Racial Justice from Kenosha to Rural Oregon

We are frustrated and angry at the news of Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal. In August 2020, Rittenhouse, a teenager from Illinois crossed state lines into Kenosha, Wisconsin with an AR-15, and shot three Black Lives Matter activists who were protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man. Two of those people died. Both the Kenosha County District Attorney and the Department of Justice announced this fall that they will not bring any charges against the white Kenosha police officer who shot Blake, and today the jury announced that Rittenhouse won’t face any consequences either.

Rittenhouse’s judge had previously dismissed charges of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 and “failure to comply with an emergency order from state or local government,” for being out past the city-imposed 8 pm curfew. This week, the jury considered charges of first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree attempted intentional homicide, and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety for the shooting deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and for wounding Gaige Grosskreutz. The lack of consequences is leaving Black Wisconsin organizers asking “Is today the day I’m going to lose my life?

While this particular moment is focused on Wisconsin, unfortunately, this feels close to home after the recent murders of Black men in Oregon. Last month we wrote about how Central Oregonians are organizing in response to the murder of Barry Washington and human dignity groups are working to support racial justice and safe communities all across the state. Read on for ways to take action for racial justice now and the story of how Ashland High School Truth to Power Club is organizing and building community power in response to the murder of Aidan Ellison, a young Black man killed by a white vigilante last November. As always, reach out to us at ROP if we can support your organizing, strategize about your next moves, or share out your human dignity group’s events and actions on social media!

Here in rural and small-town Oregon, as human dignity organizers, as people committed to justice, we can organize against white supremacy and vigilante violence:

Organize locally or join a protest. 
  • You can organize a rally! All it takes is a few people together with signs. Email us at emma@rop.org to let us know about your event so that we will share it on social media and our website! Looking for tools on how to keep your event as safe as possible? Check out this recorded training from the summer of 2020 on de-escalation.
  • Want to do something more? Read on for an example of how Truth to Power responded when Aidan Ellison was murdered in their town last year, or email us at emma@rop.org
Sign this petition to demand that Wisconsin political leaders make a public commitment to protect racial justice protesters.

This acquittal follows a dangerous trend. In the year since Rittenhouse murdered Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, more than 100 anti-protest bills have been introduced across the county, including in Wisconsin. These bills not only create harsher punishment for protesters but also make it easier for people like Rittenhouse to commit violence against racial justice protesters and avoid accountability.

Give thanks and resistance. 

How does talking to your family and friends fit into your holiday plans? With the holidays approaching, many will be sitting around the table with family and loved ones sharing what they are thankful for. Sometimes simple dinner table conversations can spark transformation. And transformational conversations build the foundation of our movement! Connect, share what you’re feeling, and process together.

Not sure what to talk about? Read up and then engage. There are a number of articles linked throughout this ROPnet, and this episode of ROP’s podcast Rural Roots Rising can also help spark conversation

Follow and support groups organizing in Kenosha, WI. 

Groups like Leaders of KenoshaBlack Leaders Organizing for CommunitiesAll In WisconsinWISDOM, and Our Wisconsin Revolution are invested in building local power and organizing infrastructure throughout Kenosha and will be there long after today’s verdict. Please support these groups directly.

Follow Leaders of Kenosha – LOK on Facebook or Twitter @LeadersKenosha and watch their live-streamed events focused on #HealKenosha and #ReimagineKenosha

Rural Oregonians organizing in defense of Black lives

Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Aidan Ellison, a Black teenager who was shot and killed in his car by a white man in Ashland. On Tuesday, November 23rd from 4:30-7:30 pm, the Ashland High School Truth to Power Club invites everyone in the area to join the dedication ceremony for their mural that honors Aidan and other Black Indigenous and people of color artists and activists from Ashland at the high school (201 S Mountain Ave). Over the course of the last year, Truth to Power has created this mural to memorialize their contributions and create an inviting, safe place for BIPOC students and community members. Tuesday’s dedication ceremony and celebration will include culturally diverse food, performances, as well as a fundraiser for Ashland High School affinity groups and to install an Indigenous canoe in the school. 

Panorama of the mural design

You might remember hearing about Truth to Power and the mural in Season Two, Episode 7 of Rural Roots Rising: Behind the Scenes with Tea, Toast, and Truth. Listen to the episode or read the ROPnet to learn more about their immediate organizing for racial justice in the wake of Aidan’s murder. Last winter, Truth to Power organized racial justice workshops for Jackson County community members and leaders and hosted a film screening and discussion. They met with Aidan’s mom to discuss how she would like Aidan to be remembered, worked on a podcast episode of their podcast Tea, Toast, and Truth about Aidan’s murder (the episode is coming out soon), and started work on the mural.

Making a New Mural

In order to create the mural, Truth to Power formed a team to lead the project. Isa Martinez Moore put the design together while the rest of the team fundraised, wrote the proposal, and presented the idea to the Ashland School Board. After winning unanimous approval from the school board, Truth to Power went to the City of Ashland’s Public Arts Commission and the City Council for approval for the community-facing mural on Ashland High School’s building. They learned that Ashland Public Arts Commission approvals usually require mural creators to change their original design and resubmit after presenting the first draft. With that in mind, Truth to Power focused their presentation on the mission of the mural and their hope that it would embolden folks to create more murals or feel inspired to take other antiracist actions around Ashland.

On July 16th, the team presented to the commission, including statements of support from collaborating teachers and other community members. Despite their anticipation that it might take multiple meetings, the commission voted unanimously to approve their proposal that very day! Two and a half weeks later, the City Council also approved their proposal with a unanimous “yes” vote! They couldn’t have been more excited that the project was moving forward so smoothly.

People painting the mural

From August until November, they worked hard to finalize the mural. Isa painted several times a week in three-hour blocks and around 70 volunteers supported her, including students and community members that heard about the project and wanted to join in. Truth to Power also organized a community painting day to get more community members involved. At one point the mural got tagged in the spot where Aidan’s portrait was planned. While this setback delayed the project and caused them to change some of the design, they didn’t let it stop them. Luckily the tagging was not on an area of the mural that was already completed! Now that the painting is done, the next phase of the project is to install informational plaques and planters around the mural.

Person painting the mural
Children painting the mural

Already the mural has received an outpouring of positive feedback from the community with many local businesses offering to support the dedication ceremony. This support has made it possible for them to prepare raffles, and offer food from several local vendors including Jamaican food from Stone’s Roots N Juice. They have also organized speakers, music, a chalk labyrinth, and a space for creating chalk art at the event. If you live nearby, you’re invited to join Tuesday’s celebration!

Organizing for Racial Justice

Oregon has a long history of white vigilante violence and structural white supremacy was ingrained in Oregon’s founding. Aidan Ellison is, unfortunately, one of many who have lost their lives to racism in our state. No matter where you live, you can start a conversation about racial justice in your community, and start or build your human dignity group to take on local organizing. Whether by talking with your family around the dinner table, hosting a rally, or launching a new campaign with your local group, organizing in support of racial justice will take every single one of us. Let us know what you are working on, share your event announcements, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for support at emma@rop.org