Over the last several months there has been increased networking and unifying support within the Black Lives Matter movement communities of Northeast Oregon and Southeast Washington.
“Finding allies instead of isolation, the goals of peaceful transformation of not only law enforcement, but how the government itself recognizes systemic oppression, continues to gain ground,” says local activist Nancy Peterson. “The goal is to keep this at the forefront of the population’s mind, and galvanize the movement against the continual pushback.”
Peterson says there has been a recent increase in inter-county cooperation, especially with our neighbors across the river in Umatilla County. “What’s awesome is now we are seeing a lot of back-and-forth traffic on the websites and going to different marches and protests. The call to action goes out and people are in their cars, hitting the streets, and having each other’s backs."
In July, Black Lives Matter allies groups in Umatilla County made significant strides toward addressing the county’s systemic racism. They proposed an order to the County Counsel whose summary reads:
“It has been requested that the Board take formal action to document its stance against racism in Umatilla County. A resolution has been drafted outlining the stance of the Board against racism, discrimination and social injustices in Umatilla County and initiatives to accomplish more racial equity in the county.”
“What a crazy ride it has been, and this is just the beginning!” says Kassi Harp, of Black Lives Matter Allies - East Oregon. “Those of us in Umatilla County officially just made our first step towards true equality in our small, rural section of the state this week. On July 15, a protection order for People of Color was proposed to our commissioners by Black Lives Matter - East Oregon and Umatilla County Responds.”
Harp says that they proposed the order to help the commissioners acknowledge that Umatilla county is not exempt from systemic racism. Another goal of the order is to hold the commissioners accountable to act on ending Umatilla county’s systemic racism alongside community equal rights groups.
The proposed order names multiple specific actions, including improvements in mental and medical health care, improvements in housing access, an increase in availability of economic growth for People of Color, addressing the need for more dependable access to healthy food, internet access for distance learning, and much more. The commissioners have stated that, “Umatilla county can and must become a model for the State of Oregon in terms of our concerted effort to assure the presence of equity, dignity, and justice for all.”
“I’ll say it loud for everyone to hear,” says Harp. “Equality isn’t just necessary, it’s mandatory. It’s a basic human right. This isn’t just a small issue. This is an attack on humanity, and we, along with our commissioners, won’t stand for it.”
Responses from the community to the protection order have been very positive. A bilingual (Spanish/English) and bicultural Honduran-American library patron, homemaker, community liaison, and a Blue Mountain Community College student named Isis Ilias Gutierrez says, “When I read the order I knew that Umatilla county was intentionally working towards inclusion. While I would like to say ‘all people are equal,’ I recently took History at BMCC (which I recommend). The reality is that, we are not. We are still building those laws today, to include people that were omitted in the past. Umatilla county has made the decision to confront the past, learn from our egregious history, protect People of Color, and make the future one where ‘all’ people feel equally safe.”
Jessica Casey, a member of Black Lives Matter Allies - East Oregon, says, “This new order gives the members an active engagement to combat systemic racism towards our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community. And particularly to give the BIPOC community a new sense of hope…. this order shows us that BIPOC lives truly do matter…. [and] sets the example that as community leaders, they are able to support everyone within our community equally.”
Nancy Peterson, who has worked with a range of equal rights groups in the Tri-Cities, Hermiston, and surrounding area, says she’s hopeful that Benton and Franklin Counties will follow Umatilla County’s example and adopt a similar protection order.
“Diversity in government leads to more ideas and stronger strategies forward, because no one gets left behind,” says Peterson. “I’ve worked on behalf of diverse individuals both in the classroom as an educator and on the street as an activist. I know that when people have equitable access to resources and responsibilities, they thrive.”