Powerful Rural Organizing During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes gaps in social safety nets that leave rural communities without reliable access to emergency resources, food, housing, healthcare, childcare, and more. In response, rural Oregonians are hard at work setting up dozens of mutual aid networks that are feeding up to hundreds of neighbors, sharing health and safety information, and making sure anyone who needs help gets it. ROP and our network of more than 65 community-based human dignity groups are building stronger communities while pushing for emergency funding to help the most vulnerable among us. In this important moment, we are:
  • Holding conversations with every single human dignity group to develop a shared roadmap of local, statewide, and federal priorities and investments that will help rural Oregonians survive this crisis and thrive for the long haul.
  • Hosting emergency Rural Coronavirus Strategy Sessions (on-line or phone) led by and with the participation of literally hundreds of rural leaders.
  • Partnering with statewide organizations and others, including the Oregon Food Bank and Oregon Health Authority, to bring vital resources and information to rural communities.
  • Applying pressure to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ensure refugees and immigrants are not deported for missing procedural appointments while offices are closed and phone lines are clogged.
  • Transforming our Cottage Grove-based Community Organizing Center into a resource hub: coordinating with a coalition of service agencies, school district workers, community organizations, and faith communities to create a food, resource, and information site where workers can pick up supplies to serve those most in need: unhoused, precariously housed and undocumented children and families.
  • Supporting workers on the frontlines, like at the Tyson meatpacking plant in Wallula, WA where 1,400 immigrant and refugee workers were denied basic information about the COVID outbreak in their plant and are being bullied into continuing to work.
These are the times that ROP was built for: to support rural community groups responding to this crisis by building community and building statewide power for human dignity.

While the COVID-19 virus is sweeping through all of our communities, rural communities are struggling with crumbling community infrastructure from years of divestment. Rural hospitals, already underequipped, face the risk of not being able to meet the needs of our communities now and in the future. Underfunded school districts are struggling to get students internet hotspots and technology that will work in areas with little or no internet access so distance learning can continue. Small businesses are the backbone of our Main Streets and right now the majority of workers in many small-town and rural communities are unemployed. We know that with any kind of economic recovery, it takes longer in rural areas.

Human dignity leaders are setting up systems to make sure all of our neighbors, especially undocumented community members who do not qualify for federal relief, have access to food, supplies, and information. ROP has always been nimble and agile, responding to the needs that arise in our communities, ensuring there is always a response when our communities are under attack, and making plans for multiple futures because we know the future is uncertain. We are using our resourcefulness, our neighborliness, and our resilience to build for the future that allows rural Oregonians to not only survive but thrive.

We have spent time together, across distance and communities, sharing strategies to create emergency food security for our neighbors now and into the future, making plans for internet access for rural communities, sharing tools for groups to connect and continue to organize virtually, and how and why to build rural power during coronavirus and beyond.

We have seen that not only does this pandemic and resulting recession threaten the livelihoods, health, and well-being of thousands, but also the most basic tenets of democracy. In rural communities across the West, vigilantes are organizing and using the lack of rural community infrastructure to their advantage. The Bundys, famous for their stand-off at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, are back at it in rural Idaho, and local militias, paramilitaries, and white nationalists are using this moment to rebuild their bases in rural Oregon. Their strategies and their values have moved from the margins to the mainstream as we see this moment being used to increase authoritarian rule, from blocking immigration to holding relief for small businesses and individuals hostage to bailouts for massive corporations.

This is why ROP is looking ahead and planning for the many unknowns. As the general election looms, we are developing our voter engagement plans that keep neighbor-to-neighbor conversations at the center of what we do even when we are not able to meet face to face. We are preparing for and printing tens of thousands of STAND Voter Guides to be distributed in every county in the state that will break down the rhetoric of the moment, share common language analysis on ballot measures, and center the rural politics of inclusion, fairness, and democracy.

All of this work depends on you. The work of rural Oregonians to fiercely defend, fight for, and take care of our communities depends on the support and generosity of our supporters. What we have found in this time is that ROP supporters have been more generous than ever, making donations, offering skills, giving supplies, and funding our work. Thank you!

We are asking you to consider giving more to support this powerful movement with a financial contribution that is meaningful to you. By giving, you allow ROP to support, train, connect, and inspire hundreds of rural community leaders and organizers. You can give online at www.rop.org/donate or send a check to PO Box 664, Cottage Grove, OR 97424.

With hope, determination, and gratitude for your support,

Monica Beemer, Sasha Blankenship, Jess Campbell, Hannah Harrod, Meredith Martin-Moats, Emma Ronai-Durning, and Cara Shufelt

Rural Organizing Project Staff