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Roey on the Road: Her Report from Eugene

On our second “Roey on the Road” stop, we pulled into Eugene on a beautiful chilly night and all the holiday lights downtown made for a great welcome. But for Thomas, BRO’s Organizing Director, and me the best welcome was getting to our first location and seeing the fantastic joint fundraiser that all of the EQuality Network volunteers had put together!

The Eugene/Springfield EQuality Network is a group of activists, some new and some with decades of experience, who are working together to make the most of the political power that the GLBT community in Eugene is known for. The fundraiser was fancy, with wine and little quiches, and you knew people were dressed up because there was hardly a Birkenstock to be found! Mayor Kitty Piercy and State Representative Debi Farr both attended, as well as several Eugene Human Rights Commission members and other such dignitaries.

Mayor Piercy gave a motivating speech that declared her support for full equality for all Oregonians, and reassured everyone that she enjoys being the mayor (which is wonderful news, because she is, by every account, really good at it).

After the party, which raised important seed money for the new EQuality Network PAC (political action committee) and also for BRO, we walked a couple of blocks to a public forum with about 35 people -- EQ Network members and others from the community. Todd Simmons and Sally Sheklow who serve as Chair and Vice-Chair of the EQuality Network put together the forum to give folks in the community an opportunity to dialogue on a more informal basis about what’s at stake in 2006.

It was also great to see the members of the Lane Gender Task Force, many of whom rode with BRO down to the Creating Change Conference in Oakland last month. We really got to know one another during our 20-hour drive to the conference in two vans, so it was a bit of a homecoming for me to see Maceo, Jesse, Toby, and Joe (Thomas sees them all the time because he travels to Eugene frequently).

I spoke for awhile about our plan for the next three years and especially about how important local organizing is to that plan. The Lane Gender Task Force passed around sign up sheets for some phone banking that they are doing in the coming weeks to gauge voter support for anti-discrimination legislation focused on gender identity. This effort is significant, because it will be the first time in the nation that voter identification has been done specifically on the issue of gender identity issues. This group is doing some really strategic thinking, in cooperation with BRO and national leaders in the transgender equality movement, about how to move forward with a proposal to include gender identity and gender expression in Eugene’s civil rights law and they deserve a lot of praise for their thoughtful work.

Sally made sure that everyone knew about the Religious Response Network, which is a group that has been meeting since the mid-90s to bring the voice of faith leaders to help the GLBT rights movement, especially during ballot measure campaigns. There was lively conversation about the role of faith communities in our movement and many people shared the opinion that the voices of people of faith needed to be louder and stronger and more organized. Todd also made the important point that we have got to focus on traditional campaign techniques in between campaigns, so that we are always identifying voters, building our activist, donor and voter lists, and increasing our strength strategically. I couldn’t agree more!

Our next stops on the road include trips to Salem and the Oregon Coast this weekend. Check back for an update on those events!

What was most clear to me is that in a liberal place like Eugene, with a long history of radical politics, there is clearly enough activist experience to make real change—in fact, it is this activism that has made Eugene what it is today. Activists in Eugene have been through over a decade of campaigning, defending themselves from the anti-gay ballot measures. The challenge now is to create a dynamic program that is proactive rather than reactive, and to engage people in times when we aren’t necessarily under the same kind of attack as the ballot measure campaigns. In the discussion with Equality Network, it was clear that what needs to happen is to get out there and talk with tens of thousands of voters on OUR terms, and to lay the groundwork for proactive changes.

The GLBT community is facing a big question right now: are we willing to put in the time and energy needed, in our evenings and weekends, and make the sacrifices it will take to do this work? As Eleanor Roosevelt said, it’s easier to curse the darkness than to light a candle. We could spend this time cursing the darkness, criticizing others and sitting on our behinds, or we could jump in and do what we know will take us to victory. Some dedicated people are setting the stage in Eugene, and they have what it takes to be role models for all of us. I’m proud that BRO is partnering with them, and we’ll do everything we can to support their hard work. Will our community rise to the challenge?
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