Positive Change at a Grassroots Level
Rural Oregon Progressives
In the fall of 2015, Rural Oregon for Bernie organized support for USW workers at several ATI locations throughout the country. While we supported our workers in Albany, we reached out to fellow-Berners in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Texas so that steelworkers in those locations also received regular support. Our distant friends walked the line with them, oftentimes on agreed-upon dates that aligned with our Rural Oregon for Bernie group actions. Friendships were established across the miles that remain strong today.
During the 2015-2016 holiday season, Josh Hall, Albany Local 7150 president, told me that he came into the union office one day to find their treasurer was sitting at his desk with a big smile on his face. In front of him was a pile of holiday cards, envelopes, and checks from Bernie supporters, marked "Bernie Loves Unions". He is so appreciative of our efforts—and yours-- at fund-raising for the holidays. After we put a request out on FB for holiday support, they received $1,020 at their union office from Bernie folks all over the country. It made their winter season so much easier!
During the 7-month lockout, we carried USW signs shoulder to shoulder with the steelworkers, accompanied The Raging Grannies as they sang union songs, fed and were fed, rejoiced together, wrung our hands, and though it all, continued to walk the line weekly
in unity of support for good paying American jobs everywhere.
Our group painter, Brian Heath, donated time and material to
create informational signs that were displayed for months at the
Albany site. Soon after, our group received it’s own 5’ banner as
a gift from our union brothers. It was hung on the main tent at
the lockout site in Albany, Oregon.
We began our support in Oct 2015 and celebrated at a catered
meal with our close friends, the USW steelworkers, on March 1st
as their new contract neared ratification.
Bernie walked the line with union workers, and so did we!
Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly that; “Enough is enough. This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires, their Super-PACs and their lobbyists.” (Bernie's words from his declaration of candidacy on May 26th, 2015)
With those words from Sen. Bernie Sanders, an idea took root and a spark was ignited in small town rural Oregon. I loved what I heard and wanted to be part of this great campaign!
It wasn't long before I organized our first get-together, down a long gravel road in rural, typically red, Oregon.
It was June 26th, 2015 and our
"We Want Bernie" house party
turned out to be much more than
just a mere one time meeting.
Yes, it was fun and informative,
but most of all, it brought folks together
who thought they were alone in their
political views out here in the country.
A volunteer base was in the making; a group
of people willing to host get togethers, carry
clipboards, make calls, and help plan events.
Getting the word out on BERNIE was our main objective at that point. No longer lone progressive voices, we became a team, applying our talents in cooperative activity.
This little town was learning that we were in this for the long haul, same as our candidate!
We became known nationwide as Rural Oregon for Bernie and carried that name until mid 2016, at which time we became Rural Oregon Progressives.
Here is Jeanie Wright's Standing Rock Story:
I could barely stand the excitement as we pulled out of the driveway, bound for Standing Rock Indian Reservation, South Dakota. My sister and I have always felt a connection to Native Americans and had been told recently that our Great Grandmother may have been a Choctaw Indian.
Now, here we were, on the road to Standing Rock in my 2002 van, which was packed FULL with donations. We were driving tandem with another (donated) pickup, also loaded full of donations, driven by Brian Heath and Luke Grossmiller.
I painted the words "Standing Rock or Bust!" on my back window, and "Supply Run 3.0 Standing Rock SD" on my side windows, and I'm so glad I did!! (In fact, I didn't want to wash it off, but finally had to sometime late the following Spring.) Time after time we got tears in our eyes and lumps in our throats from the reaction of people to us. They honked, waved, hugged us, and left many notes on my car (most with money in them). We felt confident, buoyed by love, and that we were being honored by having this incredible opportunity to do something that would make a real difference. We told dozens of people how and where to donate.
Our trip was quickly organized by Marcia Stewart, Lisa Ortiz, and many generous Rural Oregon Progressive members.
Cash for our expenses were donated through a GoFundMe page. Donations to the Standing Rock Water Protectors eventually over-flowed the camp, and then over-flowed all of the nearby towns, churches, and various Goodwill-type agencies. They filled up with winter clothes, food of every imaginable description, water, building materials, tarps, medical supplies, blankets, MANY army tents, and firewood.
We met people there of every race, creed, and color, from every corner of the world. We all had in common the fact that we'd felt compelled to drop whatever we had been doing and just BE THERE. We loved telling each other our stories in the evening while sitting next to tribal Elders chanting and talking around the Sacred Fire. One particular Elder who we all loved called "Uncle" was known to be a spiritual person, and although many times he was difficult to understand, everyone hung on every word he said, and showed him the utmost respect. The first night we were there, as we were all taking turns introducing ourselves at Uncle's request, I told him about my long-time attraction to the tribal ways and people, and that I thought our Great Grandmother may have been a Choctaw. I asked him (oh, the audacity!) if he would give me a Native American name. After a few moments of quiet thought, he named me "Hiding on the Wind". Yes, we WERE cold, although it was only early October and the South Dakota winter had barely begun. It was very windy every day, a strong, icy wind that cut through to the bone. It destroyed dozens upon dozens of shelters and tents, and blew belonging so far away they were un-retrievable.
So anyway, relying on my past experience as a restaurant-owner, I spent as much time as possible (from daybreak until about 6 p.m.) in the make-shift kitchen, attempting to keep warm. We served 2 meals a day to between 80 and 120 people. When I wasn't in the kitchen or busy doing chores, you could always find me very close to the Sacred Fire. We were taught that only tribal members should feed the fire, that it is considered rude to turn your back to the fire (which I did once), and to, of course, never throw any garbage into the fire. It was never allowed to go out; they built it during the first days the Water Protectors set up camp, and maintained it until it was moved closer to the main camp late the following Spring.
None of us will ever forget waking with the first rays of dawn and hearing the tribes singing, praying, and playing the drums. Sometimes high-spirited young Water Protector warriors whooped through camp, encouraging everyone to stay proud and strong, and to keep their spirits up. The amount of strength, love, mutual respect and respect for the environment reminded us of how absent those things are for many of the rest of us. When a young couple announced that they had decided to deliver their baby, the first baby born in the camp, their request for a special tent with a stove inside was immediately granted, and it was filled with everything they needed. They named the little girl Mni Wiconi, Water of Life.
Thank you everyone, for all of the generous donations that made this unforgettable journey possible.
Stretching from Corvallis, Oregon to Davenport Iowa, U.S. Highway 20 sports several Bernie campaign signs along its 1970-mile stretch thanks to our painter, Brian Heath.
The times were celebratory and installing one of Brian’s hand painted signs locally gave us good reason to gather and toast our progress. Lebanon volunteers still maintain the sign on our section of Highway 20. Please enjoy our video.
After installing several signs locally, word spread far and wide that Brian “had paintbrush—will travel.” Upon his arrival in Davenport, Iowa, he travelled the same route as the campaign, painting as needed for Bernie’s offices, local farmers, campaign events and even political debates.
We started as a small group of like minded people, inspired by a vision of hope for us all, in the middle of a national election and a debate on what kind of world we want to live in. We have grown to be both learners and educators striving for positive progressive change.
Here are a few snapshots of how we got started,
by Marcia Stewart
It was October of 2015 and we were looking
for ways to tell people about Bernie. So far,
we had tabled at farmer’s markets, passed
out leaflets at car shows and held signs at
weekly honk and waves., but we still wanted
to reach more folks with the good news of
his candidacy. Suddenly, two items came
to my attention.
1) Albany, Oregon hosts the largest Veterans Day Parade west of the Mississippi.
2) The Veterans of Foreign Wars recently awarded the Congressional Award to Senator Sanders.
“Let’s enter the parade!” was my initial response. Whoa..…not so fast. Parade management does not allow political entries. Hmmm…
Not to be foiled in my attempt to introduce 40,000 veterans and onlookers to the name of Bernie Sanders, I left no stone unturned. I made calls, provided newspaper articles covering the Congressional Award, and made a concerted effort convincing parade bigwigs that we deserved to be included. Bingo! We were accepted!
Rural volunteers started meeting frequently; excitedly making plans for a float, designing banners with Joanna Rosinska, and printing informative handouts (nothing political of course!). We lined up our favorite videographer, Ashley Terry, and took care of the many other preparations that went along with this unexpected opportunity to support our veterans and at the same time spread a new progressive message throughout our valley.
It was drizzling parade morning as we lined up in preparation to march which soon gave way to clearing skies. There were close to 50 participants in our group who came from Salem, Eugene, Independence, Corvallis, Sweet Home, Lebanon and beyond to join in solidarity as we reverently and proudly walked the parade route. We were honored to have Ret Col. Jeff Julum and his son carry our banner alongside Salem area Berners who carried an identical one.
As we neared the judge’s area we heard cheering from the crowd as this statement boomed over the loud speakers:
Every year, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, our nation’s largest service organization of combat veterans, honors one US Congressman or Senator by presenting him with the VFW Congressional Award. On March 4th of this year, VFW National Commander John Stroud in Washington D.C honored Senator Bernie Sanders with this prestigious award for 2015. Senator Sanders was acknowledged for his steadfast service to our wounded, our ill, our injured veterans and their family members. Senator Sanders pushed through legislation to improve disabled veteran’s benefits, VA healthcare services, and treatment for women veterans. He also wrote legislation to provide better employment opportunities, grant greater access to mental health programs and improve VA claims processing. This group is marching here today to honor Senator Bernie Sanders for his work on the behalf of veterans.
The crowd was very friendly, waving and smiling all along the route. At one point my husband, wearing his Vietnam Veteran’s hat, was caught up by the crowd. They gave him hugs, thanks, and the huge “Welcome Home” he had waited for since 1970. To this day he will tell you that November 11, 2015 changed his life, as Bernie has changed all of our lives.
In this compelling video combat wounded,
Vietnam veteran Jerry Stewart talks about
some of his experiences and perspectives
and tells us why he supports Bernie Sanders.
Our shared commitment to move forward was strong, and deep friendships were soon to follow. Armed with hand made-signs, informative handouts, sign-up sheets, voter registration forms, banners and our hometown smiles, we soon began our weekly Honk-and-Waves on a busy traffic corner in Lebanon, Oregon.
After a few weeks, the shocked expressions from our community members turned to outward greetings, mostly good, as we became part of what they expected to see every Friday on the corner of Highway 20 and "Bernie Boulevard", as I came to call it.
We asked Jeanie Wright to write about her supply run to Standing Rock. Our group had scheduled the first of Oregon's Statewide Meet-up for Our Revolution The timing was great, since we were able to announce in advance we were collecting for a supply run to ND, thereby receiving many donations.
Nicholas Engel, an activist who had just returned from a prolonged stay in Standing Rock, gave us a briefing on the situation. He led us in prayer prior to sharing a meal made with recipes brought back from ND by Lisa Ortiz.
While Nicholas prayed, a circumzenithal arc,
also called an upside-down rainbow,
appeared overhead. We took that
"smile in the sky" as a very good sign and
rejoiced, clapping, cheering and hugging
We warmly shared Buffalo Stew, Three Sisters Stew, fry bread and cornbread, which a few of us cooked up the night before with the help of our visitors, Lisa, James Barber, and Kevin Hunt. All guests were served plenty, including homeless people, who carried out meals with them that would feed not only themselves, but family and friends waiting back at their campfire.