Kitchen Table Activism: Meet Your Legislators!

Background: Kitchen Table Activism (KTA) is a monthly activity by the Rural Organizing Project. The idea is that small actions can lead to powerful collective results when groups of people gather to complete the same action across the state of Oregon. ROP works to keep each KTA easily achievable so that groups with other projects or groups with limited immediate energy can still manage to complete the KTA each month.

A crowd of people stand on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol on a Lobby Day in 2019.

What is this activity?

Oregon’s state legislature is in session until the end of June. Our elected officials are making critical decisions and passing policies that impact our communities. Legislative sessions are opportunities for human dignity groups to sit down with their senators and representatives, start/deepen their relationship and push them to vote yes on the bills that benefit your community. Even if your group knows your state legislators already, a formal meeting starts a working relationship for policy decisions. These gatherings can be as simple as one or two human dignity group leaders having “coffee” over zoom for 30 minutes with your legislator or setting aside time to meet with them during your group’s regular meeting. The goal is to get on the radar of your elected officials and build a relationship that lasts through this legislative session and beyond.

Why this activity?

Over the last year, the ROP network has been thoughtfully crafting the Roadmap to a Thriving Rural Oregon through hundreds of conversations and we are committed to making sure our priorities are heard loud and clear by our elected officials! Last fall’s elections marked a significant shift in our nation’s political climate – and created the opening for more progressive politics to take hold. At the same time, the attacks on both our state and national capitals and the current public health and financial crises challenge all of us to fundamentally reevaluate our democracy and our economy. How do our local, state, and national budgets reflect (or not) our priorities? To take advantage of these openings, we must engage our community members in demanding the democracy we desire while also getting our elected officials to prioritize our group’s priorities. 

This is the third year in a row where the Republican Party has walked out of the legislature, halting work on the major issues we need our elected officials to tackle as soon as possible. We’ve used the Roadmap (and our priorities that are reflected in it) to break down some of the legislation coming up for a vote this session. Check out the 2021 Bills that Back a Thriving Rural Oregon below! There have been a lot of bills introduced this session and this is an evolving list, so we’d love to hear your community’s needs and priorities. What bills are you excited to show your support for? Send us your ideas, and questions at emma@rop.org!  

Actions to complete this activity:

1. Select a few dates that will work for your group to meet with your state legislators. 

2. Choose a group member to call up your legislators and schedule a time to meet. Contact information for your legislators can be found on the Oregon Legislature website

3. Decide how to share your group’s legislative priorities and agenda. You may want to use the list below of ROP’s 2021 Bills that Back a Thriving Rural Oregon as a starting point. We’d love to hear what your group is focusing on! Let us know at emma@rop.org.

4. Set an agenda for the gathering. (Consider this sample agenda.)

5. Be sure to send a thank you card after the meeting.

6. Consider what other elected officials your group might want to meet with. Are there new city councilors or county commissioners that it is especially strategic for your group to have a relationship with?

2021 Bills that Back a Thriving Rural Oregon

The Roadmap to a Thriving Rural Oregon includes the priorities our communities need to move from fighting for survival to truly thriving. The Roadmap came out of hundreds of conversations with human dignity groups across rural Oregon about what our communities need most as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession lay bare the big gaps in our communities’ social safety nets that have been widening for decades. Now we are taking these priorities to the legislative session! Check out the Roadmap and see below for bills being considered in the Oregon State Legislature under each of the four Roadmap categories. Want to dig in further? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Email us at emma@rop.org to get in touch. 

We are All Essential

  • Just Enforcement Act (House Bill 2205): The ROP network has worked to protect workers from wage theft and other abuses for many years. If passed this would create a law that would allow workers and organizations to sue employers that break the law when state agencies don’t have the capacity to do so. It would also increase the Bureau of Labor and Industries and Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ability to enforce labor laws and bring Oregon’s law in line with California’s higher standard. Read more about the Just Enforcement Act.
  • Childcare for Oregon Act (House Bill 2505 / Senate Bill 239): If passed this would create a law that would make childcare and other essential resources available for every Oregon family. It would fund and reform our Employment-Related Day Care program to promote economic stability by adjusting co-pays to reflect today’s realities, income, and needs of families. 
  • Decriminalize Sex Work (House Bill 3088): If passed this would create a law that would decriminalize sex work by no longer considering adult prostitution (sex work), commercial sexual solicitation (customers/clients), and promoting prostitution to be crimes. It would keep laws in place that ban child trafficking into the sex trades or otherwise forcing people into sex work.

Healthy People Make Healthy Communities

  • Oregon Energy Affordability Act (House Bill 2475): If passed this would create a law that would make energy bills more affordable by protecting people from rate increases, especially for low-income households who spend the largest portion of their income on energy needs.
  • Drug Addiction Treatment & Recovery Act (Senate Bill 755): In November of 2020, Oregon voters made history by passing Ballot Measure 110. The new law decriminalizes personal possession of small amounts of all drugs while expanding access to addiction treatment and other health services. Last month decriminalization went into effect, but investing in addiction recovery services can’t happen until the Oregon legislature passes this proposal. If passed this would create a law that would allow the state government to invest in the addiction recovery services that so many Oregonians need.
  • Navigating Pathways to Prosperity (House Bill 2835): 2 in 5 Oregon college students are currently food insecure and many of these students aren’t accessing the benefit programs they qualify for. If passed this would create a law that would require community colleges and universities to hire one full-time Benefits Navigator to support students in accessing state and federal benefit programs, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the SNAP Training and Education Program, rental assistance, and Oregon Health Plan.

Safe and Welcoming Communities

  • Sanctuary Promise Act (House Bill 3265): Oregon’s current sanctuary law (ORS 181A.820) has been in place since the 1980s and is the nation’s oldest law prohibiting local law enforcement from collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Unfortunately, the ROP network knows from decades of supporting people detained by ICE and meeting with sheriffs across the state that collaboration is still all too common. The Sanctuary Promise Act would ban local jails from contracting with ICE, ban ICE from detaining community members in and around courthouses without a judicial warrant, allow everyday Oregonians to sue local law enforcement for breaking the law, prevent racial profiling in our jails, and strengthen other key parts of the decade’s old sanctuary policy.
  • Timber Tax Fairness (House Bill 2598): Tax cuts for timber corporations have cost Oregonians at least $3 billion since 1991. That’s money that counties relied on to fund schools and essential public services. Timber companies continue to log at faster rates, employing fewer people, and exporting more of the benefits out of state. If passed this would create a law that would bring back the severance tax on cut logs, something that counties in Washington are currently benefiting from, and make sure that timber companies pay their fair share so that county governments have the funding they need to meet their responsibilities to their communities. This severance tax for cut logs would make timber companies pay for logs cut on state, federal, and private lands and incentivize sustainable cutting. There are multiple proposals for reinstating the severance tax, but this one puts 70% of the money back into county budgets.
  • Right to Rest Act (House Bill 2367): If passed this would create a law that would establish the rights of houseless Oregonians to rest in public without fear of harassment, criminalization, and fines. Out of 565 street outreach surveys conducted by the Western Regional Advocacy Project in Oregon, 88% of homeless people were harassed, cited, or arrested for sleeping, 83% for sitting or lying down, and 78% for loitering or “hanging out.” In order to protect them from discriminatory enforcement of laws that prevent rest, this policy would prohibit law enforcement, security personnel, or public employees from harassing, citing, or arresting homeless people for exercising the following rights: to use and move freely in public spaces; to rest (sit, stand, and sleep); to eat and share food; to pray; and to occupy a legally parked vehicle.

Connecting our Voices

  • Broadband Internet for All!: Governor Brown has recommended investing $100 million in broadband internet infrastructure in her proposed state budget. This will hopefully be introduced as a bill shortly and will need considerable support to pass and be written into law.

What other bills are you excited about this year? What are you talking to your legislators about? We want to hear from you! Email us at emma@rop.org to let us know.

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