|As news first circulated that I was terminally ill, many colleagues surfaced who wanted to insure that my work was documented and to offer their skills to the process. Little did they know, I am a hoarder. Few papers were ever discarded by me and many were carefully filed. And then another colleague decided to get a degree in documentation, Sarah Loose, and when she returned from Columbia University she set to work.I am still alive and this project is ready to go public.Most of you live far, far away but if you are near and curious feel welcome to join us this Sunday in Portland, Oregon.
Rural Organizing Voices House Party — Sunday, March 1st
2:00 – 4:00pm
Peace House (2116 Northeast 18th Avenue – Portland, OR 97212
Over 20 years ago, Marcy Westerling’s passion for organizing sparked a statewide movement for human dignity. Today, that movement continues to break new ground, building county-by-county organizing infrastructure that evolves to reflect the ever-changing face of rural Oregon. Because of Marcy’s work within Oregon and beyond, the Rural Organizing Project’s model has become an inspiration to organizers and communities around the country.
Join us on Sunday March 1st to celebrate and support the launch of Rural Organizing Voices! A project dedicated to expanding knowledge and strategies that advance rural organizing.
Rural Organizing Voices makes Marcy’s organizing wisdom and the stories and lessons learned throughout ROP’s 23-year history publicly available. Funds raised will support the completion of the Rural Organizing Voices Oral History Project and the establishment of a permanent “Marcy Westerling Collection on Rural Organizing” at the University of Oregon, featuring Marcy’s personal papers, case studies on the ROP model and a county-by-county archive. This cache of materials shares lessons from over two decades of organizing in rural Oregon and will be a touchstone for future rural organizers and leaders for decades to come.
We hope you can join us on March 1st! Drinks and light appetizers will be provided. Bring your checkbook!
Host Committee: Barbara Dudley, Cathy Howell, Sarah Loose, Suzanne Pharr, Sandy Polishuk, Ramon Ramirez, Dianne Riley, Deb Ross, Kathleen Saadat, Cara Shufelt, Dave Toler, Kelley Weigel, Elli Work, Thalia Zepatos
Not able to attend the House Party but still want to support ROP and these legacy projects? Donations can be made on the ROP website at: http://www.rop.org/rural-organizing-voices-donations/ or by sending a check to: ROP, POB 1350 Scappoose, OR 97056. Include “Rural Organizing Voices” in the memo line.
Who are we? When we get the cancer diagnosis, cancer and the urge to survive dominate our lives. Depending on the stage of diagnosis, it happens at different levels. Stage 1 and 2 folks seem to learn to tip toe through their normal lives with cancer carried along as a silent companion slipped into pockets of existing pants, jackets and bags. Stage 3 and 4 folks, well, our cancer seems to barely fit in an oversized tote bag making our old scramble through life clearly marred with this weight. We put it down but there it sits, waiting for us to pick it back up because, sigh, it is our burden to carry. It is heavy. It is awkward. It often makes it into a room before we do – like a nine-month pregnant woman’s belly except we arrive to silence and discomfort.
The other day on facebook I found a post that delighted me. A woman I know only virtually and through cancer advocacy (we both have advanced, recurrent ovarian cancer and worked hard to expose the drug shortages and get doxil back in use) had found me mentioned in an article in Yes! Magazine. It was the former Marcy, the community organizer Marcy, the Marcy who loved her life.
And I loved having my worlds meet. Yes, I have terminal cancer. And yes, I have a life. I am still trying to make the world a better place even if the hours I can dedicate to it are lessened by treatments and being in my closing phase of life.
And if you want to meet the Marcy who is a community organizer (and has terminal cancer) please read this article A Caring Economy Requires Building Bridges—Not Burning Them – Traditional organizing makes opponents into “enemies,” but a new crop of activists is using love and empathy to create new alliances and possibilities.
I can accept and love my current life the most when it accommodates all of me.
The space was lovely, the weather beyond perfect, the host team award worthy and a cake that I never got to sample perhaps in an inadvertent boycott of the cutting into such a thing of beauty. The cake was massive and covered with the ‘best of’ photos of yours truly collaged artistically together.
I stayed on the dance floor and despite my fears that my lung capacity might reduce my ability to boogie, I did not return once to the designated ‘marcy rest throne’. It was wonderful dancing with so many dear friends. At the height of the evening some loud bangs erupted. Oops, the accumulated sound had detonated a few wine glasses. It was time to start winding down.
I had a day of rest before flying off to New York City. Two big east coast events had been foisted together without much ease. The first was a two-day conversation closing out a two-year thinking/action project on engaging the white working class in progressive identity. ROP was among four other groups to feature their work. It was a typical such gathering – 12 hour days, an expectation of your mind always being on.
A special needs person such as I is theoretically accommodated but there is only one size fits all participation. Sit up, stay engaged at the table and maybe, if you are determined, manage 8 hours of sleep. Day one, I functioned. Day two, I functioned. Day three, I functioned and I stopped holding my breath waiting for a glitch as my body rebelled. For five full days I functioned just like any other member of the working world. And I loved it. Luckily, I was able to manage quality food and exercise (there was no day that I walked less than five miles – god bless Manhattan.)
The formal meeting ended. I switched to family housing, slept a full 10 hours and had enormous support in the logistics of the second adventure. I awoke at a leisurely pace on Thursday to walk the 3 miles to Penn Station, train to Philly and exit the train to find the one and only Holly Pruett waiting at the top of the escalators prepared to snap a photo to document this moment – after 18 months we were going to walk to University of Pennsylvania in Philly for a medical appointment. We were finally here.
Holly apologized for her ‘wardrobe malfunction’ but I knew she was the perfectly attired companion for my assignment today to prove to UPenn that I am in ideal health. Holly looked young, fashionable and vital, loaning a definite edge to my efforts. She had clearly spent her proceeding 10 hours in Philly preparing to be a tour guide as we walked the mile from the train station to UPenn. If this was to be my new home, I should start learning about it. (Philly is the 5th largest US city, has five major sports teams and a superstitious relationship with where William Penn’s statue resides in the relative height of downtown Philly. There is more, much more, but we hope to have time to share the delights of Philly.)
In no time we were at the stunningly new, open design of the research wing, signed in and waiting for our appointment to start. Both Holly and I sighed with enormous relief when they acted like “yes, we are expecting you.” All the intake folks were like “really, you are traveling here from Oregon?” YES! WE ARE!!!!!!
The person we have negotiated with for 18 months was there in the flesh and blood. Everything started with hugs. The repeating of information, often having a flash of panic, ‘wait, could sharing this disqualify me?’ Meeting the doctor in charge, Dr Tanyi, who like my new OHSU doctor, is both brilliant and communicating to me through a Slavic accent that I have yet to master. With great energy he reviewed the theory behind the TWO (who knew) clinical trials that I was being screened for. Between needing to remind myself ‘I am truly sitting here’ and the accent, even with my great familiarity with the trial theory I know I missed details.
After the physical exam, he declared me an ‘optimal candidate’, posed for a group photo and left us to meet the project lead and work out the details like the dates for my formal signing of paperwork (May 8th), apheresis/dialysis (May 22nd) and the first vaccines over the three days of June 4th, 5th and 6th with subsequent vaccines every three weeks thereafter until I decide to stop, we run out of my tumor or the cancer grows.
I arrived home after midnight last night. I am thrilled to be home and ever hopeful that by choosing to loan my body to the frontier of medical research forward steps will be made in taming ovarian cancer and extending my own life. Formal signing of paperwork will not happen until May 8th but there is every reason to belief that, courtesy of many, I will be enrolled in the Phase One, cohort four arm of this trial. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for just a little longer.
What a week! Thank you all for the great send off.
For the first time since October of 2011 I have a ct scan that shows no sign of disease progression. Phew! (There was disease reduction but it is unclear if that was active cancer or dead tumor dissolving.) Stability is the name of the game.
Monday, July 30th , for better or worse, I will be profiled live in the second half of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud. If you go here http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/marcy-westerling/ you can even pose a question – ones that bring it back to rural organizing are valued.
AIR DATE: Monday, July 30th 2012
POSTED BY: JULIE SABATIER
At 53, Marcy Westerling is taking stock of her life and legacy as a community organizer. She’s also making tokens for her friends to remember her by. Two and a half years ago, Westerling was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. She says,
“I can accept dying and dying young. What I’m less OK with is disappearing…I want to be a mentor for younger organizers and allow myself the gift of feeling like I’m going to be carried forward even though I don’t have control over how long I’m here.”
Westerling is probably best known for founding the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) in the 1990s. ROP is an advocacy group focused on sexual and racial minority communities in rural Oregon. She’s stepped back from her leadership work at ROP, but she remains very involved as a both a mentor and keeper of the group’s institutional memory.
Do you have experience with the Rural Organizing Project? What would you like to ask Marcy Westerling?
While the OPB show might be fun, what will be much more fun is a dance party slated for Saturday, August 18th. The best DJ is donating his time and great food and beverages are being lined up.
A Summer Dance Party! Save the date – share the invite
To benefit the Rural Organizing Project & all our psyches
Hosted by Marcy Westerling* & Cara Shufelt
Put on your dancin’ shoes because ROPers and urban friends are gonna dance the night away in Cara’s backyard! (With great food and drinks and music.)
When: Saturday, August 18th 6-9pm
Where: Cara’s Backyard:
What: An evening party to mix & mingle, hang with ROPers & Marcy, dance the night away to a live DJ and support the work of ROP! Great tunes and good times.
* special note: I will be getting my inside look scan results the week prior – these determine if this chemo is working after a long year of limited success in containing my cancer. So, you can well imagine that dancing, if the results are good (please!) or bad (wah!), will be very, very therapeutic.
Thank you to everyone who made last Saturday night so special! I would say more but I am still too wiped out. (It will be nice when the post chemo fatigue fades.) Anyway, a long time ROP supporter and friend wrote up his reflections on the day and night – I share his words in lieu of my own. If only he had stayed for the great dj’d dance party at the end…since his narrative didn’t get that far, let me just say, it was great!
“If I were designing a dream event for activists as a holiday gift, it would have looked a lot like the ROP Roots and Wings Celebration. The afternoon brought us the gift of four incredible allies of ROP from across the United States (Tarso Ramos of Political Research Associates based in Boston, Eric Ward of the Center for New Community based in Chicago, Scot Nakagawa from Mexico and Suzanne Pharr from Tennessee) sharing their more than a century of experience in organizing and upholding the values of democracy and human dignity with us. The format of two speakers followed by reflection at each table and then questions turned it into an active process and one that deepened the connections of the people at their tables. As one board member put it the only better thing would have been spending a day with each of the speakers. Like a chocolate cake that’s too rich to eat at one sitting. And then, of course, Marcy (at her Marcy-like best) drawing out the lessons from the speakers and the analysis into a set of questions, a plan, something concrete to take back to the spiritual barricades to guide our work. That would have been a great day… but we were just getting started.
The evening program to honor the roots (including Marcy Taproot) and wings of ROP’s gave us an even deeper place of reflection and connection. Okay, it has been known to happen that when you get together to do a celebration/fundraiser thing people say nice things about each other, pump up the crowd sort of, raise a little money and then you go home. This is not what happened. Honoring Marcy, of course, made it special. And celebrating her continued presence among us raised it to a higher level. Her courageous (sorry Marcy) struggle against cancer on behalf of life, including her own, simply reminds us of the preciousness of what we are fighting and loving for. It matters. It’s precious. So this made the evening special, but it was more than that. The people who have built ROP over the last 18 years love each other. Staff, board members, community activists. ROP has given us the chance to do that by bringing us together to take on struggles small and large… together. Through the campaigns, the caucuses, the phone calls and the visits ROP has done something that social media can’t. It has created a family. And that was what made this evening special. It was family coming together after a day of work to look back on what we’ve accomplished (against long odds) and what we’ve become and forward to where we are going next. Everyone who spoke, spoke from the heart, not from notes on a napkin. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, after all these years and taking a few hits, we’re real. We can talk to each other from the heart, as if it mattered.
And all this against the backdrop of love and deep appreciation. And we noticed that over the last few years we’ve grown as an organization, that we’re able to support each other in ever greater ways. That the new leadership is brilliant, powerful and committed, just as the old leadership was. We’re in it for the long haul. Good things don’t get lost, they build up, like rain in the clouds over a parched desert.
So, if I were designing an event for activists, here in the winter of our discontent, to strengthen us for our work, it would have looked a lot like this.”
It is Thanksgiving Holiday week – a ritual of gratitude for many in this culture. The wind howls, the rain (& snow!) falls, the last of the leaves can see their fate. I am excited for winter. These days I am excited for anything that I get to be here for.
Right now I hope to be around for a lot. My body feels good most of the time. The first look-see since diagnosis showed that the chemo had done a valiant job. My cancer had not grown and much of it had shrunk. (Of course what I really wanted to hear was the radiologist’s declaration of NED – no evidence of disease. While you can get that with an advanced cancer diagnosis, it is a little bit of smoke and mirrors. The very definition of Stage IV is the cancer lurks. But my disease is stable.)
And so it is party time. For those who can travel in ROP is hosting a party on December 4th, 2010 unlike anything we have done before. For starters, it is downtown – oh my! (Regrets to all of us who fret the driving but some times things just happen that way.) We have friends flying in that meant so much to the founding of ROP. And hopefully many of you can be there as well!
Why this party? We gather to celebrate the wonder of transitions keeping things very much alive. Cara Shufelt, long time organizing soul mate and dear friend of mine, returned to ROP as I stepped off to my fellowship year with the intent of continuing a long term focus in rural counties outside of Oregon. Her return was not about my health but rather a shared vision.
My health did waylay my plans. My health, though, has not waylaid ROP or Cara. This makes me so happy. So Saturday night, December 4th the ROP community gets to celebrate continuity, new directions, vibrancy, and the thoughtful cycles that define life as I formally retire. Much love, marcy
Roots & Wings Celebration * Saturday, December 4th * Portland, Oregon
5:30: Roots & Wings Celebration A joyful look back at where ROP comes from and where we are heading honoring ROP Founder Marcy Westerling, new Director Cara Shufelt, and the growing community of rural leaders at the heart and soul of ROP.
1pm: Community and Resilience in the Face of the Right An interactive afternoon with national movement leaders and organizers from the NW asking what we can and must do to expand our movement for justice and counter the resurgence of the Right.