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Veatch's Longstanding Commitment to Supporting Organizing in Oregon

For months now, our country has been gripped by mass demonstrations on a level that we haven't seen in decades. Everyday people continue to take to the streets, in cities across the country — to express their anger at the treatment of Black people by the police, the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on communities of color, and the seeming inability of our democratic institutions and elected officials to make meaningful progress towards change. 

Peaceful protesters have been greeted by aggressive police tactics in cities from New York to Atlanta — but in Portland, Oregon, tensions have been even further enflamed by the presence of federal law enforcement officers. According to the New York Times, several peaceful protesters have been seriously injured by federal agents, including one man whose hand was fractured by officers, and another who was shot with munition that fractured his skull. 

Veatch has long funded a wide array of organizations in Oregon, many of whom have been active in defending the rights of peaceful demonstrators to gather and protest. One such grantee, Western States Center, has been intimately involved with the actions that led to the successful removal of federal agents from the state.

Many of our grantees who are active in Oregon, including Western States Center, organize communities in both rural and urban areas — which has helped create a strong, united network of advocates and leaders who were ready to push back against the aggressive actions of the federal government. 

We are proud to count Western States Center, and many others, among our long standing grantees. In honor of their recent victory in Portland, we are dedicating this latest update to our longstanding work in Oregon, and the amazing work of our many grantees in the state.

Joan Minieri
Executive Director

Veatch Staff
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Western States Center Successfully Helps Remove Federal Officers From Portland

Western States Center — a Veatch grantee working to strengthen inclusive democracy in the Western United States — has been at the center of the fight against the presence of federal law enforcement in Portland during ongoing racial justice protests. In July, the group joined forces with First Unitarian Portland and the ACLU to bring a lawsuit against the federal government, asserting that the constitutional rights of protesters were being violated by the federal police.

As Eric Ward, Executive Director of Western States Center, said in a statement recently, "President Trump pulled these officers from their actual duties to use them as shock troops in Portland, with the goal of sparking conflict and distracting from his administration’s ongoing failure to contain COVID-19." 

Pressure from Western States Center, First Unitarian Portland, and other progressive groups in Oregon successfully led to an agreement, brokered by Governor Kate Brown and the federal government, to remove federal agents from the city. The removal of federal agents has allowed protesters to turn their attention back to their original intention — fighting for racial equality and justice.  

Check out this video of an Emergency National Briefing held by Western States Center along with other organizing groups to explore the threat posed to democracy by armed federal security forces at peaceful protests. And then check out the video below for the group's work to promote cross-racial solidarity in times of protest. 

Jobs With Justice Portland 

Jobs With Justice Portland — a Veatch grantee and coalition of over 100 labor organization dedicated to advancing worker rights  —  has long been fighting for a "community centered police contract" that prioritizes racial equality. 

In January 2020, Will Layng, the group's Executive Director, wrote an opinion piece laying out several reforms supported by his membership. These reforms include:

  • An improved system of civilian oversight over the police.
  • In deadly force cases, grant an independent civilian agency explicit jurisdiction to evaluate whether the officer violated bureau policies, with the ability to compel testimony and recommend discipline of officers.
  • Fire officers who have used excessive force or exhibited racism or other oppression against Portlanders.
  • Mandate testing for drugs and steroids following use of force incidents. 

Jobs with Justice Portland has also worked hard to engage labor organizations and unions in its campaign for criminal justice reform — and has succeeded in organizing 27 different organizations to sign on to a letter demanding the creation of a fair police contract that serves the public. 

Rural Organizing Project

Rural Organizing Project (ROP) — a multi-issue Veatch grantee made up of dozens of rurally-based community groups across Oregon working to advance socioeconomic justice — has helped ensure the protests sweeping urban cities in support of the Movement for Black Lives is taking place in rural communities, too. 

"There have been more than 200 BLM events in rural areas and small towns across the state, and many are weekly so this is constantly growing," said Monica Bremer, Development Director of ROP. "It does seem like a watershed moment — it's very scary, the things happening with the police and far-right threats and violence, but it's also very powerful to watch the people coming together and rising up."

The group has been supporting protesters in ways big in small. Recently, ROP organizers set-up a handwashing station at the place where folks are feeding each other in Portland. "It's called Riot Ribs, and is worth reading about," said Monica. "This type of community-care is happening in very powerful ways in communities across the state — including organizing for safety and security for individuals and communities under threat.”

Read more about the racial justice work of ROP in rural communities in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in this article from Portland Monthly. 

Political Research Associates

Political Research Associates — a progressive think tank dedicated to studying far right tactics in the United States — has conducted several pieces of research relevant to the policing crisis that unfolded in Portland over the last month. 

Most recently, in June 2020, the group release an article titled "Police, Paramilitaries, and Protests for Racial Justice," that examines the relationship between federal police agents and far right groups. As the paper states, "There is a significant history of cooperation between paramilitaries and the police and/or police who are sympathetic to or members of such groups." 

The group also included action items for those that may be attending protests and witnessing the presence of such groups. These include:

  • Photo or video if you can do so without risking your safety. Record the time and location. Note stickers on cars, “uniforms,” patches and buttons, weapons if any, numbers, and actions. 
  • Designate a local person on the security team to collect this information who can then forward to groups such as PRA. 
  • Also, please don’t circulate rumors about massive right-wing infiltration or disruption. Keep the focus on the demands for justice and protecting the movement from attacks by police.

Unite Oregon 

Unite Oregon — a Veatch grantee whose membership is made up of people of color, immigrants and refugees, rural communities, and people experiencing poverty — has been organizing to redirect $50 million of the Portland police force's budget towards community-based services.

The group has organized thousands of low-income people of color during this campaign, which specifically is attempting to: 

  • Invest in a community-centered health and safety model that is developed in strong partnership with community partners.
  • Redirect funds from Transit Police, which the group contends contributes to the "militarization" of the city's public transit system.
  • Redirect funds from the Gun Violence Reduction Team, which contribute to the over-policing of Black Portlanders.

Basic Rights Oregon

In 2007, Veatch grantee Basic Rights Oregon — a group dedicated to the empowerment of the LGBTQ community in Oregon — successfully helped ensure state residents can legally identify as nonbinary. The group filed a brief to the Oregon Court of Appeals that was hearing a case on the matter. 

The case concerned a Eugene, Oregon resident named Jones Hollister, who was denied their petition for a nonbinary gender marker by a County Circuit Court Judge last year. Last month, the Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, in Hollister's favor. 

"This is an enormous step forward toward a world where nonbinary people are fully recognized by our government," said Kieran Chase, transgender justice program manager with Basic Rights Oregon, in a statement. "To be clear, the law does not determine whether we exist—but when the law is just, it reflects what we know to be true and right. Nonbinary people are here, we know who we are, we have existed since the dawn of humanity, and we deserve to be acknowledged by the government that represents us, no matter where in Oregon we live."

Read more about the case here, and the watch this video below, in which Jones Hollister talks about what the victory means to them. 

Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste

Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) — a Veatch grantee representing the largest union of Latino workers in the state of Oregon — has been working to provide financial relief for agricultural workers forced to self quarantine on account of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The initiative, called the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, will provide two full weeks of pay to eligible workers, regardless of their immigration status. 

“Many in our state’s agricultural workforce are immigrants who have been left out of federal relief programs, creating additional financial stress for families,” said Reyna Lopez, Executive Director at PCUN in a statement. “At the same time, COVID-19 outbreaks have been more common at agricultural worksites where it is necessary for people to work close together.

Read more about this initiative, including information on how to apply or donate to the fund, on the group's website here. And then watch this short video, describing the need for the Fund, below. 
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