Organizing for Peace

What were you doing in 1992?  I was going through a divorce, and on welfare, with three small kids.  I was living in the small rural town where I grew up, and unbeknownst to me, a movement was being born right under my nose.

That year, a group called Oregon Citizen’s Alliance, headed by extreme conservative and homophobe Lon Mabon, proposed a measure designed to deny civil rights to lesbians and gays in Oregon, and all hell broke loose.  Measure 9 said all governments in the state should not support homosexuality - or "pedophilia, sadism or masochism" - in any way and that they "must assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided."  (The group had already succeeded in 1988 in repealing former Governor Neil Goldschmidt’s executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in state government, via Measure 8.  The 1988 measure also prohibited protection for lesbian and gay workers from job discrimination.  In 1992, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned it, declaring it unconstitutional.)

Although their rallying cry was “no special rights,” Measure 9 was really about no rights whatsoever, not even the right to live and exist in our society.  This created arguably one of the most hotly contested elections in Oregon history.  More people voted in this election than in the presidential election.

At kitchen tables across Oregon, groups were coming together to talk about LGBT rights, and they were starting to organize.  In larger urban areas, it was easier to find like-minded people, but in the small, rural areas of the state pockets of awareness were forming.  Small, isolated towns were forming human dignity groups in response to this attack on our fellow citizens.  I had a “No on 9” sign in the front window of my house, much to the annoyance of my next door neighbor, a very conservative Christian, whose lawn was peppered with “Yes on 9” signs. 
Meanwhile, a small group was traveling across Oregon, from kitchen table to kitchen table, connecting ideas and people.  The Rural Organizing Project was born.  By connecting like-minded people who had been geographically isolated from one another, local human dignity groups, under the statewide umbrella of the Rural Organizing Project, banded together and soundly defeated Measure 9.  Many younger people in Oregon have never even heard of the OCA, or Lon Mabon, but those of us who remember will do whatever we must to prevent the hostile takeover of state law and government by hate groups.  Perhaps we should thank Lon Mabon, the creepy little bigot for kicking a hornet’s nest of fair-minded activists. 

In 1993, the Rural Organizing Project held a Rural Caucus and Strategy Session, bringing together human and civil rights activists from all across the state, and the permanent organization was formed.  On June 8, 2013, the 20th annual ROP Rural Caucus and Strategy Session was held in Woodburn, and for the first time, I was able to attend.  I was honored and humbled to be in the company of people who had spent decades defending the rights of others.  This year’s was the largest ever, with over 160 people in attendance.

I firmly believe that in the absence of justice there is no peace, and there is no peace activism that does not include the responsibility for social justice.  I came away from the caucus believing more firmly than ever before that, while peace rallies are great, every single one of us can be a peace activist every single day.  We all have our niche in which we can create peace through social justice. 
Some of the issues discussed: preventing corporate takeover, treatment of the homeless, LGBT rights, immigration reform, the drones program (and of course war), privatization of public services, fair housing, marriage equality, Guantanamo Bay, self-sufficient living, economic justice, creating welcoming communities, poverty and hunger, youth leadership.

I left with a packet full of information on a variety of issues, feeling empowered and happy.  You don’t have to sign every petition, attend every rally, or march every march to be an activist.  But if you can find something, one thing, that matters to you… that’s where it begins. Everyone who was there had their passion.  I had the privilege of hearing so many voices, and it was overwhelming, but in a good way.
I am hoping, over the next few blog posts, to highlight a few of the efforts taking place, some of the partnerships that are being formed, and maybe some stories of how they got started.  But for now, I’ll simply share the overriding values identified by the Rural Organizing Project… democracy, human dignity, justice, and solidarity… and encourage you to go to their website and learn more:

In closing, I will share my all-time favorite story about my dad.  When I was growing up, my dad was not known for his open-minded spirit. He used to remind me of the character Archie Bunker off the TV show All in the Family.  At about age 68, he quit drinking and I saw his demeanor become kinder.  At age 72, he went completely and irreversibly blind from macular degeneration.  In 1992, at the height of the OCA debacle, he was 76 years old and eating lunch with my mom at the local senior meal site.  The discussion turned to politics, and inevitably to Measure 9.  My brave dad, in spite of his blindness, in spite of his awareness that since World War II, he had lived in an extremely conservative community, STOOD UP, and spoke out loudly and boldly to his peers AGAINST Measure 9.  My dad, who I had once compared to Archie Bunker, took one small action that will forever define him in my book as an activist.  I have never been so proud as I was of him when I heard about it from my mom.  He didn't define himself as an activist, but he believed in fairness.

My dad would have turned 98 yesterday.  He passed away in 1994.  For the past 19 years, I have tried to live in a way that would make him proud, but most of all, to be as brave and outspoken about my truth as he was that day.  That one moment changed my perception of him forever, and sometimes all we need is one moment to speak out for justice to create peace.

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