Tomorrow night, my community partner OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon hosts the annual Voices of a People’s History, a fundraising event that features members of the Portland community reading the writings of political and social activists. The focus of the event is the dramatic presentation of speeches, essays, and poems by the radical thinkers that inspire modern civil rights and justice movements. The pieces are curated based on the speakers: each speaker has a connection with the author’s identity or a personal connection with the piece’s content. The result is a set of incredibly moving performances. The goal? Move the audience all the way to the bank.
Voices is a fundraising event. This is clear and upfront – from the ticket prices to the introductions and appeals for donations, OPAL wants its audience and community to consciously acknowledge the role of financial support in tangible change. The event serves to destigmatize this role – organizations need funding for the work they do, and OPAL is proud to ask its supporters that can give to provide it. To dance around this idea – to merely suggest a donation instead of charging for tickets or to avoid speaking about money directly – would only serve to limit possibilities.
That said, profits from Voices make up a relatively small portion of OPAL’s annual budget. The amount of work that goes into making this event happen would far outweigh the earnings from that night alone. So, the event is a fundraiser, but it serves several other purposes as well. The letters ‘OPAL’ stand for Organizing People / Activating Leaders, and Voices is one of the ways the organization builds and maintains the support it needs to live up to its name. By celebrating the diversity in backgrounds and experiences in the communities OPAL works with, the event builds power – the invigorating words motivate pledges to join OPAL at the various rallies and actions needed to effect the change OPAL works towards. The night is centered around verses from the past, but its focus is unmistakably on how the audience can participate in bettering the future.
The amount of planning that goes into Voices is significant, but, as always, last minute changes threatened to derail the proceedings. Of the eight original speakers planned for the event, two dropped out in the past week – one due to health issues and one due to a series of meetings spurred on by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on labor unions. A new speaker was invited on short notice, but programs and announcements had to be changed, and the order of the speakers was rearranged several times. In addition, there were issues with framing posters, and several printed materials will only arrive tomorrow. Somehow, my supervisor (the main organizer of the event) remained both sane and productive, and it looks like we’re on track. The seats are sold out!
My main contribution to the event? The program!