We knew we had our work cut out for us at the beginning of 2020, with an obvious struggle for democracy taking place across the country. Little did we know that we would also be contending with things straight from a dystopian sci-fi novel, including a global pandemic, a recession, catastrophic wildfires, and a violent backlash to a renewed Black liberation movement.
We couldn’t have anticipated all that 2020 would ask of us, but we are incredibly proud of the way thousands of rural people took action even when facing threats, violence and the health risks that come with taking care of our most vulnerable community members in the midst of the pandemic.
ROP member groups take action all year round for human dignity and democracy. Across Oregon, our network of 83 autonomous groups is building power and making change at the local and statewide level. And ROP’s network is growing – 26 new groups joined the network this year!
Our annual report highlights some of our proudest accomplishments from this incredibly challenging year. We are grateful for our supporters, who help us stay focused on the work in front of us. Thank you for joining with us to build stronger and more resilient rural communities across Oregon!
BUILDING COMMUNITY DURING A PANDEMIC
The coronavirus, economic recession and devastating wildfires exposed the gaps in social safety nets that leave rural communities without reliable access to emergency resources, food, housing, healthcare, childcare, internet and more. Rural Oregonians built dozens of mutual aid networks to feed neighbors, share health and safety information and make sure anyone who needs help gets it. In response to requests from our partners around town, ROP’s Community Building Center on Main Street in Cottage Grove turned into a resource-sharing hub. We coordinated with dozens of service agencies, school district workers, faith communities and volunteers to make sure families struggling from layoffs and housing shortages, quarantining through COVID-19 and evacuating wildfires could get food boxes, hygiene supplies and hot meals with no questions asked, no limits and no barriers.
BREAKING RURAL ISOLATION
Through virtual gatherings, ROP brought together hundreds of rural community leaders and human dignity groups to share strategies, cross-pollinate ideas and support one another. We held our 29th annual Rural Caucus & Strategy Session online and have hosted 17 strategy sessions with 800 participants, ranging in topics from Creating a Culture of Safety & Security (during violent backlash at Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the state) to Rural Mutual Aid & Wildfire Response.
We Ended the Last Jail Contract with ICE in Oregon. After 3 years of organizing led by detained people, Columbia Gorge organizers, and dozens of other groups acting solidarity across the state, webuilt enough people power to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility (NORCOR), a public jail. Two hunger strikes led by people detained inside NORCOR demanding an end to inhumane treatment, a march, hundreds of solidarity rallies and thousands of neighbor-to-neighbor conversations paved the way for the NORCOR Board to vote unanimously to end the jail’s contract with ICE in August!
Growing the Movement for Black Lives: Rural Oregonians gathered on street corners, in churches, parks and in car caravans tohold vigil for the Black and brown people killed by police. ROP supported long-time and emerging groups to form leadership teams, plan actions and create safety and security plans rooted in our values of community care. Clackamas County organizers focused that newfound energy on banning Confederate flags from school grounds, folks in Union County focused on expanding alternatives to policing and leaders in Harney County are creating a monument to the first Black ranchers in their community.
From strategy sessions and hundreds of one-on-one conversations with leaders across rural Oregon came the Roadmap to a Thriving Rural Oregon, which outlines the priorities our communities need to move from barely surviving to thriving. The Roadmap connects the dots between organizing happening across our network’s 83 autonomous groups so we can move together to ensure all rural Oregonians have what we need, including broadband internet, childcare, housing, healthy food, clean water and much more!
From neighbor-to-neighbor conversations about the issues to responding to voter intimidation, rural Oregonians have defended democracy in every county at every turn! ROP launched the Defend Democracy initiativeto counter disinformation about who can vote and how to vote, to support all voters in safely accessing ballot drop boxes and to deescalate any election-related threats and intimidation. The initiative included the Defend Democracy hotline, toolkit and radio public service announcements. We received and responded to hotline calls ranging from overflowing ballot drop sites in Clatsop County to stolen yard signs in Lake County to armed people stopping voters at a ballot drop site in Springfield.
The STAND Election Guide by and for rural Oregonians that shared easy-to-understand information on the ballot measures and how to vote in English and Spanish was distributed statewide through 36,000 paper copies, social media, and more than 19 community radio stations! We broadcast a special election edition of our Rural Roots Rising radio show and podcast to include our ballot measure recommendations, stories of human dignity groups organizing around the elections and helpful public service announcements for stations.
Human dignity groups called thousands of voters to talk about the issues, organized ballot pick-ups and deliveries to drop boxes and set up outside of health clinics to pass out personal protective equipment, register people to vote and hand out STAND Guides! Thanks in large part to rural communities getting out the vote, Oregon passed ground-breaking statewide ballot measures that advance democracy, racial justice, decriminalization, and access to drug treatment.
INSPIRING YOUNG ORGANIZERS
Our second Rural Organizing Fellowship has brought together a group of 10 rural organizers between 16 and 30 years old who are making change in their communities! This year’s cohort has been convening virtually to build their organizing skills, share strategies and take collective action together around the election, COVID-19 relief and catastrophic wildfires
Rural Roots Rising, our monthly podcast and radio show featuring rural organizers telling the stories of how and why they organize to build rural people power, completed our first year-long season! Episodes featured how ordinary rural people have joined together to confront police brutality and systemic racism, built power to get more than 100 asylum seekers released from a federal prison in Yamhill County and forged new connections as more than 600 people celebrated the rich mosaic of cultures in Jefferson County! Listen to Rural Roots Rising on one of our 19 partnered community radio stations across Oregon or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
P.S.: Through the end of 2020, new and increased gifts will be matched up to $25,000 by a generous gift from the Collins Foundation. That means a $100 gift grows to $200! Make a one-time contribution or become a monthly sustainer and help ROP throughout the entire year. All gifts are welcome! We are grateful for your support!
If you have already donated – thank you!