Temperatures are Rising

This is an email alert to our friends and supporters about a new round of violence and intimidation in rural communities in Oregon.  Courageous leaders in Douglas and Josephine Counties have been threatened by members of the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters for feeding the hungry, memorializing the Black lives lost to police violence, and daring to dream of what real economic and racial justice looks like in public.  Two of these people also serve on the Rural Organizing Project’s Board of Directors.  With the vandalism of our Co-Director’s car in the same week, we believe it is not a coincidence that ROP leaders are being targeted.

Below you’ll find the stories of Feed the ‘Burg and Rural Organizing Against Racism’s inspiring organizing, and ways you can support the security and safety of leaders across ROP’s network who are organizing in their small towns and rural communities.   We are fiercely independent rural people who will exercise our right to speak freely about what we want our communities to look like.  ROP and local human dignity groups have been around for decades and we’ve faced our share of opposition and challenges.  We are a network of literally thousands of Oregonians committed to building a grassroots movement for economic, racial, and social justice.  We’re in it for the long haul, and we will not be silenced.

Feed the ‘Burg

Feed the ‘Burg has been convening a weekly potluck in downtown Roseburg that feeds up to 250 people every week since the Occupy movement kicked off nearly five years ago.  They never missed a single Saturday, creating a safe space where everyone who participated was welcomed as part of the community while raising awareness around housing and food insecurity.  They transformed a neglected city park into a town hall, a meeting space, and a place to talk about problems facing the town and discussing actions the community could take to fix them.  Organizers fought policies that criminalized poverty, including a homeless exclusion zone downtown that recently passed despite their best efforts.  Most importantly, they demonstrated that people can build community that takes care of each other.  The Feed has evolved and now faith groups, community service groups, job corps, and other organizations show up with hot food, clean and dry clothes, dog food, and other goods offered at the Free Store.  Feed the ‘Burg co-founder Darek Ball explains:

“A lot of people talk about downtown like it is a scratch off ticket. That if we can scrape the dirt away we will somehow strike it rich. They look for scapegoats to blame for their failing business and their failing dreams, so they blame their neighbors instead of decades of bad policy and a system that gives tax breaks to millionaires while announcing another school closure.”

Feed the ‘Burg has fought hard to keep this space despite the immense pressure leveraged by Ashley Hicks, a recent Roseburg City Council candidate.  Over the years, she has organized a “lynch mob” (her language, not ours) that destroyed a homeless camp along the riverbanks, throwing away the last few possessions the unhoused had, and destroying their tents.  She regularly disrupts the event, throwing away people’s food, and unpredictably yelling at people attending the potluck. She has routinely posted the home address of two of the core organizers, including ROP Board member Dancer Davis, emphasizing that they are lesbians, encouraging people to show up at their home.  Last November, Hicks opened a coffeeshop on the corner of the public park Feed the ‘Burg has been meeting in for years, and blames occurrences at her business — from a broken front window to slow business in the afternoon — on Feed the ‘Burg, insinuating that a one hour a week potluck is responsible for everything that happens in downtown Roseburg.  Last week, after weeks of escalating threatening statements, she announced on social media that she is carrying a “9mm locked and loaded” and would use it if needed during Feed the ‘Burg and, again, published the home addresses of Feed the ‘Burg organizers.

The organizers of the Feed wrestled with what to do and ultimately decided to cancel in the hopes of de-escalating, explaining that they wouldn’t be able to live with themselves if someone got hurt.  News travelled quickly around town, inspiring folks to ask each other, how could it be that a potluck that has become a community institution is receiving threats of violence just for feeding people?  Supporters of the Feed went to the local news, getting coverage in all of the local media.

Then Douglas County militia leadership began harassing the Feed’s organizers, demanding that they enter “mediation” where the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters would play “mediator”.  The Feed politely declined, and the militia ramped up — enter “mediation” or the Feed will be forced to honor the “decisions” made in their absence.  The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters announced that they would have an open carry rally.  Their announcement read: “come support a local business under scrutiny for exercising their 2nd Amendment protected rights! Concealed and open carry welcome, please no long arms”.  People who said they planned to attend made violent comments about the Feed’s organizers and participants.

Shocked by how so-called patriots were so blatantly spinning the story, community members began organizing a quiet demonstration.  Last Saturday, about a dozen folks convened without signs or chants, but brown bag lunches and sandwiches to hand out to the hungry.

A leadership team of community leaders has come together to carry the Feed on!  This Saturday at noon Feed the ‘Burg will continue in the same location, Eagle’s Park in downtown Roseburg, as new leaders have stepped up to carry forward the radical act of feeding people who are hungry.  All are welcome to join!

Candlelight Vigil for Black Lives

On Tuesday evening in Grants Pass, Josephine County’s Rural Organizing Against Racism (ROAR) held a candlelight vigil to remember the Black lives lost to police violence and to affirm that Black lives matter. Intended to be a quiet gathering for people feeling grief or outrage over the loss of Black lives to come together and share those feelings, they instead faced immediate backlash to the idea of having a candlelight vigil, including threats of violence, accusations that the organizers were from Portland, and insistence that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization. ROAR organized a volunteer peacekeeping team to de-escalate so the vigil could go on uninterrupted.

More than 75 community members showed up for the vigil, galvanized by the backlash to demonstrate that Josephine County will not be a place where hateful and racist statements go unanswered.  The local organizers spoke to Oregon’s history of racial exclusion (did you know that Oregon’s Constitution said that Black people couldn’t live here?), and led the crowd in speaking the names of every Black life lost to police violence this year, stopping every 20 names to say “you are not forgotten” and “Black lives matter”.  After a moment of silence, the event concluded with the crowd taking a pledge to confront racism and injustice and to take action to make the community a better place to live.

Community Pledge for Racial Justice

I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect.

I believe that every person matters, and that Black lives matter.

I believe that every thought and every act of prejudice and injustice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.

Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate prejudice from my thoughts and actions.

I will interrupt racism/prejudice by others at every opportunity.

I will join with my community for action to defend and preserve our shared values of equality and justice.

At the same time as community members were pledging to work together to uphold their shared values of equality and dignity, fifty people organized by the Oath Keepers gathered across the street to protest.  They screamed at those who participated in the quiet candlelight vigil, calling them names, shrieking “all lives matter”, and hurling personal attacks at those gathered quietly in front of the makeshift memorial.

Joseph Rice, leader of the Josephine County Oath Keepers, took the megaphone and named Alex Budd, an ROP Board member and local ROAR organizer, multiple times over two hours, hollering things like, “Alex Budd advocates for the assassination of law enforcement”, “Alex Budd is a racist who preaches hate”, and “Alex Budd is a race baiter”.

The local paper, the Daily Courier, featured the vigil and the bad behavior at the counterdemonstration on the front page:

Black Lives Matter vigil at Josephine County Courthouse draws counterdemonstration

Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement staged a vigil outside the Josephine County Courthouse Tuesday night, drawing a tense counterdemonstration in the process.

“Our intention for calling this event was just to provide a space for people who are feeling grief or outrage over the loss of black lives to come together and share those feelings,” said Bridget Turner, an organizer of the Black Lives Matter vigil and a community organizer with Rural Organizing Against Racism.

“This country was built on slavery and racism, and even though we’ve had a Civil War and a Civil Rights movement, it is clear that black lives are not valued as much as white lives in this country.”

Dozens of Black Lives Matter demonstrators came out to draw attention to their cause, which started in the U.S. three years ago because of the killings of black people by law enforcement officers. It has since spread to other countries.

Those holding vigil were given flowers in front of a makeshift memorial, and signs reading “#BlackLivesMatter” were handed out to supporters to put in their windows and yards at home.

“There’s been so much violence against people of color,” Sara Kruger, a participant in the vigil, said. “We need to stand up for the lives that don’t seem to have as much support.”

One demonstration outside the courthouse might have been enough, but after the vigil was announced on social media last week, supporters of the opposing All Lives Matter movement decided to hold a counterdemonstration.

“Black Lives Matter is a racist group,” Paul Walter, a longtime local political activist said. “They support the assassination of cops and we believe that all lives matter; blue, white, gay, everybody’s.”

As the names were read of the 130 black people who have been killed by police all over the nation this year, dozens of All Lives Matter protesters screamed and chanted at those who participated in the vigil.

“We don’t agree with you, but we don’t hate you,” “Go back to Ass-land” (an apparent reference to Ashland) and the Pledge of Allegiance were just a few of the sentiments hurled across Sixth Street that reflected the mixed attitudes of the All Lives Matter protesters.

It raises the question: why are community members being yelled at and personally attacked for holding candles and flowers at a memorial?

ROAR organizers created a local security plan to make sure that they can keep each other safe.  They are already discussing their next action after friends and neighbors have thanked them for organizing the vigil and asked to be informed of the next opportunity to show up for racial justice in Josephine County!

Temperatures are rising in small town Oregon

The real story here is how brave rural and small town Oregonians are boldly showing up for their communities in spite of the threats and intimidation.  The brave organizers we are proud to support at Feed the ‘Burg and Rural Organizing Against Racism are leading their communities through crisis, bringing awareness to structural injustice, and naming the ways we can come together for human dignity and justice. They are resolved to creating meaningful change in their hometowns, one community event and one relationship at a time.  It is because of these incredible leaders that we do this work at the Rural Organizing Project.

In a moment of such great awareness of economic and racial injustice, with so many people hungry to see real economic, racial, and social justice in their lifetimes, we have the opportunity to decide the direction of our communities.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “where do we go from here, community or chaos?”  In the early ’90s, human dignity leaders across the state came together to demand liberty and justice for all, even in the face of a fierce opposition that was scapegoating gays and lesbians for the woes of our communities.  We stood together to defend our neighbors and to call for dignity.  Today, we are inspired by human dignity leaders who boldly organize with their neighbors to reject chaos and to declare that community is possible.

Call to Action

We are committed to supporting groups on the ground doing innovative, powerful, and bold organizing for human dignity and justice!  Join us in taking action, keeping our organizers safe, and helping amplify this important work!

1. Take local action:

  • Sit down with your elected City and County officials and ask them to condemn threats and intimidation by militia groups.  Talk to your Sheriff.  Ask your County Commission or County Court to pass resolutions.  
  • Write a letter to the editor and submit it to your local paper.
  • What other ideas do you have for taking action?  Email us at jessica@rop.org.

2. Help us continue to build our culture of safety and security at ROP:

3. Join us for a digital teach-in on the militia movement in Oregon and ways that small towns and rural communities can respond Pre-register here and we will contact you when registration is officially opened.

4. Share these stories, not only of threats, but of fierce and loving community in a moment when it is revolutionary to take care of one another.  Forward this email to friends and neighbors, share it on social media (it’s conveniently already on our Facebook page), and talk about it during your group’s next meeting.