At MRG we often think of social change work as building a wave. At the tip of that wave are the tangible victories like new laws or changed policies. But behind that crest is a great deal of water – base building, forging relationships, culture change – that makes those tangible victories possible.
As I reflect on Oregon’s social justice movement, it’s clear to me that 2014 will be about the often-invisible work of building the wave: gathering, inspiring, and mobilizing thousands of people across the state to become active in the fight for social justice.
While we will certainly be mesmerized looking for the crest of the policy waves coming our way in 2014, there are three key wave-building arenas we need to pay close attention to this year:
#1: Base-building will take center stage
Much like a wave has to gather volume and momentum over vast distances, this will be a year to gather social justice supporters and allies across the state.
For example, in 2013, Oregon’s legislature passed a law guaranteeing access to driver cards to people who don’t have access to the documentation required for a full driver’s license. This isn’t just about immigration. Many seniors, people of color, and folks born in rural areas also lack access to required documents. The Safe Roads Act affirmed the rights of all Oregonians and made roads safer for all drivers but anti-immigrant opponents have secured enough signatures to put the legislation on the ballot in 2014.
While no one likes rehashing already-won fights, this will be an important opportunity to build a stronger coalition with law enforcement, faith, and business communities who support common sense laws. This also gives the movement the opportunity to expand the conversation beyond the legislature and have meaningful conversations with thousands of Oregonians, winning hearts and minds for a socially and racially just Oregon.
#2: Empowering and training youth leaders is critical to victory
Young people play a critical role in the movement for social justice and younger voters are increasingly the deciding factor in contested elections and ballot measures. In 2014, with several hotly-contested social justice issues in play, the power of young voters and activists will be magnified.
MRG grantees like Lotus Rising Project, Human Dignity Coalition, and PFLAG Portland Black Chapter have been empowering young LGBTQ and allied Oregonians while Momentum Alliance, Latinos Unidos Siempre, and Juventud FACETA were instrumental in mobilizing undocumented students to speak out for tuition equity. The success of the Safe Roads Coalition and the marriage equality campaign led by Oregon United for Marriage will depend on their ability to tap into this energy and mobilize young people – who consistently support both marriage equality and progressive immigration reform.
#3: Planning for November 5th will determine our future
There will be some big-ticket items on the ballot in 2014, but perhaps even more important than the results on November 4th is the direction we will head on November 5th (and beyond).
We know that 2014 may determine the fate of marriage equality in Oregon but it will also be a critical planning year to guide the movement after marriage. Behind the scenes, this campaign will have far reaching impacts that go well beyond the scope of marriage.
Come November 5th, will we be well positioned to build for the next big wave? To ensure Oregon is a safe, affirming place for LGBTQ youth? Will we build a healthcare system that fully meets the needs of trans Oregonians? Will we strengthen ties to intersecting movements like immigrant and workers’ rights? Win or lose, the LGBTQ agenda for years to come will be shaped in 2014.
Building the Wave
There are going to be some big battles in 2014 – and they certainly won’t be limited to marriage equality and immigrant rights. We will hopefully win some. We will probably lose some. But, even with more than a few the big-ticket items up on the social justice agenda this year, a great deal of the work will involve building that wave. The relationships and coalitions built, the young people mobilized and empowered, the movement planning and strategy – these things may not make a big splash, but they will be critical in future efforts to build an Oregon where all people, cultures, and ecosystems can thrive.