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Bus Riders Unite builds strength and hope for Transit Justice
Like you, we here at OPAL are subdued today. A heavy fog has set, with harsh reminder of who has power in our communities, who the laws protect, and who they don’t. There are few words that can do justice to the moment, but the lessons of Derrick Bell and Critical Race Theory are banging on our consciousness, demanding attention. Racism continues to be the norm in our society, and those with power beget nothing unless it serves their interests. This was supposed to be an airy message of thanks and celebration of our Bus Riders Unite annual membership meeting, but the world has changed, making this a message of hope for building local power to transform our community into one of true equal opportunity and environmental justice.
On Friday, Nov. 21st, Bus Riders Unite members came together for their Annual Meeting and Leadership Confirmation. Fighting through the weather, delayed by late buses stuck in traffic, BRU members turned out to celebrate their leadership — transit-dependent riders, people of color, immigrants, youth, seniors, people with disabilities, everyone coming together to build community. Bus Riders Unite values the diverse cultures, backgrounds, experiences, and abilities of members, working to build a democratic, multiracial, all-inclusive community. Our leaders are committed to lifting up the voices of transit dependent people and those who are often ignored.
BRU believes that transportation is a lifeline to opportunity, and that public transit, especially in our cities and urban environments, is a basic human right. With leadership from transit dependent riders and support from choice riders and allies, BRU is fighting to make our region a more decent and just place to live. This past year, BRU had several major accomplishments:
Join us in welcoming the 2015 Bus Riders Unite Leadership Committee (pictured below)! Halima Abdullahi, Eavan Moore, Nyanga, Nicole Phillips, Adriana Rangel, Keith Scholz, Lupita Velazquez, Taryn Yum
And join us in giving thanks to the 2014 Bus Riders Unite Leadership Committee! Chair: Keith Scholz; Vice Chair: Cameron Johnson; Secretary: Adriana Rangel; Saleena Garrettson, Lupita Valezquez, Chloe Wood, Taryn Yum.
On behalf of the OPAL and BRU family, we thank you for your dedication, creativity, and leadership, which has sustained us. In 2015, BRU will continue to focus on representation and accountability of the TriMet Board, youth organizing, racial profiling, and Civil Rights protections.
Tuesday, June 24th
Doors open at 5:30pm
Curious Comedy Theatre: 5225 NE MLK Blvd.
Recognizing that our current struggles for Environmental Justice are just part of the long history of organizing for social justice in the United States, OPAL is organizing for the second year in a row a staged reading of “Voices of a People’s History of the United States“.
Join us on June 24th for an inspiring evening of speakers (including current elected officials, community leaders and Bus Riders Unite members) reading excerpts and adaptations of readings inspired from Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. We’ll be bringing to life the extraordinary history of ordinary but courageous people who built social movements that have shaped our country.
The evening will feature a silent auction, inspiring performance, delicious food and a no-host bar.
Don’t forget to bring your checkbook and join these amazing social justice rockstars on June 24th, who will be on stage reading:
Khanh Pham, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon
Desiree Williams-Rajee, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
Alejandro Queral, United Way
Matt Morton, Native American Youth and Family Center
Sharon Gary-Smith, MRG Foundation
Jo Ann Hardesty, Civil Rights Leader
Mychal Tetteh, Community Cycling Center
Barbara Dudley, Working Families Party
Keith Scholz, Bus Riders Unite Leadership Committee
Dr. Lisa Bates, Portland State University
Mary Longoria, Amalgamated Transit Union 757
Chisao Hata, artist and performer
Ty Schwoeffermann, Urban League
Romeo Sosa, Voz
Diego Hernandez, Momentum Alliance
Lupita Velazquez, Bus Riders Unite Leadership Committee
Reyna Lopez, Causa
Dr. Diana Pei Wu, APANO
This week, OPAL and Bus Riders Unite leaders met with partner organizations that signed onto the Campaign for a Fair Transfer to discuss the Title Six Civil Rights complaint that OPAL and the Center for Intercultural Organizing jointly issued against Trimet (you can read more about those events here). Throughout the course of these proceedings, one of the most important things to remember is the value that comes from maintaining an open dialogue. The constant engagement with the members helps create a strong base that is educated, involved, and active.
It is this level of engagement that characterizes OPAL and the BRU not just as an advocacy ‘shop’, single-mindedly focused on some end product or piece of legislation, but a resource for community advocacy. OPAL provides a space for those who are most affected by environmental injustices to not only be heard, but to actualize the Environmental Justice principle of self determination and take an active role in implementing change. In the case of BRU, the structure and the drive comes straight from the participation and passion of the community. This is not a top-down bureaucracy. Representation means nothing if we cannot continue to create and maintain earnest relationships. This philosophy is at the heart of true grassroots organizing, and continues to be a pillar of OPAL’s theory of change.
When the process of moving forward appears difficult in the face of adversity, it is key to remember that hard times make for satisfying victories. If anything, now is the time to outreach even more, to expand the membership basis and build a network of movers and shakers (of which there is certainly no shortage of in Portland!). OPAL and the BRU are not going to play a waiting game with TriMet, but are instead choosing to refortify connections and forge new pathways of outreach. Although this process is a constant struggle, it is a labor of love. This work takes longer, but brings more people along, and educates and empowers them to demand for meaningful engagement at decision-making tables. That power is greater than any transactional organizing.
Join us on this journey, starting with our upcoming Bus Riders Unite membership meeting:
Friday, February 28th
at OPAL, 2407 SE 49th
Devon S. is a student at Lewis & Clark College working with OPAL and Bus Riders Unite as a sustainability intern. You’ll be reading more blog posts about her perspective and experiences here, please feel free to leave feedback and say hello in the comments!
Given the recent details surrounding the TriMet board meeting and the tabling of an ordinance to extend transfer times (read up on the background here), it is apparent that there is continued failure to recognize the social ramifications of the board’s action. There is no doubt that any change in policy will have consequences. And as is often the case, the communities that feel the greatest impact from these decisions are the ones most reliant on the region’s public transportation system. These are the underserved and underrepresented individuals that do not simply see the bus as a means of getting from point A to point B. It is their food security, their employment, their health care, their education. In denying public testimony on the matter of transfer changes, TriMet ignored these communities, continuing to practice the long-standing tradition of partnership in the name of publicity, not progress.
These issues remain at the heart of the nation as well. During his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama stressed the need for a new transportation bill. The online environmental journal Grist provides a great article detailing the impact transportation has on communities of color and how such inconsistencies divide the country along racial, ethnic, and economic lines. “When only certain segments of the population can easily access economic resources for advancement, that’s not opportunity. That’s called privilege.” When the voices that are heard belong to those who have the least at stake, that is privilege. When equity is forfeited in the name of politics, that is an extension of privilege. TriMet’s actions last week demonstrate a privilege that comes from a place of stability, from the knowledge that their lives are not measured in times tables and transfer slips. TriMet needs to adopt the practice of active listening in order to transform policies of privilege into campaigns of equity. Until then, communications will result in ethical and political standstill. Click the link here for the full story.
Community leaders from OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and Bus Riders Unite (BRU), the region’s preeminent transit justice organization, testified at the TriMet Board of Directors meeting this morning in support of Ordinance No. 332, which will extend transfer times for cash and single-ticket fares to 2.5 hours. The Board held a first reading of the ordinance today; a second reading and vote will occur in January, with implementation expected by March 1, 2014.
BRU members first prioritized the issue in November 2010 in response to TriMet’s successive fare increases and service cuts. OPAL launched the Campaign for a Fair Transfer in 2011, collecting over 6,000 supporting signatures from transit riders and endorsements from over 30 community-based organizations that work on racial, economic and social justice issues. In September 2011, the TriMet Board authorized a study group of OPAL’s proposal, generating initial financial and equity impact analyses. After TriMet passed its FY13 budget, which included the largest fare increase in the agency’s history, with yet more cuts to service, OPAL and BRU reinitiated the campaign to extend transfer times as a way to restore fare equity.
After three years of grassroots organizing, sound policy analysis and advocacy from transit riders, TriMet has acknowledged the priority of giving its riders more time to get around, particularly those needing to make reasonable round-trips on one fare. Recent reporting by the Oregonian showed that TriMet’s fare system and code are purely time-based, and that round-trips have been a common practice for many riders for decades, particularly transit-dependent riders who are not commuting but who use transit for basic daily errands and needs.
“People out here are barely surviving, really on the brink,” explained BRU leader Teresa Keishi Soto, a transit-dependent rider and low-income renter off Outer Powell Blvd. “For low-income families, there is still a real recession going on. This is TriMet’s chance to show riders that they are listening to us and care about our well-being. We appreciate Mr. McFarlane and the Board’s support, and expect them to do the right thing, but we must keep fighting to hold them accountable. They’re not out riding the bus every day; we are.”
Joining OPAL staff and BRU leaders in testifying at the TriMet Board meeting this morning were partners such as Kayse Jama, Executive Director of the Center for Intercultural Organizing, who advocates for the needs and rights of immigrant and refugee communities. Mr. Jama thanked the Board for their consideration, calling on them to serve as a trusted partner in supporting our most vulnerable communities. Other organizations supporting the Campaign for a Fair Transfer include the Coalition of Communities of Color, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, NAYA Youth and Elders Council, Upstream Public Health, Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, Community Alliance of Tenants, Portland Community Reinvestment Initiative, Human Solutions, Inc., ROSE Community Development, Lideres Verde, Sisters of the Road, SEIU 49, Jobs with Justice, Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., Elders in Action, Portland Youth Builders, East Portland Action Plan, Association of Retired Transportation Advocates and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
OPAL and BRU would also like to thank the broad support within the foundation, public health and academic communities that provided funding and technical assistance over the past three years. Funders that supported this specific campaign include McKenzie River Gathering, Meyer Memorial Trust, Northwest Health Foundation, Kaiser Permanente Community Fund, Social Justice Fund, Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Multnomah County Health Department, with additional technical support from the County and Portland State University.
OPAL and BRU support TriMet’s efforts to restore the hundreds of thousands of hours of service that have been lost over the past half dozen years, but slight frequency improvements to a few lines simply cannot reach the broad needs of diverse communities across the region in the same manner that extending transfer times will. For the thousands of riders who cannot afford a $100 monthly pass, the extra time will directly result in greater access to opportunity and positive healthy outcomes. Two out of every three cash/ticket riders are low-income, and this is the most direct, efficient and targeted way to improve their mobility. Yet choice riders will benefit too, as more folks realize that they can do more with transit than simply commute to and from work. Based on similar results in other regions that extended transfer times, such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, we will see an increase in ridership from this policy change, meaning more farebox revenue for the agency. More ridership also means a healthier, more vibrant region, which benefits us all.
The Board has the option to amend the ordinance to provide for a three-hour transfer, which will cost slightly more money but is also projected to stimulate more new ridership and new revenue. OPAL and BRU leaders encouraged the Board to view the three-hour proposal as an investment of good faith and trust in its community partners, namely its most loyal customers. BRU members use the system all day, every day, rain or shine, whether to go to work or to school, the grocery store or doctor’s office. Those of us who use the system the most know what we need to do to improve it, and BRU leaders will continue to call for the three-hour transfer time proposal in advocating for the needs of transit-dependent riders.
It was great to see so many of you at the BRU meeting on Tuesday night! You can really tell that OPAL staff and BRU members have been actively reaching out to community members and partner organizations when you look around the room. A group from Lideres Verde attended, supported by Spanish translation services which OPAL provided. Also in attendance were several young activists from Multnomah Youth Commission and the program’s coordinator Marc Fernandez. With an important agenda set, the meeting was highly participatory and members encouraged each other to voice their opinions.
One important order of business was an update on the Campaign for a Fair Transfer. Eavan and Jared gave us a presentation on how things are progressing and then asked for feedback from members. It sounds like we are all in agreement that our priority is winning a three-hour transfer. We discussed strategies for ensuring that the CFT is successful, including a call to action at some upcoming events. Click here for an important update on the Campaign for a Fair Transfer!It is not too late to be a part of this effort and we will support you in any way we can.
The meeting ended with the announcement that nominations for the Leadership Committee are now open. Please take a minute to think about who you would like to see helping us guide BRU through the next year. You can nominate yourself and other members, as long as they qualify under the BRU guidelines established last spring. You can also nominate more than one person. Need a nomination form? E-mail email@example.com to request one, or stop by the OPAL office.
The small print: nominations for the Leadership Committee will be open from now until November 19th. A ballot will be available online (so check back!), at the OPAL office, and by request via e-mail. Elections will be held at the November 26th Bus Riders Unite meeting, location to be announced shortly. There are a minimum of 7 seats on the Leadership Committee to be filled, a maximum of 9, with 2 seats reserved for youth leaders (age 13-21). Read up on the Bus Riders Unite Organizational Structure if you’d like more details on who’s eligible for a leadership position and the structure of the organization.
We are approaching another momentous event for Bus Riders Unite! Last March when many of you participated in forming the document that would guide the organization into the future, it was agreed that members of what was then the Planning Committee would transition into a new Leadership Committee. It was also agreed that this Leadership Committee would be formed through member elections each November thereafter. Now that the air is getting more crisp and we are seeing pumpkins on the doorsteps of our neighbors, it is time to start that process.
The upcoming BRU meeting on Tuesday, October 15th will be exciting as you all start to submit your nominations, ahead of elections that will be held at the November meeting. If you are not sure what the requirements are to be eligible for the Leadership Committee, come to the meeting so we can clear that up together. Self-nominations are okay too!
If you are considering attending your first BRU meeting, there is no reason not to come to this one. In fact, come a bit early and participate in our New Member Orientation. We will provide you with important background information so that you can get the most out of the meeting. You may even get comfortable enough that you join BRU in time to vote on Leadership candidates in November.
We are feeling great about the levels of participation we have been seeing in recent months. October’s 1st Saturday Organizing was supported by 5 fresh faces, including 3 youth volunteers. We gathered 33 new contacts for OPAL and BRU because of YOU! So many new friends and partners came out to testify at the September TriMet board meeting that the board delayed a vote on shifting funds so that they could first further examine extending transfer times. There will be another opportunity to provide testimony at the November 23rd board meeting as well. Come show your support for the CFT!
Did we mention there will be food at the BRU meeting? Bring a friend and be a part of a movement that will make your transit system work for you. If you have read this far, you must be interested in our cause and our fight. It’s time to stand up.
Bus Riders Unite October membership meeting: October 15, 6-8PM. OPAL office, TriMet lines 4, 14, 71. RSVPs help us know how much food to provide! Nicole Johnson: 503-342-8910
This week OPAL and Bus Riders Unite showed once again that we are able to effectively mobilize and advocate on behalf of transit riders. The fact that TriMet’s board meetings are held at 9AM on weekdays has been a point of contention for a long time. Even at this inconvenient hour for working families, we had a broad showing of support for the Campaign for a Fair Transfer on Wednesday. Members of the Cully neighborhood and Lideres Verde, Community Alliance of Tenants, and Elders in Action joined us in solidarity to provide testimony in favor of extending transfer times. On the agenda was a resolution by TriMet’s management to use freed up funds to reinvest in frequent service on a handful of bus lines. While we do support restoring frequent service, we do not accept the stance that this is the best and only way to improve the system for the most vulnerable riders. We also do not accept that the agency cannot restore frequent service AND extend transfer times. In the last few weeks, we have been outspoken in our disappointment that decision-makers at TriMet are again trying to push through a decision without taking into account what riders have been asking for. Riders have expressed again and again that they need more time on a transfer to complete daily tasks.
Almost twenty community members testified on Wednesday to explain how two hours is just not enough time to get to job interviews, schools, grocery stores and back home on one fare. Some were transit-dependent riders who rely on TriMet to meet their needs, others were choice riders with environmental impact on their minds. The members of the board seemed sincere in their intent to better gauge public sentiment before making this decision and moved to postpone this resolution until next month. The board is listening because we continue to stand up and speak out. If the fear of being a lone voice for change has been holding you back, now is the time to put that fear aside and join BRU!
These next two months will be exciting for BRU as they will lead up to the first ever elections of the Leadership Committee. Nominations will take place in October, with elections in November. Stay tuned for more information on how and when this will take place!
Join us at First Saturday Organizing: October 5th from 11am to 3pm at the OPAL office, 2407 SE 49th Ave.
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