The Olneyville Neighborhood Association began informally in the 1990s in the basement of a local church, as a forum for neighbors in one of Rhode Island's most marginalized neighborhoods to discuss their day-to-day conditions. Over time, ONA's leaders came to realize that external forces were driving displacement through the elimination of local jobs, raising housing and rent prices, and the creation of a cultural war against the immigrants and people of color who make up the vast majority of Olneyville's population. By 2005, these leaders had recruited others and clarified ONA's mission, vision, and organizing methods. While maintaining its base in Olneyville, the organization has relaxed its geographic boundaries to include people no matter what neighborhood they live in.
ONA believes that people of color, immigrants and those families that live in poverty need to be at the forefront of any effort to change the oppressive conditions that affect their lives. As members of ONA, they form the backbone of the organization, taking leadership in improving their lives through collective action -- by organizing to create change. They build the organization by reaching out to their neighbors, deepen their consciousness through political education, and decide what strategies and tactics the organization uses in its organizing and political goals.