Report from the Caucus and Strategy Session 2008

We were reminded that in this election year beyond every mountain is a mountain, but whether we are heading uphill, as we have over the last 8 years, or rounding a summit, or able to catch our breaths a little on the backside, we are in this for the long haul and we are needed for the long haul.

There was a genuine sense that people were coming together around the need to refocus and educate voters on the basic tenets that make us truly free, rather than operating in some sort of reactionary mode. They seemed to grasp that such an approach is the only real way to have any durable and sustaining impact on turning things around. The thing I enjoyed the most was being in the midst of such truly positive and healing energy. – Jeff Rogers, Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity

We then shared (amongst friends) what we hate about elections – the focus on the trivial, the money wasted, the lack of good media coverage of issues we care about – and what we love – for once people are talking politics and what an opportunity this year with record highs of new voters and enthusiasm for the possibility of politics! From there, we dove into ROP’s electoral machine with heart based on repeat contacts with voters that build relationships with voters to get out the vote for justice, but grow our base of human dignity activists who are connected to our groups beyond election day. The guests of ROP’s own “Days of the Lives of Human Dignity Group Activists” walked us through the basics tools and tactics and then we broke into Congressional District groups to talk about how we would apply this in our local human dignity groups and our collective power and goals as a district. See below for more details!

One highlight for me was the “ah-ha” moment of understanding our civic engagement project as an opportunity to build and energize SOD (our local human dignity group). I finally got that door-knocking doesn’t have to be about changing minds, confronting nay-sayers, or getting votes for an issue or candidate. I got that, using the ROP tools, door knocking can be a litmus test for potential members and first step in connecting with new people to build our membership, our mission and community awareness. I don’t dread it anymore. – Ann Kneeland, Seeking Out Democracy, Junction City

Our keynote speakers opened the afternoon with a talk that outlined the way that racism and wedge politics of fear and division have been used over time to diminish democracy and give way to more authoritarian government – and how these same tactics are being put into place in this election year through ballot measures that would target immigrants and expand prisons through mandatory minimum sentences.

Re-hearing the history of racism in our Oregon history is a sobering reminder I was VERY pleased to have a great rebuttal to lies about immigration. Now I need to memorize them. People are hearing distortions and lies and think that is the truth. – Martin Mijal, Portland Ally and Grant County Supporter

Afternoon sessions gave folks a chance to delve deeper into conversations and strategy about the key issues of the day: Organizing to Stop Immigration Backlash, Wrapping Ourselves in the Bill of Rights, and Those Wars Abroad: Peace Track.

The Peace Track focused on establishment of a Media Center that could be a long term tool for progressive messaging on why the wars at home and abroad reflect failed policy and what concrete, pro-democracy policies look like. A new idea that ROP is exploring in advance of the big election cycle that folks endorsed was exposing and documenting whether the numerous new small town military recruitment centers were, in fact, in compliance with legal mandates to actively offer every person they have contact with a chance to resister to vote. Stay tuned for more details!

I attended the Peace Track. I liked the way Mike motivated us to get the war back on the front page and connecting it to every other issue! This is so important and the establishment of the media center should be a great way to make this happen. I also got lots of tips to work with media. Excellent. – Kathy Paterno, Human Dignity Advocates, Crook County

Organizing to Stop Immigration Backlash allowed local leaders to share stories of how critical and difficult responding to this human dignity crisis is – and to discuss tools and strategies that have been successful. The group affirmed the different roles and significant relationship between the Latino community and non-immigrant and white allies in rural Oregon. Tools for inoculating our membership, our extended base, and our community at large against anti-immigrant arguments and myths was especially valued in this election year. Everyone agreed a Rapid Response structure was needed that was integrated into ongoing human dignity organizing but that would respond to anti-immigrant sentiment whether a local ordinance, letter to the editor, or immigration raid. ROP’s Immigration Fairness Network email list (https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/ropifn) will be used as a site for resource sharing and discussion.

It was a good reminder for me to update our Rapid Response info and … better collaborate on responding to the kind of one-at-a-time harassment, incarceration and deportation that Brad Porterfield (from Latino Community Association) was reporting. That is so scary-sounding… to have a loved one singled out and picked up and sent someplace in the middle of the night but you don’t know where or what you can do. There has to be some way within local areas to monitor and track that so that individual families can have support (and ICE will be forced to be more transparent). – Betsy Lamb, Code Pink Bend and Interfaith in Action for Justice

The Bill of Rights Session focused on affirming the framework of the Bill of Rights as a tool to 1) identify how our democracy is doing, 2) engage our communities in the state of our democracy (and how close it has moved to authoritarianism), 3) use this framework to talk through tough issues (a backdoor to immigration issues) and 4) practice using the Freedom Voters kit as the tool to engage our communities in this conversation through the election cycle.

I attended the Bill of Rights session and found out that this might be a good way to unite with other groups that do not necessarily think the same way on other topics. – Denise Steffenhagan, Human Dignity Advocates, Crook County

At the close of the day, we literally sang our way at the door and in the words of Woody Guthrie encouraged our movement, just like the might Columbia, to roll on!

Being involved with ROP is like a shot in the arm. I can take back all the collective knowledge & experience I absorbed while I was there. It was wonderful. – Dian Courtwright, Concerned Citizens of Coquille, Coos County

To access the tools and plans to help your human dignity group roll on this election year, go to www.FreedomVoters.com, check out this month’s Kitchen Table Activism contact ROP at amy@rop.org or 503-543-8417.

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