Oregon Affiliates Help Lead 2013 Legislative Victories

The Grassroots Meets the Inside/Out, and One-on-One Strategies


For advocates of health equity and immigrant rights in Oregon, the 2013 legislative session has been particularly sweet,
and Alliance affiliates Oregon Action and the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO) both played critical roles in leading these state efforts. While organizers often seem to find more time to reflect on what could have done better or on how legislative fights are lost, it is just as important to recognize how the efforts of these two organizations helped lead to such diverse and critical legislative victories.

Major pieces of legislation passed this year including tuition equity for undocumented students, cultural competency training mandates for health professionals, drivers license restoration for undocumented immigrants, and improved racial, ethnic and language data collection and analysis. These victories are especially meaningful after some bitter defeats of similar legislation in 2011 and following a renewed perseverance of statewide networks to turn that tide by increasing coalition partnerships, raising grassroots voices and leadership, identifying support from opinion leaders and securing endorsements from legislative allies.

Oregon Action convened two statewide networks that helped change the face of cultural competency in Oregon healthcare. The [tippy title=”Oregon Health Equity Alliance”]Steering Committee Members Included:
Center for Intercultural Organizing, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), Causa Oregon, and the Urban League of Portland[/tippy] came to the table immediately after the difficult losses in 2011 to develop new strategies and work together regularly to refine their approach. In the summer of 2012, they began their work in earnest, building awareness and support for the issues in their communities and with elected officials. Working closely with other partner organizations, they met with as many stakeholders as they could find, and also worked closely with supportive legislators to develop specific legislative concept language for an aggressive agenda in 2013. They coordinated communications, messaging and logistics around key issues so that when the session began they could launch a cohesive, efficient, and effective campaign.

Simultaneously, Oregon Action co-created the [tippy title=”Oregon Cultural Competence Legislative Action Coalition”]Coalition Members Included:
Urban League, Basic Rights Oregon, Oregon Student Association, Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon Medical Association, SEIU Local 49 and Oregon Psychological Association[/tippy] . They led the external strategy presenting to all of the impacted health licensing boards, obtaining their support, and building an extensive list of endorsers and supporters of the bill. They assisted the Oregon Health Authority in establishing two distinct initiatives: Health Professionals of Color Semi-Annual Gathering and Oregon Health Authority, Office of Equity and Inclusion, Cultural Competence Continuing Education Committee. They were an active participant on this committee and led the sub-committee on standards and definitions for trainings that the state would use as a template for all continuing education credits offered to licensees in Oregon.

“We were standing in the hallway having a general conversation regarding the session, when she asked me to describe what HB 2611 would do change the behavior of providers with biases and preconceived notions about people of color,” recalls Ron Williams, Executive Director of Oregon Action. “She [Republican Senator Jackie Winters] asked some very tough questions, and I responded with clear and concise answers that left her a bit speechless.” He was reflecting on the lessons-learned in working toward bi-partisan support rather than leaning too heavily on progressive allies. Following this conversation she decided to carry the bill on the Senate Floor, made an impassioned speech and she brought all but two Republicans along to support the legislation.

Meanwhile, CIO formed their own inside-out strategy. CIO’s Public Policy Director Andrew Riley credits the hiring of two Racial Justice and Public Policy Fellows, and a concerted effort to build their grassroots capacity, as key moments leading up to the 2013 session. “We worked hard to give our community members space to share their own stories with policymakers, which ultimately made all the difference, particularly for issues like Tuition Equity. We were able to fill hearing rooms, pack legislators’ offices, and have deeply personal conversations about what are often tough, esoteric policy issues. We sustained our organizing and advocacy during the time between sessions, working hard to cultivate and maintain our relationships with lawmakers and their offices.”

And it worked. With a strong grassroots presence, a united effort in the capitol to build bi-partisan support, and a clear agenda with concise messaging, bills that in the past had been stalled or killed in committees were passing in both chambers by comfortable margins. ‘I can’t stress enough how the human impact has changed the conversation in the Capitol,” says Riley. “In 2011, we were debating whether or not Tuition Equity, Driver Cards, or Cultural Competency were doable; in 2013, we’ve moved from “should we do this?” to “how can we best do this?”

For Riley, his most memorable moment was the celebration that happened immediately after the Senate approved the tuition equity bill: “After they finished voting, we all headed into a back hallway of the Capitol, and it kind of sunk in for all of us (probably a hundred supporters) at once. We started hugging, crying, and chanting “Sí se puede” and “this is what democracy looks like.” After ten years of hard work to get this passed – and 3 years of my own blood, sweat, and tears – it was unbelievable to see the bill finally get through the process, and to share the moment with the folks who could now start planning for college.”