What a year with the Rural Organizing Fellows!

The second cohort of the Rural Organizing Fellowship has come to a close and we are amazed by the Fellows’ commitment to helping their communities thrive in a year that was more difficult than any of us could have anticipated! In the midst of a global pandemic, wildfires burning across the state, and a presidential election that led to a Far-Right insurrection at the US Capitol, the Rural Organizing Fellows showed up with such heart and passion to our virtual Fellowship spaces. Each month in the yearlong program, fellows developed strategies, imagined possibilities, and shared stories with each other of how their communities were taking action!

Screenshot of zoom call with Fellows smiling in each camera window

When we were planning for this second cohort of the Fellowship, we structured it to focus on organizing retreats held in the Fellows’ communities, but the Fellowship started right after the pandemic shut down in-person gatherings, so we shifted to a fully virtual Fellowship. The Fellows gathered monthly to deepen our collective understanding of what rural communities need and to grow our change-making skills. Alongside doing their own organizing work at home, the Fellows also jumped into projects with the broader ROP network, making calls around the state to talk with member groups about election action, helping to create radio public service announcements about Oregon’s ballot measures to air on 20 community radio stations around the state, and much more! Their commitment to making our virtual Fellowship a space of meaningful connection and growth made the 2020-2021 Rural Organizing Fellowship a powerful bright spot in the last year! 

Here’s what the Rural Organizing Fellows had to say about their experience!

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Lesley

Umatilla County

Was there a moment in the Fellowship that shifted how you thought about something? 

The moment I knew something shifted for me was when I realized all it takes is one person to make a difference. One person to start organizing could change everything. I never thought I would be able to make a difference and now I know I can. There was a seed planted in my head. Before the Fellowship I always thought about “oh maybe we should do this,” but didn’t know what organizing was or how to do it. I would hear “be the change,” but what does that mean? But while being a Fellow, when something would happen that needed to change, I felt ready to help lead the organizing. I have to thank the Fellowship for that because I never would have been comfortable doing that before. 

What was one of your favorite things about the Fellowship? 

My favorite thing about the Fellowship was the relationships I made with the other Fellows! 

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Josh

Polk County

What was one of your favorite things about the Fellowship? 

My favorite thing about the Fellowship was the people! It was honestly such a pleasure to get to know everyone. I was really surprised by how connected I felt to all the people in the Fellowship because we only met once a month or so online, but it was overall just so fun to be with all these incredible people.

What was one of your organizing highlights from the last year? 

I’m really happy with the work I did at the Food Pantry at Western Oregon University this year. When we had to change our shopping model at the start of the pandemic (where people get to choose their own items and amounts) to giving people prepared boxes, I was so disappointed for our customers because I know how much that matters to them. I’m extremely proud of myself for putting in a lot of extra work and taking on organizing volunteers, even when others thought it wasn’t a good idea, to figure out how to safely go back to our shopping model to support dignity and food access for our student community when people needed it most. 

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Des

Lincoln County

Was there a moment in the Fellowship that shifted how you thought about something?

Honestly, the moment that shifted the most for me was our lesson about popular education. For so long I had been leading as I had been taught to lead. But now? I know better. I know that education should be equal for everyone, and teachers aren’t the only capable ones in the room. Of all the information I learned, I think this will stick with me the most. Education comes in so many ways, and the more we can get learning back in the hands of the people, the better. 

What was one of your favorite things about the Fellowship? 

My favorite thing about the Fellowship was definitely the ability to meet other leaders– especially ones outside of my own demographic. I live in a very heavily white populated area, and being able to meet experienced people different than me taught me way more than any leadership thing I could have done locally. The revolution is not just one type of person; it is many people of all races, backgrounds, and traditional education levels. It is many, and the ROP Fellowship really drove that home for me. 

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Sophia

Lincoln County 

Was there a moment in the Fellowship that shifted how you thought about something? 

The Fellowship showed me that even though you will feel like it’s not your place to speak about something, you kind of have to because nobody else is going to do it. That stuck with me, so instead of just sitting around waiting for things to happen, I talk to the person that’s in charge and let them know how I feel about something and then I start figuring out how to change it.

What was one of your organizing highlights from the last year? 

I sent an email to the entire school district talking to them about how students felt they were unsafe at school and that the district was not doing a good job at enforcing mask-wearing and other things to protect us from COVID-19. It caused a big ruckus and that showed me that I have the power to do something that matters even if it’s as small as engaging in my district.

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Jordan

Douglas County

Was there a moment in the Fellowship that shifted how you thought about something? 

There have been plenty of moments throughout the Fellowship that encouraged me to think about how to operationalize my organizing and how to engage other organizers in my community. Our Fellowship session on Strategy Charting weaved together a lot of efforts and goals that are often “floating” while addressing an issue, and this session really helped me in grounding how I address future issues from a solid foundation.

What was one of your favorite things about the Fellowship? 

Building relationships with other young organizers around rural Oregon and hearing about the work they are leading in communities has been inspirational, both by the supportive camaraderie from the Fellows for my own organizing as well as sharing resources and ideas for what other organizing might be possible in my own rural community.

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Roberto

Crook County

Was there a moment in the Fellowship that shifted how you thought about something? 

A moment that shifted how I thought about something was while participating in an exercise, one of my peers said “We shouldn’t have to ‘come out’ as LGBTQ+. Having to ‘come out’ means we are different from the norm instead of LGBTQ+ just being an acceptable way to be.” As a society, we have dictated that something so personal must be made public in order to be accepted as a part of a group. That’s something I will try to change in groups I am a part of! 

What was one of your favorite things about the Fellowship? 

One of my favorite things about the Fellowship was being able to talk to young adults about adversities we all face to try to help each other find ways to overcome those adversities. 

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Keyen

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation 

Was there a moment in the Fellowship that shifted how you thought about something? 

The Fellowship connected me to becoming a leader with the Energy Justice Leadership Institute and that really brought me to my feet. It showed me that I can make a difference and that I really care about my environment. I have always known since I was small, that I wanted to help my environment and as a Native American, I promised my land I would protect and nurture it. So that’s what I plan to keep doing!

What was one of your organizing highlights from the last year? 

I am very proud that I was able to organize my face mask donation by myself because that was truly a big accomplishment. I made over 400 face masks and sent them to the Yakima and Navajo nations! It was so memorable because I was able to lift up my plan and make it happen which felt so great. And I have been able to relate with the other Fellows that I can plan, do it, and get things done!

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Janie

Clatsop County  

Was there a moment in the Fellowship that shifted how you thought about something? 

Before the Fellowship there was some part of me that used to think that I needed to have some kind of special training or credentials in order to be a “real” organizer. But through the journey of this Fellowship, I have come to recognize that heart and working together from the bottom up is what drives change and speaks truth to power. I feel more confident in using my own voice, without apology. 

I also learned a lot from my Fellowship peers, hearing about the work they each are doing to advocate for their communities. It made me realize that we each have the power to initiate change, that our voices have power and that organizing doesn’t have to be a perfect, linear plan but is constantly evolving as we shape what it means. Building collective power can simply start with a conversation at a kitchen table. 

What was one of your organizing highlights from the last year? 

An organizing highlight for me was being able to participate in phone banking and connecting with folks in the ROP network for the STAND guides. It really helped me to get familiar with many of the diverse human dignity groups ROP is connected with and gain a sense of connection to a range of grassroots organizing going on in our communities. I left many of the calls feeling energized and inspired and a sense that I could be playing a small role in supporting the advancement of democracy in our rural communities through helping get STAND guides ordered for distribution, especially in light of such an important election cycle.

How to support the Rural Organizing Fellowship: 

Apply to be a Rural Organizing Fellow!

We’ll be announcing details in the coming months about the 3rd cohort of the Rural Organizing Fellowship! Let us know if you’re interested in being a part of the upcoming Fellowship program by emailing Fellowship@rop.org and we’ll reach out directly when applications open up again!  

Nominate for the Rural Organizing Fellowship!

We are excitedly planning and preparing for our next cohort of ROP Fellows! Can you help us find them? Do you know a young activist planning walkouts or actions? Are there emerging youth leaders leading groups or clubs at school? Is there a young person who has all the instincts of a community organizer who would thrive with a community of peers around the state and organizing skill-building? Let us know by emailing Fellowship@rop.org

Sustain the Rural Organizing Fellowship!

Become a monthly donor or give a one-time gift to ROP to help fund the Fellowship. The financial support of the ROP network is what makes the Fellowship program possible. You can donate online here or mail a check to PO Box 664, Cottage Grove, OR 97424. 

What a wonderful year with the ROP Fellows. Thank you for all the ways you support and invest in building rural leadership! 

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