I’ve returned from another road trip with my colleague Sheryl Sackman, this time we traveled to Southern Oregon. Our trip offered a chance to connect with MRG supporters — many of whom have been with MRG for a long time — and I witnessed the work of several of MRG’s former and current grantees, some of whom have also been with MRG for a long time.

When I arrived in Ashland, I realized it had been nearly 40 years since my last visit. I was full of anticipation and a bit of trepidation, especially when I recalled family trips long years ago into ‘hostile territory.’ Back then, my folks were cautioned to “gas up” and get their goodies in Eugene, and not stop in Medford, Grants Pass, Roseburg, or Ashland. In fact, no stopping until we’d crossed into California!

I remembered that when we defied conventional wisdom and stopped anyway, it was to see a Shakespeare performance. My favorites back then were As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing. This time, I couldn’t imagine what would greet me, what I’d encounter, but after so long away from southern Oregon, I had a strong need to find out.

We entered an Occupy Ashland gathering in a city park and watched participants eagerly engage with quiet dignity and resolve as the community asked about their intentions. Days before, we had walked into Occupy Portland and Occupy Eugene and found that same striving to organize something different, to craft new community in front of our eyes.

I ventured into the Safeway, where I was stopped several times for conversations by college students from Southern Oregon University, from Rogue Community College, as well as several older townspeople. I was tickled that I’d attracted attention in the grocery aisles by folks desiring a good talk with a stranger.

I witnessed the passionate volunteer efforts at public radio station, KSKQ-Ashland, where hearty volunteers of this alternative community station interviewed me about MRG Foundation (they’ve received MRG grants in the past). I also had the chance to meet with and talk to other grantees: Rogue Valley Oregon Action, Lotus Rising Project, and Unete, to name just a few.

I ventured out again and had the chance to sit and share life experiences with a wonderful elder, one so full of knowledge, keen observations and great humor. He surprised me by asking what did I mean by “social justice?”

I answered that I believe social justice will be realized when all Oregonians share in the wealth and the bounty of our state. I believe it will happen when those who labor in the fields, who deliver food to our tables, who clean and prepare it, and those who benefit most from access and privilege, are treated equally, have equal access to decent jobs, fair wages, quality education and schools, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, and quality healthcare.

I added that true social justice will be realized when we are given equal opportunity to rise or to fail, and all are seen as valuable members of our communities.

I asked him how he defined social justice? He told me that he’d “never had to think about it, but now [he] would.” Such forthrightness, such honesty throughout my trip back to southern Oregon! While so much was the same as where I live in Portland: the mountains, deep forests, rolling terrain, there is much that’s different.

I traveled south in Oregon, and I realized that there’s still much to learn about and to believe will continue to get better here. We’re not there yet, but I’m now more convinced that social justice is alive and moving here in Oregon, my state.

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