This year, a lot of us have been waiting for inspiration. One year ago, we were riding high. We had worked hard and finally had our new day. Obama’s election brought us out of the Bush years with a bang! The promise and relief were so sweet you could taste it. We knew that one man alone was only a man, but still…we believed! And while what we knew in our minds has proven itself to be true – that change would come slowly, if at all – our hearts have had a hard time catching up.
It is painful to see “bringing our troops home” become an escalation in Afghanistan, to see universal healthcare become mandatory insurance, to see “Sí, se puede” become “maybe, once we take care of these other things, we can talk about immigration reform,” to see, maybe more than anything, that turning the page on the last eight years has done little to unravel Reagan’s legacy of ‘all government is bad government – and if you de-fund it, we will prove it.’
These days in rural Oregon, we live in fear of the other shoe dropping. Jobs are scarce, hunger is growing, schools are shortening their days, and homelessness is becoming more common. In many counties, unemployment has doubled since last year with roughly 1 out of every 5 people out of a job. It’s not just headlines, but our own households that show us how dire times are. Unemployment on the ROP board mirrors the state.
Given all our hard work over the last few years, it seems like now ought to be the time that we can be most out and proud as progressives, but instead we also feel confused and vulnerable. After the town halls this summer, we came away feeling beat down, hunkered down, just plain down. As progressives in rural and small town Oregon, some of us thought maybe the toll is just too high. If the Teabaggers really represent our communities, maybe in rural Oregon, we just can’t win.
But these days in rural Oregon, we also live in hope. Gardens are growing and people are coming together to support one another. A new generation of victory gardens from the front yard of our office in Scappoose to Madras and Cottage Grove have produced thousands of pounds of food that have been donated to the community. These are needful times when neighbors can – and are sometimes the only ones who can – make a difference in one another’s lives.
In Oregon, we are building a movement for justice in all 36 counties. For the last 17 years, Oregonians have had an alternative to the fear and isolation that tough times can evoke and that fuel the Right’s organizing. Together with more than 60 local human dignity groups across the state we have built a movement home for small town and rural Oregonians who seek justice, work to keep democracy alive, and affirm the inherent human dignity of all.
Continuing our tradition of living room conversations, ROP is gathering county by county to envision a new economy, to take our values and describe what a democratic economy in each of our hometowns would require, and then to assume that we can and must build what we need ourselves in our own backyards as party politics in DC hum along.
There must be some truth to our style because not only do we continue to deepen in Oregon, but founding ROP director Marcy Westerling will be piloting updated versions of our county by county human dignity structure in three other states in 2010 as an Open Society Fellow.
In a time when the only community gathering spaces left are either mega-churches or malls, we are reminding our families and communities and ourselves that hope and community are stronger than crisis and isolation. We do this everyday by organizing for a better world, by taking stock of the reality that is described to us and re-imagining what our reality might be by speaking up for the oppressed, by demanding accountability to values of human dignity, by planting gardens and meeting the needs of our neighbors, and by creating community that welcomes everyone. This is how we keep community and democracy alive. This is the work of ROP in every corner of the state.
But we can’t do it without you and we never have. ROP is your organization. We have always been owned and run by the grassroots. Throughout the course of the year, we come to your communities, clocking thousands of miles on our donated cars and logging hundreds of hours on phone calls and emails, and we work side by side with you to build power for progressive change in rural Oregon. But only once a year do we send you a letter asking you to invest in the organization that exists to support you. We need dollars from every supporter to stay operational.
You can’t put a price tag on democracy and no one person can own the commons. They belong to the people. But we have to be willing to nurture democracy and to fight for the commons, to exercise our rights, and to resist those that would restrict liberty and exploit our communities. We can choose gated commons and a corporate democracy or we can build communities from the ground up that belong to the people. Becoming a member of ROP means that you are standing up to claim your stake in our democracy. Will you join us?
Paying membership dues ($35 per person and $50 for your household) or becoming a monthly sustainer insures that ROP can pay our bills and meet our budget – which remains lean and devoted to organizing without fluff or frills – but even more than that, your money means that ROP stays funded by and accountable to the communities that we serve.
Thank you for your passion for justice, your hope for a better world, and your belief in rural Oregon.
Amy Dudley & Cara Shufelt
On behalf of the board, staff, and member groups that make up the ROP Community
P.S. We’re proud to share that ROP was featured in the national magazine In These Times this October. Click here to read more!