solnit

As we enter 2012, we are inspired by the flames of the Occupy movement spreading like wildfire through small-town Oregon and the rest of the country.  Mosier (in Wasco County) is the smallest community in the country to have an Occupy camp.  La Grande, Klamath Falls, Lakeview, Roseburg, Tillamook, Astoria, and dozens of other communities are organizing around this moment.  Oregon has the most small town Occupy activities in the nation!

Is this because rural Oregon is just ahead of rural America? Because our “Foreclose on Walden” campaign is highlighting similar themes of economic justice in each of our counties? Because we had a powerful anti-war movement in rural Oregon before the bombs started falling in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Or maybe it is because for the last twenty years, rural and small-town Oregonians have had the tools to express our anger and frustrations.  We have had the opportunity to develop our own infrastructure, our own campaigns, our own groups, and our own voices to demand the justice we need in our hometowns and in this nation.

The human dignity network started almost twenty years ago with a handful of leaders in two dozen communities. It has grown to over 50 member human dignity groups and 12,000 households representing each of Oregon’s 36 counties.  These groups are the building blocks of Oregon’s rural movement for democracy. It is where regular folks have taken up the call to keep democracy alive, to keep the embers of justice burning for the past two decades. Maybe that is why the fire of the Occupy movement is brightest here in rural Oregon.

The Rural Organizing Project is about ensuring there is vibrant, viable, and on-going progressive organizing infrastructure in every single corner of the state.  When there is a crisis or an opportunity, rural and small-town Oregonians have the tools, the skills, and the support to respond.

The work of the Rural Organizing Project is not about having cookie cutter chapters that wait for a central office to send out the action plan.  The work of ROP is building, nurturing, and sustaining a decentralized, democratic movement. Local leaders define and decide what kind of action to take in their communities.  These local groups determine the direction of ROP’s work. ROP supports these autonomous groups and brings them together to share strategies and develop innovative campaigns that unite our independent local organizing for collective impact.

ROP’s decentralized organizing model was recently highlighted on Daily Kos:

ROP offers a unique case study of the value of decentralized and democratic organizing. When concerned people meet face to face on a regular basis, this opens space for neighbors to break their isolation and take concrete, small steps to further social justice.

Although this kind of broad-based, democratic community organizing is more challenging and slower-paced than building a million-member email list, it has numerous benefits. It builds sustainable progressive infrastructure at the local level that can grow over time. It authentically engages individual members in setting the agenda, electing leadership, and developing strategies. It builds face-to-face connections rather than the more shallow online connections. It responds flexibly and accountably to the needs of its members rather than being coopted by those in power.

These benefits are why a democratic and decentralized structure is at the foundation of nearly every successful social movement. So here is my rhetorical question, and I only speak on my behalf and not ROP’s: Why is this group operating on a shoestring budget … at a time when progressives have the capacity to throw million-dollar money-bombs at our preferred candidates and causes? Wouldn’t it make sense to invest at least a portion of that in strengthening an authentic grassroots progressive infrastructure in our communities?

We at ROP agree and that is why I am asking you today to make your investment in the rural, democratic, human dignity movement of Oregon.   Members, supporters, and friends are what allow ROP to do our work in a way that is accountable to member human dignity groups, not to external interests or pre-packaged campaigns.

How much can you give this year to keep our movement strong? Can you give $500 or $150 or $15? Can you give $52 – $1 per week for a year?  Is this the year you can became a major donor at the rate of $1000 or $2500?

ROP does not get its funding from large campaigns or foundations.  We keep our lean staff of 3.8 organizers and our small house operating on the support of small foundations, individuals, and tons of volunteer hours.  We keep our gas tank full, our organizers on the road, and our organizing campaigns viable because of people like you.

Take out your checkbook and become a member of ROP today.  Better still, become a monthly sustainer for $10, $25, or $50 per month.

Your donation is tax-deductible.  More importantly, your donation is keeping the fire of ROP burning bright by demonstrating your commitment to decentralized, democratic movement building by and for rural Oregonians.  The attached 2011 annual report highlights just a few of the many successes of our movement over the last year.

Thank you for all you do in your community and all you do for the Rural Organizing Project.