As we gear up for the April 29th Portland People’s Climate Movement, we will elevate the front-line communities who are leading the day of action. The Portland Climate Movement will not just focus on carbon-reduction and sea level rise (though those issues are vital, and impact our communities first and worst), but on all the intersecting issues facing communities on the front lines of environmental and climate justice.
OPAL fights for transportation justice to advance environmental justice. Bus Riders Unite (BRU) is Portland’s Union of transit-dependent people, convening at OPAL. BRU has been organizing for many years to draw attention to the barriers bus riders face, and the need for safer, more affordable, accessible transportation.
But they’re not just focused on buses. “You come to BRU for the transit justice, but you stay for the environmental justice,” says longtime BRU member Jonathan Gates. “If we just sat around complaining about the choice of fabric on the seats on the bus, I’d be out of here.” Instead, members work on housing justice, environmental quality, immigrant justice, and criminal justice issues.
Right now, Bus Riders Unite is working to stop TriMet’s $11M proposed transit jail, and to divert public money away from criminalization and militarization and toward making transit safer, more accessible, and more affordable. The Low Income Fare Equity report, which BRU delivered to TriMet last August, shows exactly how to get it done – an Honored Citizen Fare for people who make less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Line. It’s all in pursuit of transportation justice, under the belief that access to transportation is a human right, and that public transit should be fare-free.
The Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA) is a space at OPAL for youth to build power for environmental justice and civil rights. “Young people have always been at the forefront of our movements. We invest and believe in youth organizing because they play a vital role in our communities, organizing, and long-term vision,” says YEJA Organizer Jennifer Phung. “Young folks are not only the future, but are leaders we need now. ” The youth leaders in YEJA have met with decision-makers, held rallies, produced videos, and taken to social media in support of their campaign Youthpass to the Future. The campaign aims to extend free transit access to East Portland schools – schools many youth of color and students from low income families attend. They’re focused on graduating, attending extracurriculars, and getting to church and volunteer opportunities. They know students who have transit access become adults who use transit comfortably. But they also see transportation access as key to climate justice.
“In Oregon, transportation is the number one cause of carbon emissions,” reads the YouthPass to the Future report, which YEJA released in April of 2016. The youth-created report details what we know about transportation and climate: by investing in mass and active transportation systems, we can reduce carbon output and climate impacts. Investments aren’t just about building new rail lines, but about increasing service across the region, making the sidewalks safe, bus stops protected, and the bike lanes permanent. It means making our public transportation systems more accessible to the people who rely on them. When low-income people and people of color have access to transportation options, they can choose to live without a car, or to only use a car for longer trips. This reduces congestion and has a cumulative impact on auto emissions. That’s good for air quality, good for preventing climate change, and it helps youth, and adults, thrive.
Recognizing the intersecting issues that fall within the scope of climate justice, OPAL, Bus Riders Unite, and YEJA advance campaigns for transportation justice as key pieces of the movement for a just transition. Join BRU, YEJA, and other groups leading the Oregon Just Transition alliance at the April 29th People’s Climate Movement March.