It ain't just about picking up trash

By Gerik Kransky of Hillsboro, Oregon. Gerik organized last weekend's SOLV Beach Cleanup. He is a Western Democrat and often blogs at

What is the value of the Great Oregon Beach Cleanup? Sure, last weekend 5,493 Oregonians picked up 46.5 tons of trash, litter, and debris. But is SOLV just organizing garbage service for Oregon's ocean, waterways, and public parks? Hardly.

This BlueOregon water cooler is surrounded by dedicated activists, political hacks, policy wonks, and people who just wish they were. Y'all had better keep your eye on the house that Jack McGowan built. SOLV preaches a special brand of community activism, a brand that is driven by Oregon's rural communities.

My job at SOLV includes traveling around rural Oregon training volunteers to become volunteer managers and project leaders. When I walk into the library in Baker City to host a training, the first thing I ask is "what do you want to do in Baker City?" From that point on I focus on sharing SOLV's skills and resources with those community leaders in a way that helps them build successful improvement projects and stronger community based organizations.

I am just one of 34 dedicated staff out here in Hillsboro quietly building stronger communities from the ground up. We come to work every day focused on engaging volunteers in meaningful service, restoring watersheds, promoting education programs aligned with Oregon state standards, instilling leadership skills in our youth, and supporting local improvement initiatives of all shapes and sizes.

Thousands upon thousands of Oregonians live in the house that Jack built. If you want to engage people on that scale, you had better give them something they want, like results. With over 100,000 volunteer engagements last year and more than 2 million pounds of trash collected over the history the Beach Cleanup, SOLV delivers results. We are in fact strengthening Oregon's communities one person at a time, and the Beach Cleanup is just one piece of the puzzle.

Oh, and what does SOLV stand for anyway? We ditched the old acronym; I dare you to come up with a new one.

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    Y'all had better keep your eye on the house that Jack McGowan built. SOLV preaches a special brand of community activism, a brand that is driven by Oregon's rural communities.

    and what are "we all" doing that's different? i live in a small city/large town (hard to really pin Corvallis down) surrounded by rural communities. we are as active here as anyone, and we're doing it on our own terms -- local politics driven by local residents. to be blunt, we don't need anyone's input on how to do community activism here; we're already doing exactly that.

    in Portland and Eugene, people are doing exactly the same thing: taking part in fixing what's wrong with their communities. the whole point of "grassroots activisism" is that it happens here and is done by us. them big city folk is doing exactly that, y'all. there is nothing special about living in a rural community; it's just another place with its own set of problems.

    i'm glad for the great work that SOLV does, especially in jumpstarting efforts in communities without the resources found in other parts of the state (and before this post, i wasn't aware of that; it's good to know). but they have invented nothing new. they are simply one more invaluable group doing community activism around the country. the implication that the BlueOregon community needs what SOLV offers is not a great way to engender support. i'd hate to think that the "S" in the new acronym might stand for "Smug".

  • Erica M. (unverified)

    It's exciting to hear about the work that SOLV is doing to organize and empower rural communities. As an urban progressive, the urban/rural divide in Oregon is one of those issues that is ever-present and the solution to that divide is equally allusive.

    I am wondering how successful SOLV's community organizing workshops, trainings, and subsequent community action is at activating citizens for larger political change. I understand that SOLV is a non-partisan, non-political organization, but if SOLV is real force in changing and activating communities, there is inherently something political in that action. How do you go from activating folks to pick up trash or other community service exercises to really being positive forces for their community on a larger scale? Eventually the goal of protecting and enhancing the livability of a community will become political. Does SOLV's strategy prepare citizens for larger political change and if so, how?

    Seriously this is a real question, not a finger-pointing exercise. As a community organizer myself, I struggle with these questions everyday. If we ever want to expand out movement, we need to figure out how to activate those that don't consider themselves political, but our goal is still the same - to expand out base and to take our political environment back.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    T.A. - I think you are a little hard on SOLV. It is a grassroots group going thought the transition from having a charismatic leader to becoming an institution. They do good work and make Oregon a better place.

    SOLV?? Support Oregon's Living Values ??? Livability??

    Generally, I object to the paradigm where an outside group forms to come into a rural area and teach us how to do something we generally know how to do already. It is patronizing, poor form, and it happens almost weekly in rural Oregon. But, I temper that objection for grassroots groups like the Rural Organizing Project and SOLV that grew out of local people working together to solve problems, and then sharing what they learned, their strengths and resources, at the State or regional level. In these cases, it isn't the outsiders coming in once more to tell us how the "cow eats the cabbage", but rather our own folks in alliance with other folks with similar objectives and goals.

    So, T.A., I think you were a little too quick out of the gate on this one.

  • Gerik (unverified)

    T.A.- SOLV does not have any input on how you are doing community activism, nor does BlueOregon need anything from us. I said to keep an eye on us because SOLV seems to be under the radar of progressive groups I hang out with. I mention our work here because, like you said, many of you are unaware of the community building resources we share statewide. (and to see if I could get any good ideas for a new acronym)

    Erica- Does SOLV's strategy prepare citizens for larger political change and if so, how?

    Yes. When the good folks in Falls City work together on SOLV projects, they are building associations and friendships in order to overcome hardship and challenge. This is inherently political if you operate under the assumption (as I do) that politics is the system by which our society has chosen to work together and make decisions. The trick is just what you said, we don't do "politics".

    We do community driven restoration and enhancement. It takes a leap of faith to believe in the power of people to make sound choices as a group, we call that leap democracy. I think that SOLV is doing a good job of preparing Oregonians to engage in any challenge as community partners, not just politics. We remind people how to work together, you have to teach them to see politics as us and not them.

    No small challenge.

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