Organizing for Rural Justice in 2016 & Beyond

Make a donation today to support justice in rural Oregon
December 23rd, 2016

Dear members, friends, and supporters of the Rural Organizing Project,
ROP’s work supporting communities on the frontlines of militia and paramilitary organizing, and our almost 25 years supporting human dignity groups organizing for justice and democracy, have built our reputation as an organization that will show up for rural folks in crisis.

Since the announcement of the Presidential election results, we have been answering terrified phone calls from across rural and small town Oregon. Students of color are being bullied and harassed at school and suggestions are being made that they will be deported soon. Queer and trans folks in small towns have had their property vandalized. Muslims, and people perceived to be Muslims, are being threatened with physical violence.

This is part of a national trend, but in rural Oregon where our community infrastructure has become so eroded this climate feels especially dire. We cannot even rely on basic services like calling 911 to bring safety or relief.

Despite these threats, rural Oregonians are showing up for their neighbors in courageous and inspiring ways. Communities are organizing to protect the most vulnerable of their neighbors. Teachers and librarians are figuring out how to make their classrooms safe spaces for young people who are threatened or harassed. Everyday Oregonians are shining a bright light on acts of intimidation, exposing ugliness to the light of day, and organizing entire communities to say “not in our town!”

We recently convened dozens of small town and rural teachers from across the country on a conference call to share what they are seeing in the wake of this election. The teachers on the call described how demoralized they felt watching their students get tormented, and how helpless they felt as the one teacher in their entire school trying to turn the tide of polarization. Two hours later, teachers had brainstormed strategies to create safe spaces for students who may be targeted, and to create an educational environment that empowers students to speak up against injustice.

This moment proves that we need community now more than ever. Our rural communities struggling with defunded and eroding infrastructure need people power! And that’s what ROP is all about.

In this moment it can be easy to forget that we have a lot to be proud of. Over the last 24 years, rural leaders, activists, human dignity groups, and concerned community members have built a network of groups across the state that have defied stereotypes and defined a vision of community for us all. Thousands of human dignity group leaders over the years have stood up, made spaces for conversations about real issues, taken a stand in support of their neighbors in all of their diversity, and regained a focus on true liberty and justice for all in rural Oregon. We have changed political outcomes. We have resisted the people and the forces that polarized, divided, and sometimes even terrorized us. We have worked to keep each other safe.

We have created a model of community leadership that transcends the cynicism and division of the current political moment. Our model of local organizing encompasses supporting the growth of local organizations working for deep, long-term change and sustainability, linking communities to work on issues bigger than one town or county, and being nimble enough to respond to crises as they arise. Because our model is working, organizations around the country are looking to us for leadership to respond to an emboldened far-right.

Just this year when the Bundys and their crew took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and terrorized Harney County for 41 days, thousands across rural Oregon stood up and said “you don’t speak for us.” In counties like Baker and Grant, where so-called “Patriot” groups were most active, new community organizations formed in response and worked to build analysis with their neighbors. They mobilized and took action. In the several counties where “Patriot” and militia leadership ran for office, dozens of concerned community members mobilized to make sure more moderate candidates had a chance to win. Thanks to Oregonians who knew the soul of their community hung in the balance, local people had hundreds of conversations with their friends and neighbors. The vast majority of the militia-aligned candidates running for office were defeated, some by as few as 42 votes.

It would be easy to despair in a moment like this. Rural communities are struggling to stay connected, and in many places the politics of fear, rejection, and isolation are winning. And in response to this, the national conversation blames and writes off rural America, or suggests “solutions” like sending urban people to “educate” rural people.

But we feel hopeful. Every day we see leaders of human dignity groups doing the real work of organizing, developing analysis and strategies, and building community—which leads to collective security. Our phones are ringing off their hooks with people who have been newly politicized and want support to organize for justice.

ROP is ready to step up and strengthen our work in every county across the state. We will need all kinds of engagement, but today we’re asking you to make a financial contribution. By giving, you allow us to have the resources we need to support, coordinate, and inspire thousands of leaders. Giving also makes you part of our community, and we all need community now more than ever.

These next years won’t be easy. We don’t know exactly what we will face. But we do know that we can and will face it together. With your help we can build a more powerful and hopeful rural and small town movement in Oregon. Please give as generously as you can to build our capacity for the important work we face in 2017. Make a donation online at our website or send a check to: ROP PO Box 1350 Scappoose, OR 97056.

Cara, Jess, Grace and Team ROP!

P.S. Monthly pledges give us the promise of a steady, reliable income, which is more important than ever during these changing times. In return, we at ROP promise to continue to expand our movement, building the community of justice-pursuing organizers in Oregon. Sign up to become a monthly sustainer here.