What We’re Taking Away from the Caucus

Dear ROPnet,

Our cups are full to the brim with love and admiration for all of the groups and individuals who make up ROP and who made ROP’s 33rd annual Rural Caucus and Strategy Session so incredible. 

About 150 of you joined us for this year’s caucus on Saturday, April 6th, and since then we’ve been basking in the warmth, hope, and excitement that comes from coming together to connect, strategize, and dance.

Around 150 gather for a group shot.

Reflecting on how to share all the powerful stories and resources we exchanged, the new relationships that formed, and the ideas that were sparked, we weren’t sure where to start. So, over the next several months, we’ll be sharing a Caucus Next Move Series with you. This series of ROPnets will include stories from the Caucus and concrete tools and resources that your group can use in your organizing. Keep an eye on your inbox for upcoming installments! In the meantime, read on for a few highlights from this year’s Caucus, including the 2024 Human Dignity Award Winners.

What happened at the Caucus?

The 150 or so folks at the Caucus came from every region in Oregon, with 27 of 36 counties represented – that’s over 70 percent! Not only that, but people participated in the Caucus from 3 states!

Ramon Ramirez speaks to the crowd.

We started the day together with a song session, grounding in the farmworker organizing history of Woodburn from Ramon Ramirez and Liz Marquez of PCUN. Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste or PCUN (pronounce p-COO-n) is Oregon’s farmworker union. Click here to listen to Ramon’s speech about ROP and PCUN’s decades-long partnership, and continue that legacy by joining PCUN for May Day!

Join us in a powerful celebration of International Workers’ Day on Wednesday, May 1st from 12-5 pm!

International Workers Day / May Day at the Salem Capitol, 12pm Wednesday. May 1st, 2024.

We will gather at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem for a day of impactful community speeches, vital resource booths, and a mighty march around the Capitol Block. Let’s unite and demonstrate our deep appreciation for the hardworking and dedicated individuals who keep our society moving forward. The year 2023 marked a significant milestone for workers’ rights, and we are determined to carry that momentum forward into 2024 and beyond with unwavering determination.

Let’s continue to build our collective power and advocate fiercely for the rights and well-being of workers everywhere. Register for the event here!

Three leaders sit at a table surrounded by folks listening in.

After that we held an opening panel of human dignity leaders, and then broke out into groups of ten where we identified the biggest issues facing our communities. We mapped out which decision-makers have power over those issues so that we can strategize about how to best apply pressure to those in power. 

We took a break for the best pozole many of us had had in years, and Arturo Sarmiento of Radio Poder opened up the studio for folks to check out what the radio station looks like on the inside.

Two people smile for the camera holding up bowls of pozole.

In the afternoon, we celebrated the Human Dignity Award winners detailed below and then broke out into strategy sessions. These included Building Power through Community Hubs, Organizing for Everyone, Values-Forward Messaging, 2024 Elections Strategizing, Protecting our Fundamental Freedoms in Local Democracy, and more!

At the end of the day, we came back together for closing remarks, a poetry reading from Radio Poder’s Arturo Sarmiento, delicious burritos, and live music from Orchestra La Pachanga! We ended the day in the best way: dancing to our hearts’ content. 🙂

Human Dignity Award Winners

At every Rural Caucus and Strategy Session, ROP gives Human Dignity Awards to several groups to lift up and celebrate the powerful organizing they have done over the past year in their communities. This year, each awardee got a nickname! 

Rookie of the Year Award: Four Rivers Community Radio,  Malheur County

5 people stand in front of a lake smiling for the camera and holding up their plaque.

Four Rivers Community Radio’s mission is: “Media as a vehicle for human flourishing!” To meet this mission they are revitalizing local radio in a town and a county that’s biggest news channels are based out of Boise and often don’t cover Ontario or Malheur County at all. They aim to be on air, broadcasting via 90.7 KRFR by the middle of next year. One particularly impressive thing about this group is their ability to maintain course while going through a leadership transition. Navigating conflict and moving forwad is essential for the long-term health of a human dignity group! This group is proud to say that their board is even more diverse than Malheur County.

Transformers Award: People Like Us, Wallowa County

7 people pose for a photo holding their Human Dignity Award.

People Like Us formed this past year as a volunteer-run 2SLGBTQIA+ support nonprofit after 7 years of rural queer support through Safe Harbors in Wallowa County. People Like Us is a diverse and multiracial group of rural queer organizers that hosts a weekly Queer Youth Program and regular community-building events to combat rural queer isolation. They are also working to make sure that all community members have access to, and funds for, gender-affirming resources and care. 

While People Like Us might be a new organization, one thing that’s so important about this group is that even as it’s transitioned between configurations, the organizers and leaders who make it up have maintained close community ties and the ability to communicate county-wide. At ROP, we talk about a database being an important component of a healthy group, and this was on display this past year, both when they helped host the first-ever March for Pride in Wallowa County with over 100 people in attendance, and when they and other local organizers successfully rallied the community to prevent an effort to ban a queer sex ed zine. (Stay tuned for more on this in an upcoming Caucus Next Moves installment.)

Long-haul Legends Award: Gorge ICE Resistance, Hood River and Wasco Counties

7 people pose for a photo holding their Human Dignity Award in front of an ROP banner.

Gorge ICE Resistance (GIR) formed in response to people in ICE detention at NORCOR going on hunger strike in 2017. Three years after that, GIR, alongside many other groups in the Gorge ended NORCOR’s contract with ICE! With the contract ended, some groups might have packed up and gone home, but they didn’t stop there! Through the ICE contract campaign, they continued to keep their eye on the long-term vision. GIR formed an advisory group that had countless conversations with sheriffs, service providers, and other community figures about how to create the resources their communities truly need, and how to break down the cycle of criminalization and prioritize care over cages. After fundraising from county and local dollars for the Columbia Gorge Resolution Center, this legislative session they won $8 million in state money to go towards Gorge housing and mental health resources. 

Banding Together Award: Bandon Inclusivity Group, Coos County

3 people pose for a photo holding their Human Dignity Award.

Bandon Inclusivity Group (BIG) started out of the Black Lives Matter uprising and created infrastructure that has kept their group alive for four years so far! BIG has figured out how to take folks motivated by a crisis (in this case, police violence) and keep them involved in organizing for the long haul. Part of their secret? Twice weekly rallies and weekly peace circle meditation have been a practice of theirs since nearly the beginning.

Last summer they hosted four kids story time events at the library with readers of color reading stories highlighting characters of color. They followed each event by distributing 99 diverse kid’s books. This year they are going to focus on disability justice with story time events in the library again and even more books distributed across the community. In January, they also organized a civics training to share information with community members about participating in all levels of our democracy in a fun and accessible way. This model came from the Linn Benton NAACP, check out the Civics Training Toolkit we made with them last year! If you’re looking for inspiration in building your team’s website or newsletter, check out BIG’s beautiful website and subscribe to their newsletter which shares information about local elections in a town that does not have any local news.

Stay tuned for more and let us know what you took home!

What are you taking home from the Caucus? Keep an eye out for an email from your ROP organizer asking for your takeaways, or reply directly to this email and let us know!

Warmly,

Sidra and the ROP team

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