In January of 2016 MRG officially launched the Capacity Building Initiative (CBI). The CBI provides multi-year funding, individualized technical assistance, and peer learning opportunities to ten grassroots social change organizations across the state. Our pilot project is currently being funded in partnership with Meyer Memorial Trust.
Voices of CBI is a blog series that features cohort members, grassroots capacity builders, and community partners involved in the program. By hearing their stories we hope that you will better understand the values, inspiration, and important work being done by this cohort of leaders to build a stronger grassroots social movements across the state.
Oregon Action is a grassroots social justice organization based in Medford, Oregon. For more than two decades Oregon Action has been a leader in Jackson County advancing issues related to health, racial, and economic equity. Historically we have focused on addressing economic injustice facing white rural and low-income communities in Southern Oregon, but with the support of MRG Foundation, as a member of the Capacity Building Initiative (CBI) cohort, Oregon Action is shifting to focus more on intersectional and intercultural issues.
At the beginning of 2016 Patriot groups and militias, xenophobia, and fear took over our media and filled our Facebook feeds with the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. For many in urban areas and across the country, this was the first they’d heard or seen of the rise of these right-wing Patriot-militia groups. But for Oregon Action and rural communities like ours, this isn’t a new phenomenon. We’ve witnessed an upsurge in Patriot & militia activity—as well as tactics and rhetoric of threats, violence, and intimidation—in our communities over the last few years.
The spread of right-wing militia groups and their scapegoating tactics are rooted in both the racist history of targeting people of color for violence and exclusion, as well as the erosion of social infrastructure and public services in rural communities.
We began organizing in response to this upsurge when Patriot-militia activists in Medford organized an anti-Islam rally last October. By working with allies and coalition partners across the state—including the Center for Intercultural Organizing (in 2015 became Unite Oregon), the Rural Organizing Project, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, and others—we supported Muslim, immigrant and refugee leaders, by signing onto and publicizing a statement against the islamophobic rally. Locally, we worked with environmental & social justice organizations, faith congregations, and community groups to mobilize more than 200 community members for a counter-demonstration.
The right-wing Patriot-militia movement is most visible and vitriolic at those moments like the anti-Islam rally in Medford and the Malheur Wildlife occupation. But it would be a mistake to think that the division and fear, the threats, and intimidation have dissipated from our communities in the same way Ammon Bundy has dissipated from the nightly news or our Facebook feeds. Increasingly, the violence, threats, and intimidation tactics used by these groups are becoming the norm in many rural communities, as Patriot-militia and other nativist groups are emboldened by the xenophobic and hateful rhetoric playing out at the national level. The result is a climate of fear, division, and scarcity.
Oregon Action is responding to this in Southern Oregon with our Together for Community campaign. The campaign has two interconnected initiatives. First, we are supporting our immigrant, Muslim, and refugee neighbors in the face of racism and xenophobia by fighting anti-immigrant ballot measures and Islamophobia. We’re also raising awareness about where different candidates stand on these issues, and mobilizing immigrant voters to be a more powerful force in this election.
Second, we are supporting the development of additional rural infrastructure. In many places, basic things like libraries and 911 services are not available or are limited. Consistent infrastructure and strong public programs help create the safe, welcoming and vibrant communities we all want to live in and they serve as the basis of building a new economic engine in rural communities. Strong communities are more likely to come together and stand up to patriot militias.
While these issues have unique and specific impacts on rural communities, they aren’t isolated to any part of the state. Xenophobia and violent intimidation impacts individuals and communities across Oregon, but by joining together to lift up these issues and the voices of those directly impacted, we can make all of our communities safer, more welcoming, and more vibrant.
Contributing the voice and experience of members of our community to this statewide and ever changing conversation is pushing us to grow and develop as an organization. Much of this growth is being supported by our work with the CBI program. Through peer learning opportunities we are able to build relationships with other CBI cohort members, strengthen our analysis, and pinpoint our role in Oregon’s grassroots social justice movement.
Three things you can do to support Oregon Action and our work in Southern Oregon:
1. Sign the Together for Community pledge against violence, threats and intimidation of our Muslim, immigrant, and refugee neighbors. Add your voice to the call for safe, welcoming and vibrant communities!
2. Donate! If you believe in the work that we’re doing at the intersections of issues and divides, show your support by contributing with a donation. No amount is too small—it’s neighbors, community members, and individuals who share our vision for a just world that make our work possible.
3. Follow us on social media! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to stay in the loop with the latest that’s happening and to follow our work.