Putting Rural America on the Map in 2010


In her nearly two decades at the helm of ROP, Marcy Westerling has put rural Oregon on the map.

In the founding days of ROP, Marcy was part of a small team that traveled to the far corners of the state believing that defeating the hate and bigotry of ballot measure 9 was not an urban affair.  While the formal campaign used their resources to focus on the populations centers of Portland, Salem, and Eugene, this team gathered in living rooms and church basements with like minded rural people in small towns across the state to affirm that human dignity belongs to all of us and that democracy requires the rights of all to be respected.  This affirmation of democracy and human dignity is especially vital in the rural parts of our state where the extreme Right, then and now, argues that some of us – queers, immigrants, the poor, women – aren’t entitled to our share of dignity or democracy.

Today in rural Oregon, ROP is engaged in two campaigns that have made rural Oregon a priority – the Yes on 66 and 67 tax fairness campaign in January and the Freedom to Marry campaign that will lead to a yes for marriage in 2012.  Neither of these campaigns would be possible without organizing in rural Oregon.  We have learned in Oregon that we can’t create lasting progressive victories in our state without our rural communities.  We have also learned that we can create lasting progressive community in rural Oregon that nurtures and seeds strong and deep commitment to human dignity and true democracy.   We have ROP and Marcy to thank for that.

Not all states are so lucky, but in 2010 Marcy will be working to change that.  In the coming year, founding director Marcy Westerling will be on leave working as an Open Society Fellow.  The Open Society Fellowship is a prestigious award that supports individuals seeking innovative and unconventional approaches to fundamental open society challenges. The fellowship funds work that will enrich public understanding of those challenges and stimulate far-reaching and probing conversations in the world.

Marcy’s work in 2010 will be in Nebraska, Colorado, Washington, and Idaho with the mission of “Mapping to Organize for Justice with Rural Communities.”  As Marcy writes:

The purpose of every dollar, hour and breathe going into this project is to find fair minded people who understand that the mandates of democracy are the responsibility and right of every community in their state however rural, conservative, divided or resistant.  And to challenge them to grow their progressive voice.

This is daring in concept and outcome.  The process can be slow and underwhelming.  With elections and policy always pending, let alone global crises of war and climate, most organizations feel enormous pressure to produce fast results that are most accessible from high population, urban communities.

The building of enduring capacity in rural America, though, offers to dull the potential for civil breakdown in society while contributing to more immediate policy victories.  It also creates the possibility for a movement for justice that includes rural America.

Join me and the rest of the staff and board of ROP in wishing Marcy an incredible year while she puts the rest of rural America on the map.  We are so lucky to have Marcy here in Oregon, so pleased that we can share her with the rest of the world, and so lucky that she will be returning to us in 2011!


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