December 17, 2018
Dear members, friends, and supporters of the Rural Organizing Project,
We began the year with you, in the streets. We are proud that rural Oregonians showed up in record-breaking numbers in town after town to protest the attacks on our communities by the Trump administration. We salute that spirit of resistance. It has helped guide all of us in the relentless attacks we have endured in 2018.
It has been a deeply challenging year. We have watched hard-fought progressive victories get rolled back as we bear witness to white supremacist and anti-Semitic violence, the abandonment of communities reeling from massive hurricanes and fires, and communities rocked by hate and bias crimes. At the writing of this letter, over 200 children who were ripped from their parents’ arms at the border still have not been reunited with their families, and thinly-veiled white nationalist militia groups from across the rural western states are gleefully racing to the border to intercept the caravan of families fleeing violence on foot to seek asylum in the US. While it is easy to despair in the face of so many injustices, we are heartened by rural Oregonians’ unbreakable resolve to speak out, take action, and organize with their neighbors to build stronger communities for all.
We are proud that rural communities came out in force to demand an end to detention and deportation of immigrants and refugees, to protest the separation of families, to ensure that released asylum seekers are welcomed into our communities, and to vote down an anti-immigrant ballot measure targeting a long-standing state law that prevented racial profiling. As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acts as secret police, putting activists and community leaders into deportation proceedings for dissent, we are building and exercising power statewide to take on state violence. In June, leaders in Yamhill County formed ICE Out of Sheridan and held vigils with more than 1,200 people at the federal prison holding parents separated from their children by ICE. Gorge ICE Resistance, Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, and Hood River Latino Network continue to protest and organize at NORCOR, the regional jail for Hood River, Wasco, Gilliam, and Sherman Counties, which has seen multiple hunger strikes by refugees and immigrants inhumanely detained inside its walls. Hundreds joined us in October for the March from Sheridan to NORCOR.
While we have a long way to go, we are proud of our movement’s successes: NORCOR stated they no longer turn inmates over to ICE, both Springfield and Josephine County jails ended their contracts with ICE, and, at the writing of this letter, there are no longer refugees detained by ICE being held at Sheridan. We are particularly proud that tens of thousands of rural Oregonians voted to reject Measure 105, preserving Oregon’s 30-year sanctuary law.
We are proud that ROP groups have courageously exposed and countered white supremacist organizing in their communities. Neo-nazis and other elements of the far-right are building their movement in rural Oregon, creating a polarized, divisive, and increasingly hostile climate. Throughout the year, ROP was called by alarmed community members seeking resources and support. In Benton County, a white nationalist who was elected to student government at Oregon State University invited neo-Nazis from around the region to join him on campus to campaign. ROP member groups Corvallis Showing Up for Racial Justice and Rapid Action Community Response took action, providing counter-messaging to neo-Nazi rhetoric, leafleting campus, and collaborating on a successful recall election. In Cottage Grove, when it became known that an Aryan-style knife store with known ties to white power gangs was opening up on Main Street, all parts of the community mobilized—business owners, parents, teachers, students, and elected officials. They held meetings, printed t-shirts, and put posters in the windows of businesses across town, declaring “Cottage Grove United Against Hate.” They worked with the school board, organized a standing-room-only public event with faith leaders on creating hate-free communities, and formed a new group, Cottage Grove Community United, which continues to make a visible stand against hate.
And in the year to come? ROP is ready. We will continue to use transformational organizing, town by town and county by county, to shift the political culture of rural Oregon from a politic of fear, scarcity, and scapegoating to one of equity, inclusion, and safety. Our network includes 63 member human dignity groups in 30 of Oregon’s 36 counties, and hundreds of individual leaders, activists, and organizers. We celebrate all of the human dignity groups across rural Oregon, especially our new groups across the state, from Umatilla to Yamhill Counties. We are thrilled to be expanding and deepening the skill, experience, and analysis of a new generation of community-based organizers with our newly launched Rural Organizing Fellowship. The fellowship supports 10 extraordinary young rural organizers, who are already at work in their hometowns, with political education, skills training, cultural sharing, and leadership development centering an intersectional analysis.
We are proud that ROP’s human dignity groups are building the progressive social infrastructure of rural Oregon. We who live and work in rural Oregon know that rural communities are not to blame for our national political situation. What we see are countless rural communities pushing back against vigilante and state violence, responding to hate and bias crimes with calls for safety and justice, and coming together to strengthen neighborhoods and build communities that offer sanctuary for all.
And you should be proud too because we are in this together. We don’t do this alone. A handful of paid organizers doesn’t make a movement, thousands of people working on the issues in their own communities do. We have all shown up in critical and inspiring ways with and for each other this year.
We started the year with you, you’ve been with us all year, and as the year ends, we’re asking you to show up again for rural Oregon by making a financial contribution. By giving, you allow us to support, train, connect and inspire hundreds of rural leaders organizing for a thriving and just rural Oregon.
Cara Shufelt Jessica Campbell
On Behalf of the ROP Staff and Board of Directors