Recently, I sat on a plane headed back from the east coast to Portland and spent some time reflecting on my passion for Oregon. As my flight made its journey, I thought about why I’ve returned again and again, excited and renewed in my commitment to work for social justice in this place we call home.
Having grown up in Oregon and been raised to care deeply about its future, my story and MRG’s story are closely intertwined. It’s a personal relationship that goes back to my family’s tradition of “giving back to bring justice closer,” a lesson my parents emphasized. In the early 1990s, my mother, Bobbi Lou Gary, joined MRG’s grantmaking committee and I was introduced to MRG’s mission as a funder of social justice dreams. Since then, I’ve been proud to contribute my on-the-ground organizing experience as well as time and financial support to fund social change in my home state.
Through the organizations that MRG has supported, I have seen the expansiveness and possibility of our movement here in Oregon. Each grant from MRG— each grassroots community group, each rally, each protest, each campaign— has created ripples of impact, everywhere from rural towns in Eastern Oregon, to down in Medford, up the I-5 and to the coast.
I gained perspective on what our social justice work in Oregon means to the rest of the country when I spent some years living and working in places like Seattle, Atlanta, and Austin. I began to see how MRG grantees and leaders have stories that go beyond our state lines. It became clear how Oregon’s movement has the potential to change the national landscape for social justice.
Our beloved state isn’t usually at the forefront of conversations about national politics or progressive work— after all, it’s not an election swing state, or an especially large state. But Oregon is unique in many ways. As many of our homegrown activists will tell you, there is a rich, creative history of Oregon grassroots movements emerging in small towns and larger cities alike.
Our groups have a history of building innovative collaborations— everything from Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands’ environmentalist-logger partnership to create sustainable logging practices that protect jobs and the environment; to Causa Oregon’s work with Basic Rights Oregon, strengthening LGBTQ equality and immigrant rights organizing; to the work that Portland PFLAG Black Chapter has done with Urban League of Portland to report on the challenges that LGBTQ African American Oregonians face. These groups have built progress for our state while offering lessons and tools to other regions of the country where similar partnerships are blossoming.
We also have groups that are winning victories in Oregon while strengthening our movements for progress on a national level. For instance, there are the toolkits for organizing developed by Rural Organizing Project. Working to fight the Right-led dismantling of basic social services in rural towns, they recently published their recommendations and are fielding questions from organizers who seek to replicate their strategies in places all across the U.S.
You can even look at MRG, one of the key founders of a national movement for activist-led grantmaking in the 1970s. This model of funding social change and socially responsible investing went against the grain of tradition, and has proven time and time again that it’s essential for a thriving movement that is led by those most impacted by injustice. It represents a spirit of risk-taking and daring to dream that reflects the Oregon values I grew up with and hold dear.
When I look at our impact across the country, I see the ripple effects that MRG has been a part of from the beginning. I see grantees that began small and are now positioned to offer leadership to groups around the country working to build vibrant, inclusive coalitions that move many to achieve justice for all.
In my mind’s eye, I see the activists who are gathered right now, around kitchen tables and living room floors, putting together their first application for funding to MRG. The groups that are starting from scratch, fueled by passion for a just and joyful Oregon, ready to make change because they know justice begins when people join together to build a better future for their communities.
Many of our groups start small, but the impact doesn’t end there. And this is what brings me back home every time: that spark of change that is lit by ordinary, determined folks who want to make a brighter world. It starts in Oregon.