‘Oregon Narrative’ hopes to bring the best of our state, citizens together in success
by Daniel C. Robertson
It was a misty morning in downtown Portland adjacent to the McCall Waterfront Park in a large meeting room of the Mercy Corps office building. Thirty of us were seated at a series of tables arranged in a horseshoe shape, sipping coffee and tea provided by Neighborhood Partnerships and Oregon Voice, which are Portland-based not-for-profit corporations with a statewide focus on community.
The group, some 80 percent from Portland, gathered for a Communications Boot Camp, the goal of which was to identify the elements of Oregon’s story and work toward an initial draft of an “Oregon Narrative.” This shared state narrative has to tell a story about us, have a future orientation and provide an aspirational response to problems and challenges we, as Oregonians, face. This initial draft is only the beginning. Several other groups will take what we put on paper and add to it or take away from it until a refined narrative is crafted.
But what is point of this?
When I stop and think about it for a few minutes, I realize that the times when we, as Oregonians, have accomplished big things are the times when the majority of us were in agreement. Those were the times when people from Eastern Oregon and Western Oregon, the Coast and the Valley, rural residents and urban residents, were of the same mind about something. Saving our beaches, passing the bottle bill, continuing to ban self-service gas stations and voting down a sales tax are examples.
So this is the point of the effort to craft an Oregon Narrative. What is it that we can say about Oregon that will resonate with people from all parts of the state, of various racial and ethnic backgrounds and of differing economic and religious sectors of our population? What is it that we, as Oregonians, will lock arms together to protect? What is the shape of the future that we desire to create? What is the role of government in either protecting what we value or helping to shape the future?
There are many basic human needs that we all want met and would be happy to see everyone around us have as well. We all want a stable life with clean, safe and affordable housing, sufficient food, medical attention when we need it, education for all who seek it, close and supportive family and friends and freedom from crime and disaster. But these are not unique to us in Oregon. These are the needs and wants of people everywhere.
To be sure, Oregon’s unique and diverse geography is a huge part of being an Oregonian, particularly for those of us from rural Oregon. The rivers, the mountains, the beaches, the valleys (all 100 of them in the Umpqua), the wetlands and the deserts surround us with jaw-dropping beauty and complexity. But while all of us may have a great fondness for this geography, it seems that our love of natural environment has divided us more than united us.
Oregonians are, as a group, an independent lot. Everywhere from the “Keep Portland Weird” slogans to the isolated private property rights “Keep Out” sign crowd of rural Oregon, we see evidence of this self-reliance and pride in uniqueness. We could surely “mess with Texas” for the title of most stubbornly independent! Yet it is hard to perceive how being bullheadedly independent brings us together.
Perhaps another trait of Oregonians, whether from the big cities or small rural communities, is a can-do attitude. Often you see bumper stickers with the slogan “get ‘er done” plastered to the bumpers and rear windows of vehicles in all parts of the state. Just as often those stickers are paired with an “I (heart) Oregon” sticker. In fact, in the big room at the Mercy Corps office, it was just that attitude that prevailed. Everyone in that room, no matter where they were from and what their political or social perspective, shared a love for Oregon and a persistent can-do attitude.
The other feeling shared by nearly everyone in the room was that there are too few opportunities for us to get together and talk about our desires and wishes for our state. There’s plenty of time and space to complain about what is happening, but precious little time and space to look for common ground. Maybe we didn’t accomplish anything, but it sure did feel good to try.
I guess my hope for the future is that we, as Oregonians, stubbornly and independently and with a can-do attitude, express our love of Oregon and its diverse geography by reaching out to other Oregonians from other parts of the state and from other political parties and social/economic backgrounds and differing races in an effort to truly shape an Oregon Narrative that we all share. Given the current state of politics in this nation, THAT would really make Oregon unique!
Daniel C. Robertson of Yoncalla, a native Oregonian, participated in the Communications Boot Camp in his role as president of Neighborhood Partnerships. Upon hearing of his involvement, The News-Review suggested he write a guest column on the event. Robertson, a Roseburg attorney, is the former director of the Douglas County Museum and host of Progressive Perspectives on KQEN radio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.