Civil rights vigil aims to usher in immigration reform

Members of Oregon Action hope a community vigil to honor the 50th anniversary of the famous "I Have a Dream" speech of Martin Luther King Jr. also will serve as a springboard for local action on the civil rights front.

Wednesday's commemorative vigil, which will begin at 5 p.m. in Medford's Vogel Plaza, is designed to call attention to the need for immigration reform today, said Rich Rohde, 69, a longtime Oregon Action regional organizer.

Rohde said social justice, faith groups and peace and labor organizations in the Rogue Valley will stand in solidarity with those who marched on Washington five decades ago and with those standing up today in support of national immigration reform.

"It's a gathering for people who care about human rights and racial justice," Rohde said.

Rohde said a new constituency for freedom and justice is moving across Southern Oregon.

"The things that were fundamental in 1963 are fundamental today," Rohde said. "We want to celebrate the progress. But we also want to acknowledge there are unmet parts of that dream. And we have a new dream."

Having served 32 years on the job, Rohde received his own justice after the Oregon Action state board in June unanimously reinstated him to his position as the nonprofit's Southern Oregon organizer following an abrupt termination in May by Portland-based Executive Director Ron Williams. Williams said at the time Rohde's departure was part of bigger internal changes to foster growth in the organization.

"There were so many people who were kind and supportive within the community," Rohde said, adding he did not want to say anything against Oregon Action or Williams.

"We are collaborating and we are moving forward," Rohde said. "We are not dwelling in the past. We've got so many things to do."

Rohde plans to retire from his paid position at Oregon Action at the end of the year. But he will remain involved in social justice issues with Oregon Action and other organizations. Rohde will be "meeting and mentoring young activists," as well as working as a trainer and a consultant, he said.

"I value every piece of this work," Rohde said. "I'll be around."

Virginia Camberos has been tapped to take Rohde's position at Oregon Action at the end of the year.

"She is great. She's been here for years and has been phasing into my work. She is ready to be a great community organizer," Rohde said.

Camberos, a mother of four sons, will read the "Dream" speech "and share our community's new dream for all people," he said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email

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