Keeping our Eye on the Prize: ROP in the 2011 Legislature

In a legislative session that once again brought our massive revenue crisis front and center, ROP and our member groups kept a focus on the ultimate outcomes.

ROP Platform: ROP and its member human dignity groups called upon our legislators to:

Put People First: Human well-being is the indicator of economic success
Hold Accountable those responsible for the Economic Recession
Promote Real Security through community empowerment and energy conservation

During this Legislative Session we advocated for immigrant fairness, workers’ rights and economic fairness. We held local strategy sessions then mobilized to write hundreds of letters to our legislators, to our small-town papers, to travel to Salem and participate in delegations to legislators and days of action. Despite the enormous pressure to slash and cut the budget deep, we stayed focused on our vision.

In our vision, corporations are accountable to solve the crisis they created.

In our vision, immigrants contribute to Oregon’s success with access to education and without fear.

In our vision, basic necessities are fully funded, and we plan for the long term through responsible local investment, and democratic control of resources.

In our vision, small-town communities are part of the decision making that gets this economy turned around.

Below is our “key issues in brief” section for updates about key bills we worked on this session.  And below that are a couple of stories that show how human dignity groups use their cross-issue and local approach to make a strategic difference.

Our Priority Issues at a Glance:

Driver’s Licenses: After anticipating that we wouldn’t even get a hearing on restoring access to Drivers Licenses to immigrants, we not only got a hearing and a committee vote in favor, but there was also 1500 people in attendance at the Legislature that day, with ROP leaders being some of the minority of white faces in the crowd. We will continue to work with our friends at CAUSA, with our member groups, and with a network of rural Latino organizations until drivers licenses are won.

Oregon State Bank: The vision of the Oregon State Bank stays strong, even though a lack of leadership in Salem resulted in smaller-than-hoped-for gails. While we were unable to get a full floor vote on the issue, the Oregon State Bank concept is gaining visibility. In addition, our coalition was strengthened among Oregonians for a State Bank, Oregon Rural Action, Friends of Family Farmers, ROP and the Working Families Party. See the full post-session press release here. Next steps- an Oregon Banks Local campaign.

Tuition Equity: ROP educated and mobilized our base statewide in favor of Tuition Equity, but especially focused in 4 key districts. In those districts we generated dozens of timely constituent contacts and LTEs, and at the very last minute were successful in moving Rep Boone to a YES vote. But, stuck in partisan gridlock of a divided house, Republicans locked down the bill and refused to budge. At the final moment we were just a few signatures short of the majority needed to move the bill to the house floor. This next year, we will continue supporting this effort as long as it is a priority of immigrants and allies statewide.

Anti-Wage Theft: Before this legislative session started, most legislators (and Oregonians) didn’t know what “wage theft” was. Now, it’s a more commonly understand issue. We have collected dozens of testimonies from those who have experienced Wage Theft and have found some champions in the legislature on the issue. For an issue that was raised for the first time ever in the Oregon Legislature, it is a good sign that we received a floor vote in favor of anti-wage theft policy in the Senate. The coalition of groups working on Stopping Wage Theft will use this initial momentum to continue to build a call in Oregon for a stop to Wage Theft and to build towards concrete policy gains that protect workers.

Tuition Equity: The right kind of contact for the right kind of results:

Representative Boone was consistently undecided on Tuition Equity. At the last minute, after receiving dozens of constituent contacts and seeing 3 different local papers in her district flooded with letters in support of Tuition Equity, she switched to a YES and voted for a discharge petition that would have brought the legislation to a floor vote.More than signing an online petition or sending a machined letter, contacts were from key community leaders, sometimes personal friends of Rep Boone, who sent heartfelt and informed personal letters to her during the entire session, but especially as it drew to a close. As she signed the petition, she said that she had decided to support the bill because of the perspectives shared in letters from her constituents.

This year, we fell a few short of the signatures needed to move the bill forward, but we see the incremental impact of our work in both key legislators and in the passion and power of our movement. We will continue to work with our friends at CAUSA and allied groups to advance immigrant fairness in 2012.

Movement Building: All for one and one for all

In March, ROP got word from our friends at CAUSA that we needed to move one more legislator in the Senate Business, Transportation and Economic Development Committee in order to have a majority vote in favor of access to driver’s licenses for immigrants. Senator Jason Atkinson, who represents Southern Oregon, was on that committee and had not committed to voting in favor. A week after ROP received the call, we organized two meetings in Atkinson’s district with constituents and local leaders. One meeting stands out in particular.

At this gathering ROP brought together leaders of Good Grief America (who focuses on foreclosures), Unete (a farmworker organization), Citizens for Peace and Justice (primarily a peace oriented group), and Oregon Action (a base-building and economic justice group). Leaders from these groups met for the first time all together and mapped out a plan to collect over 1000 postcards and generate dozens of phone calls from constituents and community leaders to Senator Atkinson.

Leaders from Good Grief America contacted their friends in the insurance industry to make calls. Unete focused on gathering postcards from farmworkers, immigrants and faith leaders. Citizens for Peace & Justice was holding a rally a few days later to recognize the anniversary of the war in Iraq and demand an end to the occupation, and provided space for Unete to talk about drivers licenses- linking the wars aboard with the wars at home. In the end, ROP & our member groups statewide were part of the wave of pressure felt by legislators in Salem that got drivers licenses on the radar.

When the bill got a last-minute public hearing at the capitol, ROP members were proud to be some of the faces of white allies in the crowd of 1500 people who showed up with just a few days’ notice! The bill didn’t move out of committee this year, but the ROP base and leadership is poised to work with Oregon’s immigrants’ rights movement to keep the pressure high in 2012.

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