Reconnecting, Reinvigorating, Reflecting Together

The Rural Caucus and Strategy Session did not disappoint! Once the dust settled and everyone headed home, we were left with a warm glow from the beautiful weekend, as well as countless stories and organizing ideas that we can’t wait to continue sharing with you all. This year over 100 people from 25 Oregon counties and two tribal communities gathered together to strategize with each other. ROP was founded with a Caucus, and every year since then we have come together to break bread, reflect, celebrate, and plan for the year ahead. We will be continuing to share takeaways, stories, and next moves coming out of individual strategy sessions in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for even more details! 

To welcome folks from across the state into the region, local organizers Luke Richter of Central Oregon Peacekeepers, Rachel Brodeur from Indigenous Helpers, and Lena Berry from Redmond Collective Action shared some of the powerful organizing they have been up to in Central Oregon. Together we celebrated some of the major victories these human dignity groups have won in the past few years, including the Peacekeepers drawing attention to the detention of two immigrant community members in August of 2020 and successfully preventing the deportation of one of them. Redmond Collective Action shared how showing up and asking hard questions of their city council has led the council to feel accountable to a new standard of human dignity! Indigenous Helpers celebrated the transition that their organization has made from mutual aid for unhoused folks towards a more intentional focus on indigenous food sovereignty and cultural revitalization.

Four people sitting on a stage talking to an audience.

Shortly after this, we broke into small groups to talk about what we are experiencing across the state. Many folks shared about powerful organizing they’ve been engaged in over the past few years, including mutual aid efforts to support people most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the housing crisis, extreme wildfires, and more. Connecting the dots across issues and communities and strategizing about how we can learn from and collaborate with one another started to warm up all of our mingling skills made rusty by three years of social distancing. The energy created through these early connections carried through the rest of the weekend! 

After lunch, we broke into 10 strategy sessions on topics ranging from “dissecting institutional racism” to “community media is community power.” We will be sharing MANY more details from various sessions in the coming weeks since there’s so much to digest, but here are a few highlights!

Group of smiling people sitting around a table eating a meal.

The Caucus schedule shifted to accommodate more strategizing around reproductive justicesince we met just one day after the Supreme Court overruled their previous Roe vs Wade decision and struck down the national right to an abortion. Some local leaders reflected on their experiences before abortion was legal and we all chewed on the fact that even though abortion is still legal in Oregon, that doesn’t mean that everyone has access to this essential health care given how few providers there are in rural Oregon. Folks shared resources including the Northwest Abortion Access Fund that can help folks cover health care and transportation costs and documentaries like The JanesDo you have other resources to share or ways you’re taking action? We would love to add them to our reproductive justice resource listLet us know by emailing us at emma@rop.org!

A group of activists wearing bright colors and holding a flag and a banner that say "fuck your abortion ban," "my body my choice," and "science is real, black lives matter, no human is illegal, love is love"

In the session Pride vs Proud Boys: Building Welcoming Communities and Claiming Space, many folks shared about organizing Pride and Juneteenth events as well as fair booths and street protests against police murders of Black people or in support of reproductive justice. Groups from different parts of the state reflected on how you might take a different approach to claiming public space depending on your local context. In Wallowa County, folks hosted a Pride open mic night where people could anonymously submit statements to be read out loud. Rural Alliance for Diversity in Harney County hosted Pride publicly but held their event at a local brewery where bouncers were ready to trespass anyone who tried to threaten or intimidate participants. 

Folks in Corvallis shared about taking racist flyers and stickers down when they see them, and Redmond organizers shared their story of showing up to counter-protest People’s Rights, the Right-wing group led by Ammon Bundy. Others have been putting their energy into building relationships behind the scenes to make their local institutions – whether that’s schools, hospitals, or the foster care system – more inclusive for people who speak other languages, queer folks, and people of color. Reflecting on this discussion, Samantha Goodwin from Racial and Social Equity Tillamook shared: “If it feels like we’re banging our heads against a wall, let’s be the roots that break the stone from the ground up.” When it comes to building welcoming communities and claiming public space, how are you and your local group taking action? Email us at emma@rop.org to share your organizing stories and ideas! 

A group of people sitting in chairs in a big circle talking.

Inthe session, Local Government By, For, and Of the People, many leaders brought up the challenges of countering misinformation when our schools are so underfunded that very few people have had a chance to truly understand how our democracy is supposed to work. People asked, how can we be partnering with libraries and other local institutions to expand our knowledge about how local government works, from budgeting and public meetings to Roberts Rules and special districts? We have a lot of questions about how our democracy should function, and part of making the system more transparent is understanding the gaps between what should be happening and what’s currently going on! Some groups in the network are already running trainings in how democracy works, and others are eager to partner with their local libraries or League of Women Voters chapters to do this. Email us at emma@rop.org to share your organizing stories and ideas and join this conversation! 

Throughout the day, many conversations touched on the November election. We strategized around how to train up local leaders to feel comfortable running for local elected positions, and folks shared their plans for making sure that everyone has the information they need to be able to fully participate. If you are looking for support around this, please reach out to us at emma@rop.orgThe 2022 STAND Election Guide is coming out soon, and now is a great time to make a plan around how your group will make the most of this election to start conversations with friends and neighbors about participating in advancing democracy.

At the end of the day, we followed the lead of our local hosts and many caucus-goers showed up in solidarity with Redmond Collective Action, who hosted a rally outside Redmond City Hall to demand bodily autonomy and health care for everyone. That evening we were reminded once more that we are stronger together, and we left feeling energized to continue supporting one another across the state for the long haul.

Crowd of people holding signs standing around a sidewalk listening to a speaker.
Four activities holding signs with pro-choice sayings.

On Sunday, over 50 people joined the Rural Organizing Intensive where participants broke into two tracks: Organizing for Everyone and Creating a Culture of Safety and Security. After these extended training spaces, we all came back together for a surprise scenario where folks practiced the skills they had built in an impromptu reproductive justice rally complete with security teams and fake counter-protesters to close out the weekend!

We know that so many folks filled their cup at the Caucus and came away with deepened solidarity, greater confidence that we have each other’s backs, and a sense of home in the connection we feel across rural Oregon. After two too many years without an in-person convening, we are so grateful to all the people that made the Rural Caucus and Strategy Session not only possible but a resounding success this year!

Want to know more about what came out of the strategy sessions? Contact ROP or stay tuned over the next few weeks as we share additional highlights over ROPnet.

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