Frontlines and Allies Rise for Climate Justice

PORTLAND, UNITED STATES - APRIL 29: Protesters take part in the People's Climate March in Portland, Ore., United States, on April 29, 2017. Thousands turned out in solidarity with actions in cities across the nation to protest President Trump's environmental agenda.   (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

WE DID IT! Oregon Just Transition Alliance, supported by OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Unite Oregon, Rural Organizing Project, PCUN, Beyond Toxics, and APANO held our first ever mass mobilization on Saturday, April 29th. The turnout was beyond our expectations, and the march and rallies were an unqualified success.

With the support of more than 50 allied organizations, OJTA got to work planning and executing the first ever public event in support of Oregon’s Just Transition. More than 3,000 people turned out by joining us at Dawson Park, marching along the highly-symbolic route, or at the final rally at Buckman Field Park.

Click here to see photo and videos of the march. A full recap of the rallies and actions are below.

This was not a typical climate march, as we centered the voices and issues of people of color, low income people, rural communities, and tribal people in our program. The struggles against white supremacy, militarism, exploitation of workers, extraction of resources, and enclosure of wealth and power are destroying the planet. These struggles are interlinked: white supremacy justifies militarism. Militarism demands and reinforces extraction of resources abroad, and maintains exploitation of workers at home. Enclosure of wealth and power are the result of a system that puts people over profit. Speakers explicitly called for a transition of all sectors, led by frontline communities seeking justice. The way to stop climate change is a Just Transition to an economy that works for those the current economy leaves behind.

33519421724_7ad6e0b4fc_kThe day opened with a blessing from Native Elder Ed Edmo, Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Pierce, and Yakima. Then Indigenous youth group Sacred Poets of Many Nations played an opening drum song and performed a moving and powerful poem describing the issues tribal youth face in school, at home, and everywhere else.


Emcees for the day were Huy Ong, Executive Director of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, and Roberta Hunte, Professor of Black Studies and Gender Studies at Portland State University.

Elilai Rengill

Elilai Rengill

Nakisha Nathan of Portland African American Leadership Forum and Sierra Club lifted up how gentrification and displacement make commute times longer, and break up the community ties that make our people resilient in a climate crisis. Elilai Rengill, a Climate Warrior from the Republic of Palau, student at Portland State Univeristy, and a member of APANO, spoke about the displacement of Pacific Islanders as another example of communities of color forced to relocate because of this economic system, leading the chant, “We are not drowning! We are fighting!”

Cary Watters, Tlingit, from the Native American Youth and Family Center and co-chair of the Transportation Justice Alliance, spoke next. “The biggest emitter of climate-changing carbon in this state is our transportation system. And the fuels we’re burning are secured through militarism and extraction. This is the dig, burn, dump economy,” said Watters. “But transportation is also a lifeline.”

Nic Phillips

Nic Phillips

“Folks who depend on public transit have been pushed out of the city center to areas where transit is not as accessible,” said Nic Phillips, elected BRU leader an OPAL Board Member who serves on the Trimet Transit Equity Advisory Committee. “Ridership on TriMet is going down because it’s getting harder to make it work.” Nic mentioned Trimet’s plan to build an $11M jail facility, instead of working to reduce fares and increase service. “We need Community Policing, not increased militarization of public spaces! Militarism is the old way of governing. We need deep democracy in our decision making, from public budgets, to our workplaces!” Nic also called for Trimet to give ATU 757, the local drivers union, a fair contract.

Up next was Patricia Toledo Robbins, representing the Voz Workers Rights Education Project. Voz uplifts the voices and struggles of day laborers who organizing in resistance to exploitation in the workplace. “Day laborers are among the first to respond to natural disasters,” Patricia said, following that they are, “one of the most vulnerable communities, forced to live day by day, facing discrimination, theft of wages and persecution. Day laborers are on the attack line and used as scapegoats to gain political power. Building local resistance is essential for the survival of day laborers.

Yvette Dumer

Yvette Dumer

Youth closed out the opening rally, and were the chant leaders for the ensuing march. Youth Environmental Justice Alliance representative Tommy Larracas connected all of the previously-mentioned issues, saying, youth struggle with public transportation, evictions, jobs, violence, and an education system that is underfunded, under attack, and not supportive of immigrants and students of color.” Yvette Dumer of YEJA said, “We have been fighting for free public transportation for high school students… We will continue to fight and organize because YouthPass means eliminating barriers and discrimination that prevent us from succeeding as young people!”

Youth then led the crowd in a powerful chant, “Rise up! Resist! The people prevail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”

With that, youth and other frontline communities, including people with disabilities and Elders, proceeded to the front of the march line. Youth led an action in solidarity with others across the US – the “We Resist, We Build, We Rise” action in this video. The march then proceeded past a vacant lot near Legacy Emmanuel Hospital. As Nakisha Nathan reminded us in her opening speech, this land was stolen in colonization, and stolen again in urban renewal. The empty lot is the ancestral land of Native people, and was part of a thriving African American community before the city forced Black residents out. “When you march past that empty lot, ask yourselves – ‘what do we really need here?’,” Nakisha said. “If it’s the right thing to do, we’ve got every right to do it.” Signs held up at the empty lot proclaimed in bold letters “Private Gains = Public Losses.” Youth chanted and the crowd responded, “Fight Fight Fight! Housing is a human right!”

overpassThe march went over the I-5 overpass, with cars and trucks passing below, where another sign pointed to the extractive economy, reading “DIG, BURN, DUMP.” Chants on the overpass included “Fossil fuels can kill! Smoke is toxic, pipelines spill!” and a call and response: “Pollution and exploitation!” – “Can’t be solved by corporations!” – “It’s poison! Get off it!” – “It’s people versus profit!”

Chant leader Ramon De Luna, YEJA

Chant leader Ramon De Luna, YEJA

The route then traveled past the proposed site of the Trimet Transit Police Detention and Interrogation Center. Bus Riders Unite members held up signs declaring “We Don’t Want a Transit Jail” and “POLICE AND JAILS AT HOME – WARS AND BOMBS ABROAD.” Chant leaders switched to “Transit Cops – Prison Gates – Do not make our city safe!” and “Wars for profit, wars for oil, no more bombs on foreign soil.” Militarism at home and abroad are how the extractive economy governs us – and military systems waste massive amounts of fossil fuels, often in conflicts over those same resources.

34320204936_8096ad0f38_kAs a final site of interest on the route, the crowd passed the Voz Day Labor Center, where a banner read “AGAINST WORKER EXPLOITATION.” Exploited workers are key to continuing the global crisis, keeping our communities from building power to resist the interests of profit over people. As Patricia tld the crowd in her opening speech, “We are at a historic moment, sharing the purpose and building power with other movements and groups of communities of color to advance environmental justice and climate justice.” Chant leaders transitioned into chants such as “We are people! We are not illegal! No!” and “Si se puede!”


The march lost some numbers in the final legs, as the 2.5 mile march was quite long for some participants (a lesson learned). As we entered Buckman Field Park, around 500 people remained to see the final round of speakers. Joann Hardesty, a longtime Civil Rights leader in Portland, former elected official, and President of the NAACP of Portland joined Huy as co-emcee. The remaining program was dedicated to concrete actions to support a Just Transition: supporting renter protections, transportation options, clean energy, government accountability, and communities’ right to know what polluters put into their air and water.

Coya Crespin from the Community Alliance of Tenants spoke about being evicted just before the holidays, and those who lost their lives due to a record cold winter. “I would like to take a moment to honor Zach Young. Karen Lee Batts. David Guyot. Mark Elliott Johnson. These are the lives we lost this year alone due to houselessness and exposure. ” Coya said. She connected this injustice to the struggle to pass HB2004, which would protect renters from no-cause evictions. “Housing Justice is a Climate Justice issue! Renters are part of the climate justice movement!”

Marisol Cabello from PCUN and TURNO spoke to the crowd about the over-exposure of farmworker communities to pesticides. “We know farmworkers are more likely to get cancer, and this has happened in my family,” Marisol said. “Farmworkers are exposed to pesticides every day when they pick our food.” The exploitation of these workers is only possible because they are from other nations and treated as second-class citizens as a result.

Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Petersen came on stage to deliver a heartfelt thanks to the people leading the march. “I want to acknowledge the hard, day-in and day-out work that you, the frontline communities, are doing in the fight for environmental justice. You ​are the leaders of this movement, and we​, the elected officials, need to listen to you and work with you to implement the best, most just and equitable policies. And those of you who aren’t frontline communities have a responsibility to do the same. Listen ​to frontline communities. Show up​ for racial justice, economic justice, worker justice, and climate justice. Our fates are tied. Everyone has a role to play.

Joann Hardesty

Joann Hardesty

Joann Hardesty ended the day with a potent reminder. “This is a movement. This is not about one petition, one election, or one day. This is a struggle that has lasted 500 years, from colonization to gentrification, from the first nuclear test until today. We need you to keep showing up… Ongoing, persistent dissent is how we will change the system. If we want to move away from exploitation, extraction, militarism, white supremacy, and the enclosure of wealth and power, we have to stay up.” Her reminder was met with loud cheers from the remaining crowd.

Huy concluded, “We can build a new system! One built on renewable resources! Cooperative work! Interconnectedness and sacredness! And deep democracy, in the workplace, the community, and the globe! We demand a system whose purpose is care for people and planet. That’s what a just transition is all about.” The crowd cheered once more, and youth closed the day with chants and celebration.

The march was incredible, and Oregon Just Transition Alliance couldn’t have done it without our endorsers, supporters, volunteers, donors, and marchers for making. We thank you all or making this day special, memorable, and remarkable. This is only the beginning of Oregon’s movement for a regenerative economy.

So what’s next? Subscribe to the Oregon Just Transition Alliance email list to stay up to date on Oregon’s Just Transition.

Posted in Against Exploitation, Against Militarization, Against White Supremacy, Air Quality, Bus Riders Unite, Celebrations, Coalition Building, East Portland, Housing Justice, Just Transitions, Opal in the News, Transit Justice, YEJA.