OCJ provided funding in 2022 for community organizations to strengthen their capacity to participate in state-level policy and advocacy work in Oregon. While not a requirement of the grant, all organizations were invited to join OCJ’s inaugural policy cohort, and nearly all chose to participate. The Policy Cohort met every two weeks over Zoom, with occasional opportunities to gather in person for legislative days, two-day retreats, and relationship-building activities. Over the course of the year, OCJ worked with staff from these organizations to learn about and navigate the legislative session and the world of statewide policy-making. This past summer, OCJ met with each funded organization to reflect on what was learned and built through this process.
During our conversations, we shared reflections on the grant while discussing each organization’s current and future priorities, where their work intersects with the others, and their engagement with OCJ’s inaugural policy cohort. These dialogues allowed us to pause and think intentionally about the next phase of our collective work on behalf of Oregon consumers.
The importance of slowing down and moving at the speed of trust
From the beginning, the policy cohort provided a focused opportunity for partners and OCJ to co-create a space decidedly different from the typical policy and coalition spaces we often see in Oregon.
Together, OCJ and cohort members explored ways to do policy work differently by centering community and supporting policy staff to strengthen our individual and collective work. In particular, we considered how to share information and better support new staff only just beginning at organizations or those moving from organizing to policy roles. With OCJ’s logistical support, the hope was for cohort members to identify what would be most helpful to advance their policy agendas and determine how to do it more effectively together.
Organizations participating in OCJ’s inaugural policy cohort:
As a relatively new organization, we at OCJ know we need to take the time required to build trust and relationships. Before launching the cohort in 2022, OCJ met with each organization to describe the vision and goals of the cohort, discussing questions of structure and seeking to understand which topics participating organizations thought would be most helpful to cover. From these conversations, OCJ developed a calendar of topics to cover during the meetings leading up to and throughout the 2023 legislative session. At the cohort’s initial meeting, we asked for volunteers to help draft agreements to bring back to the broader group for adoption. These agreements are accessible on every meeting agenda, and the cohort reviews them twice a year to see if they still work for everyone or if changes need to be made.
While the initial grants were positioned within a consumer justice/consumer protection lens, OCJ urged the organizations that received funding to think about that framing very broadly. Over the past year of building authentic relationships within the cohort, we at OCJ have begun to identify areas of common interest. These areas point to where we can strategically partner to put people first and work toward justice for Oregon consumers. By taking the time to listen and creatively explore how consumer issues impact communities around the state, we are laying a foundation for longer-term movement-building.
Together, we have learned so much while building strong relationships
Organizations making up the policy cohort elevated the following themes about the cohort itself throughout the course of our recent reflection meetings. The cohort engages and fosters an active learning community, provides advocacy training and assistance within a collaborative space, and creates opportunities to build and strengthen relationships.
“It was a very safe space to come ask all the questions I needed to ask, and I truly appreciated the willingness to answer all of my questions. Thank you for creating the space that was created with the cohort. There are many takeaways from there, and meeting folks across the state doing the work was valuable.” Daysi Bedolla Setolo from Oregon Health Equity Alliance
“The cohort has given me so much confidence to do my work and show up for my community. I felt like the cohort had my back every step of the way. I am grateful for it.” Hilda Leon from Latino Community Association
Several cohort members testified for the very first time during the 2023 session and shared that the support of the cohort was instrumental in feeling able to be successful. Staff from Bienestar shared that they guided many community members for their first visit to the capitol to meet with legislators to discuss topics concerning housing. Bienestar staff also shared that they hope to continue to create accessible pathways for their community members to join the legislative process.
The cohort also created a space for members to build relationships and identify common interests and projects, even expanding beyond the cohort. Nansi Lopez from Centro Cultural connected with several cohort members and invited several other policy leaders to start a Latinas in Policy group. Malena Lechon-Galdos from suma shared that “the policy cohort has been a valuable access point to build relationships with other organizations, and that has been very important for my work.”
Justice Rajee from Reimagine Oregon shared that “the policy cohort was a valuable and positive space. I heard about projects and bills that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, and it was a place to come together with folks from different organizations and different parts of the state.”
The policy cohort also shared interest and excitement around engaging with specific consumer topics, including:
As we think about our next steps, we are working with the cohort members to create spaces for co-learning about consumer topics. We recently held educational sessions on student loans and the return to repayment, debt and how debts are collected, and data privacy. Liz with PCUN shared, “Bringing folks from outside the cohort to share their knowledge and expertise was really helpful. Meeting folks from other organizations that are newer to the policy process was great. It’s amazing to learn together and get folks connected to this important work.”
We at OCJ look forward to creating more spaces for co-learning opportunities with organizational partners and consumers. Sol Mora from the Coalition of Communities of Color noted, “Consumers feel confused navigating consumer protection topics; it gets very muddled. I’m glad you’re shifting into co-learning opportunities. This is where your organization is the most instrumental.”
OCJ will continue to work with partners to identify issues impacting community members. Maria from Centro Cultural shared: “We would love to work with OCJ on issues around credit reports. These challenges impact our community in many ways, from housing rentals to buying a car—just about every aspect of life. We can work for change together.”
Will Miller of NAYA shared, “Elders are key members in our community, and it’s important to protect them. Addressing issues such as medical debt, predatory lending, and scams align with NAYA’s work and how we serve and protect communities while ensuring our communities not just survive, but thrive.”
OCJ has learned so much from partners in the policy cohort about the importance of taking the time to build relationships and the harm that can be caused when information and power haven’t been shared. We are so grateful to be able to support collaborative spaces in deep partnership with organizational partners where the work is co-created and the wisdom each member brings to our collective work is respected. We will continue to strive for reciprocal relationships built on trust. OCJ is committed to not replicating extractive coalition experiences, and we look forward to continuing to learn how to show up authentically within reciprocal relationships. We are excited to launch the next phase of our work together to put people first!