Opinion: A new Oregon vision grounded in rural wisdom – OregonLive

Roseburg has shown resilience despite decades of challenges, including tragedy in 2015 when a man fatally shot nine people and injured eight others at Umpqua Community College. The community, the author writes, continues to show solidarity with families and with one another. LC- Andrew Theen/StaffLC- Andrew Theen/Staff
Mandy Elder
Elder lives in Roseburg, the community where she grew up, and is a rural community builder and advocate.
Former Gov. John Kitzhaber recently wrote about the weariness and division he saw during a visit to Roseburg, urging broader understanding of the decades of hardship my community has endured (”Return to Roseburg shows need for a new Oregon vision, Dec. 19).
Roseburg isn’t just weary. It’s resilient. How do I know?
My high school peers and I graduated into The Great Recession, which became the basis for my generation’s understanding of our economy. Douglas County was especially affected by the resulting business closures. But when Roseburgians were laid off from their jobs, they picked themselves back up and went to school; they retrained and found a path forward for their families.
A few years later, we experienced a tragedy at our local community college, a beloved institution that launched many of us in our careers. Roseburgians continue to show complete solidarity with the victims’ families – you hear it in conversation and see it in the memorial plaques around town.
Later, residents’ disenchantment with public systems led to the closure of all of our county libraries, an unfathomable turn of events in urban Oregon. Yet dedicated community members found a way to reopen every single one, and they’re better than ever.
Wildfires in 2020 displaced our neighbors and destroyed our forest playground. Glide Revitalization, the community-based organization serving our neighbors in Glide, has never been stronger.
Schools, the anchor of community for many families, have been under stress for decades long before the pandemic. Underfunding is an understatement. And still parents, teachers and students continue to give it their all, believing that education is the cornerstone of our economic hope.
Housing, mental health, child care access, health care – all these challenges in urban Oregon are very difficult in Roseburg. So people find workarounds. They call up coworkers, leave their kids with the neighbor, and make long drives to Portland for health care. They just get ‘r done.
National and state-level conversations have made their way into our homes and daily interactions. So-called “liberals” welcome their “conservative” neighbors and family members into their homes and vice versa. We support each other’s businesses and families. We stop to chat in the grocery store and wish each other well.
Growing up in Roseburg, I have experienced our economy in decline my entire life. Economic restructuring has meant that businesses have disappeared and living wage jobs are hard to come by, leaving people scrambling to afford basic necessities. We don’t feel the economy is rigged against us, as Kitzhaber wrote. It is.
At every level of government, we hear of elected leaders shirking their responsibilities. We still have no national climate policy, income inequality is only growing and homeownership is out of reach for most. We don’t believe the government isn’t helping – it’s not.
Despite all of these challenges, Roseburgians keep showing up. They advocate for their kids, help their neighbors, support local businesses and nonprofits and keep working hard. People find ways to connect and be in community. That community cohesion or division would look different in Roseburg than Portland is not surprising; feeling and understanding community means grappling with all the messy parts of what it means to call a place home.
And all of this because when you care about a place and the people who live there, you take action to make it better, even when the odds are stacked against you. Indeed, Roseburg exemplifies Oregon’s state motto – we fly with our own wings.
So I agree with Kitzhaber. Oregon does need a new vision; one not just inclusive of rural communities, but rather rooted in their wisdom. Let’s harness the energy and passion of the people who live here to build that vision together.
Because when I look around at my community, I don’t see weariness. I see resilience.
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