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Painting over graffiti and grasping an opportunity in rural Oregon

[Ed note:  We received this communication from a member of the Rural Organizing Project describing a recent occurrence in the small town of Cave Junction, Oregon, which is one of the communities that ROP works with.]

On Saturday morning, January 5, 2019, the community of Cave Junction, Oregon woke up to discover “KKK” had been spray-painted in bright red paint all over their town. Vehicles, homes, and businesses were covered, and weapons wrapped in a Don’t Tread On Me flag were found nearby, sparking fear and outrage.

Neighbors immediately joined together to build a stronger community, to paint over white supremacist symbols, and to demonstrate loud and clear: hate has no place in Cave Junction!

As soon as folks saw the spray painting, several community members reached out to homes and businesses, offering details of what happened and help covering up the symbols. People gathered donations on social media and in town to pay for paint. Shortly after, teams of volunteers got to work painting.

While a suspect was quickly identified and taken into custody, rumors gained momentum that blamed young people in the community. Some community members began dismissing the need to respond to “kids being kids.” City leadership knew they needed to condemn the spray-painting of hate symbols and address the situation to interrupt the scapegoating the youth of their community. At the Cave Junction City Council meeting the next Monday, Councilor Lindsey Jones delivered a statement that emphasized how the community’s immediate response upheld their shared values:

Tonight, I would like to use the privilege of my time in front of the microphone to condemn the acts of hate that occurred in Cave Junction over last Friday night. I, like many of you, learned Saturday morning of graffiti representing hate groups and dangerous paraphernalia that were discovered throughout the town. The offense was found on residents’ private property and on local businesses.

It makes me simultaneously sad for and infuriated at the offending party. It makes me ashamed that these hurtful messages occurred in our town. This is not who we are. Hate crimes are unwelcome and unacceptable here.

But more than talk about that offense, I would like to highlight and praise our community’s reactions.

First, to hardworking and justice-seeking community leader, Jimmy Evans I give my everlasting gratitude for all of your service in our city. Thank you for alerting the community to the situation and ensuring law enforcement was contacted. Thank you and your team at CJ Patrol for keeping watch over our city and for helping victims recover from wrongdoings.

Second, to those of you who offered to help and offered resources to help clean up the offense, Thank you. Your generosity and community pride is evident. Let’s continue to find ways to work together to make our town more beautiful and equitable for all. And to those who speak out courageously against this crime and the injustice that it represents, keep it up. Lift up your voice and support others who do the same. And know, that you are not alone and that I am here with you.

And finally, an observation. I observed many making knee-jerk judgments that this act was committed by a teen. It’s offensive and discouraging to blame our local youth without evidence. In my direct work with our teens in our community, I have proof that we have a cohort of kind, generous and creative youth. Let us lift them up, let us lift up those qualities and let’s celebrate their successes rather than placing blame, especially when it does not belong to them. And perhaps by blaming it on “kids being kids” we are trying to lessen the impact of the disgusting messages that that graffiti represented. Trying to lessen the pain or sweep that hate under the rug, ignoring this problem won’t make it better. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only Love can do that.”

So, dear community let us be the light and love that uplifts and THAT is who our community is and that is what we are about.

Councilor Jones’ statement was met with applause from the audience, and outrage was accompanied by hope and community pride. Members of Cave Junction Homeless Alliance spoke of the potential for a task force or group of volunteers to address the spray-painting because they faced several challenges during the initial clean-up, including finding paint that matched the buildings, getting permission from business owners who were out of town, and inclement weather. Members of the Alliance requested City cooperation for the task force, including a plan to cover vandalism and hate symbols that could be implemented if business owners are not able to be reached. The ideas surfaced at the City Council meeting will be further discussed and put into motion!

When a community is shaken by brazen acts of white supremacy, we demonstrate our power together through our response, no matter how simple it may seem. Folks in Cave Junction joined together to show that they are a community of love who will show up when their neighbors are targeted with hate. City leadership also delivered an immediate and powerful response in solidarity with the community, denouncing the hateful message and taking community concerns seriously. Together, community members and elected officials responded in a unified voice to declare that hate has no place in Cave Junction. Let us be in the light!

The Rural Organizing Project with a tiny staff coordinates hundreds of volunteer leaders and thousands of supporters in small towns to counter the Right on every front in rural Oregon. The group’s structure  enables and requires ROP to focus on organizing and grassroots leadership development to maintain the depth and breadth of movement-building work.  The issues addressed by this work include Militia/Patriot movement and rural organizing tools, Democracy and civic participation, immigrant fairness, LGBTQ justice, Economic justice and the Cost of war

Rural life in the metropolis
Tent living in downtown Seattle—rural life in the metropolis? Although one time, tents might have been associated with getting out of town to go camping, we now refer to “tent cities.” They once were set up without authorization by homeless people or protesters but now they are becoming a normalized part of the shelter continuum: box, tent, accessory dwelling unit, apartment, house, mansion, gated complex. Another increasingly familiar version consists of set up by governments and the military to house refugees, evacuees, detainees, soldiers…and so on and on.

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