Ruth Duemler. Photo by Paul Neevel.

Ruth Duemler (revisited)

November 2001: Los Angeles native Ruth Duemler began a career of political activism in the 1960s, battling cancer-causing smog in her hometown. “I learned to lobby and put on press conferences,” she says. “We got a lot of legislation passed.” After a 1976 divorce, Duemler moved to San Diego, where she aided a successful campaign to end city-wide election of councilors. “With city-wide elections, big money took over,” she notes. “After we won, the first Black, the first Hispanic and the first gay person were elected. It completely changed the City Council.” In search of clean air and water, Duemler relocated to Eugene in 1992. “On my second day, I went to an environmental conference at the UO,” she recalls. “I was enthralled.” A year later, Duemler and others she had met at the conference launched “The Other Paper,” a forum for progressive groups that lasted eight years. Her current major campaign is Health Care for All Oregon, a universal health care initiative. “And the mayor is pushing an initiative for city-wide elections,” she warns. “It doesn’t give neighborhoods a voice at City Hall.” 

2021 update: Each Eugene city councilor is still elected by a single ward, and, at age 88, Duemler remains focused on health care as a human right. “I go to at least two Health Care for All meetings per week on Zoom,” she elaborates. “We have a group in Eugene, a state-level group, and a national group. With single-payer, when you’re sick, you know you’ll get medical care. The insurance industry is not needed!” She maintains her interest in air quality as it relates to health, and is critical of Seneca Sawmill and its wood-fired electrical power plant in west Eugene, citing the prevalence of asthma among children in the neighborhood. “I am responsible for the little San Diego law of the late ’80s that was adopted as Title V of the Clean Air Act,” she notes. “It’s the most important thing I’ve done. It makes industry pay according to how much they pollute.”

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