Marcy’s ROP Story

On Wednesday, August 17, 2011, a dozen ROP friends and volunteers gathered in a circle outside our humble Scappoose office to hear ROP founder and rural organizing visionary, Marcy Westerling, share stories of ROP’s origins as part of our Roots & Wings Oral History Project. This really is just one of Marcy’s many stories:

When I went to my grocery store and my post office, which were the only post office and only grocery store in the town at the time, and both of them had a huge 8’ x 4’ sign saying, “Do You Believe Homosexuality is a Sin?”  That’s when I called up Suzanne Pharr,* not as my usual effort to be a mature person, but instead as an outraged, angry person, saying, “And when the fuck are you getting your ass out here to help us?”  And she and Scot Nakagawa* showed up the next day. 

 And we made a plan, and the plan was really simple.  And ever since, ROP has actually been fairly simple.  We would have three coffees.  One in Scappoose, one in Vernonia (that was Scappoose), St. Helens and Clatskanie; [those] were the initial three.  Living room conversations.  Which to this day continues to describe a process of trying to requisition other neighbors who you think might have that “uh oh” feeling in their gut, bring them into a shared space that feels safe to be stupid, be sloppy, be whatever, and try to process the moment.  What I think Suzanne and Scot really gifted ROP in that moment is not just starting with, “Aren’t you pissed?  Aren’t you scared?  Aren’t you this?”  You know, “Let’s run, do something!”  but instead, really taking the time to say, “How can this be happening?  Let’s share a story…”

 *Suzanne Pharr is a veteran social justice organizer and movement leader who relocated to Oregon in 1990 to support organizing against right-wing extremism.  Scot Nakagawa is also a long-time community organizer and key ROP ally, especially in our formative years.  Suzanne and Scot were last in Oregon as part of our “Community and Resilience in the Face of the Right” panel at our Dec. 4th Roots & Wings event.


Listening to Marcy share her story was the prelude to a packed afternoon of training in the art of oral history.   We learned how to operate a digital audio recorder and place a mic.  We practiced asking good questions and listening with our full bodies.  Because, over the next few months, we want to sit in your living rooms.  We want to hear about your stories and experiences organizing for human dignity in rural, small town and frontier Oregon.  We want to understand what’s worked — and what hasn’t.  We want to document and honor this shared history – and analyze and learn from it to strengthen our movement for the next few decades!

Check out our webpage or contact me to learn more about ROP’s Roots & Wings Oral History Project and find out how you can get involved in this historic project.  Think: audio/video editing, historical research, photography, writing, archiving, creative productions, transcription, etc… with free training provided for many of these tasks.  We need your help!

Also – consider making a donation to support this grassroots effort to document, analyze, and harness the power of our collective history.  Since our inception, ROP has intentionally kept a small budget and this project, like most of our work, will happen largely through volunteer support.  But we still need some funding from those of us who appreciate the value of small town progressive organizing to make it happen. Donate online or send a check to ROP at PO Box 1350, Scappoose, OR 97056 (put “Roots & Wings” in the memo line).  If you contribute $25 or more, we’ll mail you a DVD with Marcy’s full story from the training, along with several of ROP members’ stories recorded by Circle A Radio.  We first kicked off this project at the ROP’s Roots & Wings Celebration last December.  Some of you may remember sharing your ROP memories at that gathering with friends from Circle A radio; you can listen to the radio piece they produced from those interviews as well as a follow-up piece from this year’s Rural Caucus & Strategy Session.  Thank you, Circle A!