Rural Organizing Voices is an oral history project that I initiated in 2011 to document and share the stories, lessons, organizing tools and wisdom amassed through the Rural Organizing Project’s over 20-year history of grassroots organizing in rural and small town Oregon.
The project seeks to critically analyze and articulate what’s at the heart of ROP’s organizing model through the voices, stories and reflections of historic and current ROP members, volunteers, staff, board, allies and critics. What’s worked? What hasn’t? What’s unique about what we do? And what does it all mean for our organizing moving forward?
Over the course of 4 years, I worked with a small group of volunteers to record nearly 50 oral history interviews. I also facilitated a series of listening/analysis workshops, to support current ROP leadership in taking a critical look at the organization’s past, with an eye towards improving ROP’s organizing into the future.
A project website features curated collections of interview excerpts, archives and essays. You can listen to and view some samples of the material that are available on the site below.
Origins is a 20-minute audio slideshow, in which ROP founder Marcy Westerling narrates the origins of ROP and Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity. Here are the first seven minutes:
The project features not only Marcy’s story, but also the voices and perspectives of nearly 50 different ROP and rural human dignity group leaders from around the state. We get to learn not only about their activism with ROP, but also about their early life experiences in rural Oregon and how they came to be committed to organizing for social justice.
Allen Hallmark is one of the narrator/organizers. Allen is a dedicated and long-time human dignity leader in Southern Oregon. He worked for many years as a journalist. Before coming to Oregon, Allen served in the US army in Vietnam. Partway through his service, he declared himself a conscientious objector. At the start of the Iraq war, Allen helped found Citizens for Peace and Justice, an ROP member group based in Medford, Oregon.
In this interview excerpt, Allen recalls his very first protest while he was a young college student in Texas. It was 1963 and Madame Nhu, who was the sister-in-law of South Vietnamese President, was traveling the United States seeking publicity and support. She had faced large student-led protests at her tour stops on the East Coast. So two of Allen’s college buddies encouraged him to come with them to the Dallas Airport to protest Madame Nhu’s arrival in Texas:
The project also lifts up powerful stories and victories from ROP’s history. One multi-media essay tells the story of the Walk for Truth, Justice & Community. It was 2005, not long after the crushing 2004 elections, when some 100 rural human dignity leaders took 7 days out of their life to walk 50 miles from Salem to Portland to call for peace, for immigrant fairness and for economic justice. In this clip, ROP board member and HDG leader, Dancer Davis, shares how the Walk impacted her: