“The only answer to organized money is organized people.”

(Quote by Bill Moyers)

Dear Friends of the Rural Organizing Project, You don’t get to choose your moment in history but you do get to choose how you act in it. As we enter 2008, we find the majority of Americans leaning to the ‘left’, with the Democratic Party poised to regain political power in the country. Still, the problems that led to the Democratic resurgence remain intractable: a war that Congress cannot or will not stop, the danger of military escalation, a pro-torture Attorney General approved with bi-partisan support, and behind these problems, the relentless rise of a ‘privatized’ government, from Blackwater to Halliburton, that uses the expanding disasters of our world as opportunities for private profit. The challenges vary, but they are often dire. Yet there is also a positive aspect to our times. Since the old fixes are not providing solutions, we get to be smart, creative and local, building concrete alternatives for the future we desire.

This is a moment when the grassroots political model pioneered for over 15 years by the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) can be blended with the experiments in ecological and economic sustainability that occupy an important place in so many of our members’ lives. Never has the need been greater for a hybrid of grassroots activism rooted in human rights and peace, and do-it-yourself efforts for sustainability, local self-reliance, and mutual aid. Sustainability can be the great principle that guides our political activism, how we lead our day-to-day lives, and how we build our communities. As community organizers we can break through despair by inventing people-powered systems that address the problems of the day. And this year we have made real progress towards creating some of these new grassroots systems:

  • People’s Town Halls. When our Members of Congress refused to adequately discuss the war in Iraq with their constituents, we created our own People’s Town Halls to focus the growing anti-war opposition in our communities. We drew standing room only crowds, insuring that youth, returning vets, their families and immigrant community members all got priority time to testify, documenting the true cost of war. Oregon’s Congressional Team received a clear message about the priority of peace for their constituents and they have (mostly) voted accordingly. Now they all know that there is an organized ‘Peace Bloc’ in the rural communities of their districts.
  • Community Conversations on Immigration. As times get tough, anti-immigration rhetoric and politics provide yet another wedge to divide people and divert attention from the real sources of economic and social insecurity. The ROP community has many years of experience in this type of wedge politics and we are uniquely situated to develop antidotes to the poison of bigotry. Our Community Conversations about Immigration create environments where people can explore and explode the myths of the immigration debate. Likewise, the frame we have collectively built around the war and its costs to our communities helps us debunk the voices denouncing immigrants as a ‘threat to national security’. We have seen how that ‘national security’ talk results in defunded social programs , while billions go to the same private contracting hucksters who are now plying their wares from Baghdad to the southern US border.
  • Military Families Speak Out and Eyes Wide Open. The war continues because the politicians and media have succeeded in desensitizing most Americans to its pain. The burden of the conflict falls on the Iraqis, and on our soldiers and their families. ROP has partnered with American Friends Service Committee and Military Families Speak Out to bring the Eyes Wide Open exhibit throughout rural Oregon. This powerful exhibit provides symbolic memorials – in the form of empty boots – for all Oregon soldiers lost in the conflict, and photo exhibits that put names to faces of Iraqi casualties.
  • Local elected leaders and the Cost of War. ROP and its member groups are working with Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorensen to get elected leaders from every county on record denouncing the cost of the war.

At ROP we see how folks doing concrete political projects feel hope despite the newspaper headlines.  And they are attracting new people to work for justice.  This is building a movement for justice. This is politics that is sustainable.

We also notice how local groups experiment with blending work for justice with work that sustains community, as when local activists find ways to include social justice information into their farmers’ markets, or hold movie nights and discussions on climate change and the energy crisis.

At the ROP office, we are creating a team of volunteers to redesign our small office-house and yard for sustainability. We envision a more energy-efficient office, and a landscape that includes food plants and permaculture design, as a demonstration garden in downtown Scappoose (we are located across from the Middle School). This will be a volunteer based project, using recycled materials whenever possible. We will include an outdoor community meeting place into the design.  We want to demonstrate in the most concrete way, by the use of our building and grounds, that sustainability is a community value linked to social justice.

In the coming year, we will be asking our supporters about their ideas for local sustainability and how that relates to their struggles for peace and human rights. We believe that our movement has a physical manifestation in our organic gardens, energy-efficient homes, and community based enterprises. Just as its’ opposite, the drive for privatization, authoritarianism, and bigotry, manifests itself in the gigantic projects that crush local businesses and wipe out eco-systems.

We do not know when our collective efforts will stop this crazy drive to invade others, and destroy our own home and the (imperfect) democracy we have built over generations, but that does not excuse inaction.  Resistance to totalitarianism is a faith. It is a value.  It is unequivocal.  It requires that we speak truth, find others, and use our wiles.  And it requires discipline. 

We do not lack for braveness or awareness.  We do lack patience and strategy.  (And yes, strategy is recruiting one new neighbor a month.)  Brick by brick you build a wall.  Brick by brick you can also build a community gathering place.  We have talked about the Cost of War. There is also a Cost of Peace.  And this is where each of us comes in.  Are we funding our own work in our back yards? It’s boring, sometimes pitiful, and ultimately the backbone of any resistance movement.                                           

If you believe in this work, we need you to fund it with your dollars. You can even get a brick for your tithing for peace.  A donated stack of bricks at the ROP office (which we the people own) waits to be made into an outdoor meeting patio.  We ask you to buy them. For a donation of $100 or more, or if you double your donation of last year (email fiscal@rop.org for that reminder) we will record your name on a plaque commemorating the Cost of Peace.  A permanent roster, for a permanent outdoor meeting space, at our permanent home, for those who know that peace can last in an inclusive democracy.

Rural America matters to me.  It is where I live and work.  It is where I find hope.  It is where I find a fully equipped and scaled kitchen in which to test recipes to re-invigorate civic participation not as a hobby or passion but as a legitimate community norm.   But funders put their dollars for social change in another direction.  Less than 1 percent of all foundation giving is directed at rural communities.  If we think our work matters, if we think rural, small town and frontier solutions matter, we may need to be the ones to pay up.  A tithe to support the development and leadership of pro-democracy groups and hubs in small town communities should be a source of pride – a logical donation.   How many checks do we send off to the big city in support of great causes each year?  Of course, we should match that generosity with a check to ourselves.  ROP is about us.  We can take ourselves for granted.   But we really need to recognize that foundations and so many others have already written rural America off.  We need your gift today

All of us need to make checkbooks activists out of our many friends, co-workers and family members who support our daring from their armchairs.  We need to fund peace with dollars.  There is a co$t to peace.  You are who we really need.  ROP was formed by and for rural Oregonians.  If we don’t have value to you, what is our purpose?  Becoming a member ($35/individual, $50/household) demonstrates that our shared work is important.    

Warmly, Marcy on behalf of the board, staff and vision of Rural Organizing Project

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