Rural Organizing Fellows Working Hard Across Oregon!

Happy International Workers of the World Day! On this May Day, we wanted to celebrate the powerful work ROP’s Rural Organizing Fellows have been doing across Oregon to advance human dignity and democracy. Read on to learn more and meet the Fellows at the Rural Caucus & Strategy Session on June 1st! Today (May 1st) is the deadline to receive the early bird registration discount, so register your group today!

Rural Organizing Fellows, ROP staff, and Union organizers at the PCUN Union Hall in Woodburn at our March retreat

ROP kicked off our first Rural Organizing Fellowship program in October with a weekend retreat in The Dalles, Wasco County focused on building the movement for immigrant rights. Since then we’ve held two more weekend retreats, each focused on parts of the growing movement for justice and human dignity, providing space for fellows to share progress on their local work with each other and to build organizing skills to take back home with them. In December, we focused on Native and Indigenous rights movements and traveled to the Warm Springs Reservation to visit the Museum at Warm Springs and learn about tribal governance from Carina Miller, a member of the Warm Springs Tribal Council.

Our March retreat was preceded by a week of lobbying and civic engagement at the Capitol in Salem by several Fellows, participating in two lobby days, visiting with staff of allied organizations, and meeting with legislators representing every corner of rural Oregon. Fellows and ROP leaders from across Oregon joined over 600 people at the Causa-led lobby day for Driver’s Licenses for All (AKA Equal Access to Roads Act, House Bill 2015) on March 26th. Maria, Rossy, Juan, and Courtney were interviewed by KMUZ-FM on Willamette Wake-Up with Melanie Zermer, talking about ROP, the Rural Organizing Fellowship, and the fellows’ time at the legislature in Salem. Listen to the radio interview here!

At our most recent retreat in Silverton, Fellows focused on worker organizing and the role of unions. We spent a day in Woodburn at the PCUN Union Hall hearing from leaders and organizers of the Oregon AFL-CIO, Salem-Keizer Education Association, PCUN, SEIU 503, the American Association of University Professors, and Kim Fellner, writer and former Director of the National Writers Union and the National Organizers Alliance.

All of the fellows are working on an organizing project in their home communities (or in Zachary’s case, around the state!). Below are some brief updates on what they’ve been up to. You can meet the fellows in person and learn more about their projects in exciting detail at this year’s Rural Caucus and Strategy Session on June 1st!

 

Zachary at the March fellowship retreat and the sign which will go up in Oregon HORSE museums

Zachary Stocks lives in Astoria and has been working to build a network of local museums across rural Oregon who are making an explicit commitment to being open, safe and welcoming spaces for dialogue among all community members about issues of concern and areas of opportunity. The network is called Heritage Organizations for Rural Social Equity (Oregon HORSE) and the participating sites will not only work closely with members of their own communities but will also create and share resources and tools with each other across the state. The first five museums that have joined Oregon HORSE are Clatsop County Historical Society (Astoria), Coos History Museum (Coos Bay), A. R. Bowman Museum/Crook County History Museum (Prineville), Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center (Joseph), and Columbia Gorge Discovery Center (The Dalles). Zachary will be visiting each museum and the human dignity groups in each area over the summer to make connections, host trainings, and build partnerships between local groups and museums. Does your group want to make connections with local museums? Chat with Zachary at the Caucus or reach out to cathy@rop.org to get connected!

Fellows visiting the Museum at Warm Springs with Jaylyn and Carina Miller (center, standing)

Jaylyn (on the left) with part of the Awareness Through Art planning team

Jaylyn Suppah lives in Warm Springs and works for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Tribal Government. Jaylyn brought together a working group of five women from the Warm Springs Tribe to plan a series of Awareness Through Art workshops that use various traditional and modern art forms to aid in the process of restorative justice and healing for tribal adults and youth who are currently in the parole and probation system. The idea of this series of workshops is to help people who are struggling to recover from addictions or a sentence for some type of criminal conviction to reflect on family and tribal history and culture and to use those reflections to grow and learn and move differently in the world going forward. They have the support of the local judge and probation workers and have brought in a number of community members to share their knowledge, donate their skills, and volunteer their time.

Maria (3rd from right in the front row) with the group of COCC students she recruited to attend the March 26th Lobby Day in Salem and delivering signed postcards to her legislators

Maria Mejia Botero is finishing her final year of high school by taking college classes at Central Oregon Community College and will be leaving Oregon in September to start college on a full scholarship at the University of Miami (we hope she returns to Oregon quickly!). Maria collaborated with Rossy (another ROP fellow, see below!) to build a club for Dreamers, immigrant students, and allies at COCC. The club is working to support the rights of everyone who lives in Oregon, no matter their immigration status. The Dreamers Club recently received official recognition and funding from the college! Maria and her mother, who also attends COCC, brought a vanload of students to Salem for the Driver’s Licenses for All Lobby Day to advocate for the right to apply for and obtain a driver’s license to all Oregonians. Maria also worked with Juan and Rossy (both ROP fellows) to develop and present two different workshops on immigration at the Statewide Student of Color Conference in Monmouth in the fall and the Statewide Northwest Student Leadership Conference in Salem in February. Along with other fellows, Maria spent a week in March at the Capitol learning from staff working for allied organizations at the legislature, participating in the No on LNG Coalition lobby day, and meeting with legislators to learn about how Oregon’s state government functions and how Oregonians can actively participate to influence policy-making.

Rossy (on the left) along with Maria, Hannah, Courtney, and Juan recording an interview about the Rural Organizing Fellowship at KMUZ’s studio

Rossy Valdovinos graduated from Madras High School last year and is now a student at Central Oregon Community College (COCC). Along with Maria, Rossy created the student club for Dreamers, immigrant students, and allies at COCC. She is currently compiling Know Your Rights information to share in local businesses and community centers for community members who are undocumented, specifically about their rights in the workplace and how to protect themselves and each other. Rossy spent the week of March 26th engaged in legislative advocacy and has since returned to the Capitol to continue her advocacy, lobbying for Driver’s Licenses for All. Along with her organizing, know your rights work, and creating and facilitating workshops with Juan and Maria, she is becoming increasingly engaged in student government work at COCC and statewide through the Oregon Student’s Association’s Students of Color Board and Executive Committee. Rossy has just declared that she is running for President of the Oregon Student Association at COCC for the upcoming ‘19-’20 academic year!

Juan (center) testifying at the Oregon State Legislature

Juan Navarro grew up near Salem in rural Marion County, graduated from Western Oregon University in Monmouth, and is currently a graduate student at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Since developing and presenting multiple workshops on immigration alongside Maria and Rossy at the Statewide Students of Color Conference and the Statewide Northwest Student Leadership Conference, Juan has led workshops for human dignity groups, congregations, and community organizations in the region. During the fellows’ week of legislative action and educational activities at the Capitol in March, he represented immigrant students and testified at a hearing on the importance of tuition equity. Juan recently completed an internship in Salem at the Oregon State Department of Higher Education. He is also working locally to engage groups who are organizing around his highest priority: passing the Driver’s Licenses for All legislation and preparing to defend it if it goes to the ballot. Juan has collected several hundred signed postcards to legislators for the campaign!

 

Sahla engaged in a discussion on organizing at the March retreat

Sahla Denton is based in Cottage Grove, Lane County and is one of the leaders of Cottage Grove Community United (CGCU), which successfully organized to keep a neo-Nazi knife shop from gaining influence in the community. Sahla and CGCU have organized and led two series of racial justice workshops that focused on readings, videos, and the courageous honesty of rural and small-town folks of color about what their experiences have been like in the community to cut through defensiveness and prepare the entire cohort to organize. After the organizing work of CGCU resulted in success and Wolfclan Armory left town, CGCU has continued to sponsor workshops to help community members understand and confront racism in town and Sahla has jumped into the role of facilitator. Coming out of the workshop series, she plans to start a book club for participants to extend their learning and is also working to create an action-oriented group for past participants of the anti-racism workshops looking to become more engaged.

 

Briana engaged in a discussion on organizing at the March retreat and helping Zachary make lunch

Briana Spencer is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla and she was recently hired as the Operations Supervisor of Kayak Public Transit, a four-county bus system that serves tribal and non-tribal people and communities in eastern Oregon and Washington. Several months ago she attended a Youth Summit and spoke with a Youth Council chaperone about her fellowship project. The chaperone advised her that the Youth Council recently advocated for drinking fountains on the reservation, but their idea was rejected. Briana decided to take up that cause as her project to support the voices of young leaders in the community. Young people walk, run, ride bikes, and skateboard around the reservation, but there are no outdoor drinking fountains available and the alternative is to pay for single-use plastic bottles of water. The youth identified this as both a financial and an environmental issue. Briana has been busily at work figuring out how to implement a plan to place fountains in strategic locations, find funding for the project, get the engineering and other technical know-how in place, and engage the youth in these plans so they can see their idea take shape and make change.

Brenda (second from left) with members of Raíces

  Raíces community meeting in Hermiston on Driver’s Licenses for All

Brenda Flores grew up in Stanfield in Umatilla County and is a graduate of Western Oregon University in Monmouth. When we interviewed Brenda for the fellowship, she shared that she had first gotten involved in organizing in college and now wanted to create the support and resources for the organizing she saw happening in western Oregon back at home where it is also needed. And she’s doing it! Brenda brought together a group of young people who, like her, grew up in the area and are now organizing to make change for themselves and their families. Their group is called Raíces in reference to their rootedness and love for their community, and they turned out 75 people to their event on April 27th to mobilize the community to support the Driver’s Licenses for All campaign. They are now planning to do continued outreach and collect signed postcards at the Cinco de Mayo events on May 4th and 5th at the Fairgrounds in Hermiston.

Courtney (in the hat) with Unitarian Universalist Welcoming Congregation Committee

                        

Courtney Neubauer returned to her hometown of Klamath Falls last fall after spending her college years at Willamette University in Salem and then living in Seattle and working across Washington on long-term care policy. She dove into Klamath County projects helping to reactivate and expand several local groups, lending her infectious energy to make connections with new people and bring them into activism. She’s reinvigorated the Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Committee, worked with the UU Welcoming Congregation Committee to hold LGBTQ+ trainings and build a Klamath coalition, worked with Klamath Indivisible to hold their first event in two years, and participated in meetings with the No LNG pipeline campaign. She organized a meeting with the local sheriff to raise up questions about their lack of a certified Spanish interpreter and his support of ending Oregon’s sanctuary resolution. Courtney joined Rossy, Maria, Juan, and Gabriela for the Drivers Licenses for All Lobby Day at the Capitol and the following three days in Salem and was able to meet with her local legislators about a variety of bills of interest to folks in Klamath County.  

 

Gabriela (in the jean jacket) at the March 26th Lobby Day for Driver’s Licenses For All at the State Capitol in Salem and rallying in Hood River.
Gabriela Garcia lives and works in Hood River. She traveled in from the Gorge to participate in the March 26th Lobby Day for the Driver’s Licenses For All legislation. She has been working to form Comunidades, an environmental group focused on engaging people of color in the Hood River area in environmental issues. Gabriela has participated in activities related to ending the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract at NORCOR, a four-county regional jail in the Gorge where organizers detained in the jail and allies outside the jail have been demanding an end to the ICE contract and better conditions. She also helped to turn folks out for an April 28th event to inform and activate Hood River area residents about the campaign to win Driver’s Licenses for All.

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