Calling our Communities: an Organizing Action Kit from ROP and SURJ

Issue at hand:

Over the past few days, we have been inundated with articles about the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge building in rural Eastern Oregon. This moment didn’t come out of nowhere; the Far Right has been organizing for years and their movement only continues to grow. It is fueled by the ongoing economic crisis: job insecurity and losses and the predictable anger of working people and veterans, the vast majority of them white.

Hardest hit areas in Oregon are those where economies formerly based on resource extraction, such as logging and mining, that have not recovered from the loss of jobs in those industries, and where today the federal government regulates the use of the majority of the land in order to provide environmental protections.

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Programs created to help these areas maintain their basic infrastructure and services as they transitioned to a different economic base (such as the Oregon timber payments) are running out, or are gone completely. Efforts to raise local taxes have also failed in part because of the economic stresses families face and because there has been a national anti-taxation effort since the 1980s. In Oregon and other western states especially, the vacuum left by defunded or destabilized infrastructure is sometimes being filled by militias and other paramilitaries who offer themselves as privately run alternatives for communities desperate for public safety and disaster response.

We know this is how militias recruit in rural communities and we know many of these militias are tied to white supremacist ideology and institutions. Those of us who are concerned about how the Far Right is taking advantage of these conditions need to be building and supporting local campaigns for community power that advocate for public services, community safety, and accountability in a framework of inclusion and respect for human rights.

Below are a few ways to begin the conversation in your community and to take action this week. Questions or want to go deeper? Email jessica@rop.org or info@showingupforracialjustice.org

The battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of White people in this country. The fight against racism is our issue. It’s not something that we’re called on to help People of Color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because really, in truth, they do. — Anne Braden

What We Can Do

1. Get Informed. Read the overview of the “Patriot” and militia movement here, and/or any of the articles below.

2. Take Action

3. Calling our Cousins: Go and talk to Other White People

We know a lot of people have a lot of questions right now, and part of our work is to talk with other white people. The target audience for these conversations is white people, especially rural and working-class people who live in the areas where militias are organizing, building and recruiting, which is happening almost everywhere.

It’s clear that these militias’ talking points and recruitment strategies are resonating with good-hearted folks across the country, including our family members, neighbors, and coworkers, who are isolated, frustrated with the little that has been done for their families, and hungry for community. Let’s take this opportunity to engage other white folks around our shared values and vision for our communities!

Question: What does this have to do with racial justice?

Response 1: Most of the militias like the ones we are seeing in Oregon this week offer a political outlook that is deeply tied up with the legacy of white supremacy in our country, both explicitly and implicitly. Part of our work for racial justice is to expose and confront white supremacy as it attempts to find footholds in the mainstream media and public. In this case, white nationalism is being intentionally and unjustly veiled as a rural ideology, which is not usually the case. This is especially important work for white folks to take on with rural communities with our neighbors, friends, etc.

Response 2: When people are feeling economic or physical insecurity, it’s easy to point the finger at a scapegoat, often people of color, as the culprits. Part of our work as organizers and white folks for racial justice is to help redirect anger at root causes: global capitalism, the mega-wealthy and the government structures that don’t allow community needs to be met and responded to consistently. This is the most important priority for us as organizers as we build up intersectional grassroots movements to confront injustice.

As long as poor white folks and communities of color remain divided, our entire communities lose. One of the most important aspects of solidarity is direct communication with those who are being repressed, to honor and work from where they are located. The militiamen, comprised largely of out of state members, that has taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge building, is using this moment as an opportunity to elevate their cause against the wishes of the local Oregon family that is at the center of this case.

Question: Why aren’t these people being called terrorists?

Response 1: Many militia groups have done the hard work of organizing community leaders, civic groups, and other pillars of communities by speaking to their fears. At SURJ, we believe in calling in rather than calling out, and in this case it is clear that, when talking to our neighbors, calling them or the movement they identify with as terrorism is counterproductive. Folks are angry and these militia groups proudly suggest they are offering the chance at real self-determination. That's powerful and worth some study.

Response 2: Talking about this moment through the narrow legal frame of “terrorism” perpetuates the narrative around terrorism that centers the criminalization of people of color as well as Muslim communities.

Question: Why aren’t the police, the Feds, or the National Guard taking them down?

Response: First of all, we’ve all watched in horror as police brutally cracked down on movement moments from Ferguson to Baltimore to Waller County, Texas. This is not what we believe is the type of safety and accountability we want or need in our communities. To expect or wish for that in this moment is to buy in to the type of system where we look to a militarized punitive force to keep us safe.

Question: If Black, Muslim, or other people of color were taking over a building, the police and federal government would be all over them. Why isn’t that being talked about more?

Response: Yes, it is completely true that if this type of action was taken by Muslims, African Americans, or other people of color that law enforcement would respond very differently. It is also true that all militias are not made up of only white people. Militias are tapping into some very real economic fears in primarily white poor and working class communities, and are harnessing the very real anger of veterans, which disproportionately include people of color.

This is an opportunity to recognize that when communities are constantly under attack, our anger can be funneled to scapegoating. We’ve seen many stereotypes about rural people and communities in the past few days. We believe in the dignity of rural communities as much as we support #BlackLivesMatter, #Not1More, and indigenous and other people of color-led struggles.

Question: What can be done to counter these militias?

Response: They are building a movement by harnessing the outrage from the loss of power and privilege many white people have experienced over the past 50 years. We are building a movement for justice and human dignity. This is a moment for white folks to fight for that same base. Supporting organizing that is building power in poor, working-class, and middle-class white communities builds our movement and ensures folks are inoculated against the influences from militias and far Right organizing.

Question: This is just a couple of wackos. Why are we paying so much attention to them? That’s just what they want.

Response: Let’s be clear: these militia groups are part of a larger movement being built by the Right, harnessing the outrage of white folks around Obama’s election and the backlash to the Movement for Black Lives. They are building a movement in the same way that many of us are working towards on the Left. We have witnessed the growth of militias and far-right groups across Oregon and in rural parts of the US for quite some time.

Check out this timeline for the Southern Poverty Law Center of the growth of the Patriot movement from 1990 to 2010. Discounting the work of the militia and Patriot movements doesn’t make them any less powerful and misleads our friends and allies about their reach and power in our communities.

Certainly the inherent needs of poor white people are reason enough to organize—they, like poor black people, are ill-fed, ill-housed, and lacking in opportunities for education, medical care, political expression, and dignity. But I think what we are recognizing is that these white people will never be able to solve these problems unless we find ways to unite with the black movement seeking these same things. All of southern history proves this to be the case. — Anne Braden

Get Informed

The Patriot Movement: From Posse Comitatus to the Oath Keepers By Spencer Sunshine, PhD, Associate Fellow at Political Research Associates

“In April 2015, armed right-wing paramilitaries converged on a mining claim in the Galice Mining District near Grants Pass in Josephine County, Oregon. Organizationally, it was a combination of different parts of what is called the Patriot movement: militias, 3%ers, Sovereign Citizens, and the Oath Keepers.

The Patriot movement is a form of extreme right politics that exists between the Tea Party end of the Republican Party and the white supremacist movement.* Generally those in the Patriot movement view the current U.S. federal government as an illegitimate, totalitarian state. They see the militias that they are building—and allied county sheriffs—as political-military formations that will eventually replace the current federal government.” To read more, click here.

Here are some questions to help kick off a discussion:

  • Who is the Far Right recruiting? How is the Far Right building power and influence?

  • We are seeing that militia and Patriot groups are providing resources where county infrastructure has eroded, from policing to emergency response to natural disasters. What are the public services that have been cut or eliminated in your community?

  • What is the Far Right’s vision for our communities? Why do you think it’s appealing to people? What is your vision?

  • We know that the Far Right is trying to divide us and we have seen the scapegoating of African Americans, Latin@s, immigrants, indigenous folks, other people of color, welfare and working class folks, trans* folks and queers, youth, and beyond. Why do you think people believe these arguments? What is there to be gained by the Right by dividing our communities these ways? Is scapegoating happening in your community?

  • If you don't live in a rural community, what are the institutions or individuals who represent the ideologies being promoted by militias? What does this movement look like in your community?

  • Are there groups in your community who might be sympathetic or actively participating in this movement? How are they recruiting?

  • How can we support rural and small town communities in our state in ways that expand economic opportunity and are rooted in real community values?

More Articles on Militias, the Oath Keepers and the rise of the Far Right

Five Things You Need to Know about Oregon’s Militias- Spencer Sunshine, US Uncut.

While the news of the Bundy gang forcefully taking over a federal building in Oregon may come as a surprise to some, the occupation is part of a larger pattern for those who have studied far Right political movements. Here are five points that provide a greater context for why this happening, who the occupiers, are, and who actually supports their radical viewpoints.

Economic insecurity and timber payments in Oregon- National Public Radio

Voters in Oregon are deciding whether to raise their taxes to make up for lost timber payments from the federal government. In Josephine County, the sheriff has laid off 80 percent of his deputies.

Going to Extremes: The anti-government extremism behind the growing movement to seize America’s public lands- by Center for Western Priorities

In this report, the Center for Western Priorities reveals the extremist origins and foundations of the movement to seize American lands, many of which have not been brought to light before. We describe how public lands issues attract extremists, including members of organizations like the Militia of Montana and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

Oath Keepers- Justine Sharrock, Mother Jones

Glenn Beck loves them. Tea Partiers court them. Congressmen listen to them. Meet the fast-growing "patriot" group that's recruiting soldiers to resist the Obama administration.

The Oath Keeper Who Wants to Arm Black Lives Matter- Alan Feuer, Rolling Stone

One after another, the black men in the crowd told him that if any of them tried to wear a gun like he and his teammates had—openly and on the streets of Ferguson—the police would shoot them down.

Patriot Movement Resource List by Political Research Associates

Oath Keepers on LittleSis 

Background on the loose association of currently serving or former military, reserves, National Guard, veterans, Peace Officers, and Fire Fighters—a branch of Tea Party Patriots.

What would the West be like without Federal Lands?- Chris Madson on WyoFile.com

Most of the land the state currently owns is leased to private interests. The Office of State Lands and Investments has neither the manpower nor the inclination to keep track of how those lessees are managing the state property under their control, which means that much of it is routinely abused for short-term profit.

About the Rural Organizing Project

The Rural Organizing Project (ROP) is a statewide network of over 50 autonomous locally-based groups in rural and small town Oregon that work to promote human dignity: the belief in the equal worth of all people, the need for equal access to justice, and the right to self-determination.

ROP’s most important work is to build the power of local groups to organize for change in their communities. ROP connects leaders and groups through collective action for inclusive democracy and shared organizing for racial, economic, and gender justice. You can visit us at www.rop.org, Facebook and Twitter.

About Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)

SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. We work to connect people across the country while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice organizing efforts. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills, and political analysis to act for change. For more information please visit our website, Facebook and Twitter.


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