This blog is part one of a two-part blog series drawing on a conversation with OCJ’s executive director, Jagjit Nagra. Jagjit joined the organization in this inaugural role in March 2022.
Oregon Consumer Justice has a bold mission to build a consumer marketplace that is safe, fair, and puts people first. At this pivotal moment in our organization’s evolution, we are committed to the work ahead to realize consumer justice in Oregon.
Why consumer justice?
Oregon families must be able to do business safely and make financial transactions without risking their financial stability and well-being. For a safe consumer marketplace, it’s necessary that families have the information, resources, and ability to exercise their consumer rights. Yet every day, many Oregonians experience negative economic and emotional outcomes due to predatory practices, deceitful financial services, relentless scams, and fraud. For communities of color, these negative impacts are experienced at disparate rates to white communities—an unjust and ongoing consequence of systemic racism, discrimination, and bias. The rate of evictions, foreclosure, and difficulty accessing fair financing remains higher among people of color, especially for Black families, restricting the potential to build generational wealth. BIPOC communities encounter blatant discrimination in the marketplace and more insidious actions as primary targets of fraud and predatory actors. From auto dealerships to education to credit and government services, Black, Latinx, Indigenous people, and other people of color are frequently targeted by scammers with false promises, illegal fees, and deceptive ads to exploit and take advantage of their circumstances. The pandemic’s uneven toll further underscores and exposes these and other disparities.
As the only organization in Oregon fully focused on consumer justice, OCJ is taking steps to realize a consumer marketplace that works for all Oregonians, focusing on BIPOC communities and other groups most harmed by predatory practices. Our board, staff, and community members will come together this fall and prioritize OCJ’s work and strategies for achieving this goal. Before we look forward to what is possible, let’s reflect on OCJ’s accomplishments to date.
What consumer needs exist statewide?
Between the summer of 2021 and early 2022, we sought to understand consumer justice needs through the experiences of individual Oregonians. In partnership with community and culturally-specific organizations, our initial conversations engaged communities often targeted by unfair practices, including BIPOC communities and elders. Findings of OCJ’s listening sessions spotlighted an array of immediate consumer justice needs in the state — unfair auto financing, medical debt, scams, and so on. Insights also emphasized how many people feel helpless in these situations, unsure of their rights and where to find practical support.
Conversations among Jagjit and community organization leaders elevated similar frustrations regarding the consumer justice space. The vastness and variety of consumer justice issues mean that much of the need simply isn’t met. We are grateful to learn where individual Oregonians and our partners see gaps and opportunities, ensuring OCJ’s actions are rooted in and responsive to community needs.
How will OCJ engage communities?
Community is central to all aspects of our work. Over the past year, we have taken steps across our programs to resource community organizations through grantmaking and to create pathways for community members to deeply engage with our work:
$1M+ in Emergency Eviction Response Grants
We view the threat of eviction as a threat to Oregon consumers’ financial and personal stability. In 2021, OCJ issued $1M+ in grants to 32 community-based organizations to address gaps in the state’s handling of emergency rental assistance helping more Oregon families keep stable housing.
$2M in Policy, Community, and Consumer Grants
Furthering our commitment to community-based organizations and coalitions to enact transformational change, we announced nearly $2M in funding across 15 organizations earlier this summer. This investment will support their capacity to address consumer justice issues through policy advocacy at the state level.
>> Learn more about the grantee cohort learning circle in part 2!
OCJ Community Cohort
We recruited a cohort of Oregonians who have experienced consumer injustice to join our efforts as vital members of OCJ’s organizational planning this fall. In the four months preceding the planning session, cohort participants will have the opportunity to learn, provide feedback, and have full voting power —on par with board members — regarding our direction.
“OCJ is committed to authentically bringing community into our processes and decision-making,” shared Jagjit. “We center community voice, compensate individuals and organizations for their time and expertise, and invest in meaningful ways to share power.”
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