For 25 years, Marcy Westerling has been a leader in organizing rural communities in the Pacific Northwest to respond to violence, bigotry, and injustice. For her Open Society Fellowship project, Westerling is mapping progressive infrastructure in rural localities in four American states as a means of identifying potential allies for social change. She is also working on a series of collaborations—including a documentary film, an oral-history project, and a series of workshops—that will record and preserve her work and that of the Rural Organizing Project, which she founded in 1992.
The model of community organizing Westerling helped create is deceptively simple: she and her colleagues would begin by “mapping” and contacting every civic organization in a given area, identifying potential allies and resources in regions where progressive groups were rare. They would then engage entire communities in a discussion about democratic values, and in this way help local grassroots groups overcome their isolation, pool resources, and acquire skills to achieve lasting social change.
An alumna of Smith College, Westerling was selected by the Ford Foundation in 2003 to receive a Leadership for a Changing World award.