In Mid-May, OPAL and our partners in the Oregon Just Transition Alliance convened a three-day Just Transition retreat. We gathered in partnership with the Multnomah County Climate Justice Collaborative, Oregon Just Transition Alliance, and the Oakland, CA-based Movement Generation, a movement strategy center leading in developing Just Transition principles. Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA) Organizer Adrian Cato and Advocacy Coordinator Maria Hernandez-Segoviano were both on hand to experience the transformative power when impacted communities have space to share trauma, learn from shared experience, engage in cultural exchange, and vision a better future.
The weekend took place at Canby Grove retreat center. Participants reviewed the Just Transition framework, “a framework [describing how] to transition our economy from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy, as organizations and as individuals.,” Adrian says. “We re-grounded ourselves in the reality that we do in fact have a climate crisis,” Maria adds, “but that if we continue to see that in a siloed format, then we are doomed.” The retreat aimed to help attendees understand who defines the terms of the crisis, analyze what it means for impacted communities, “and align and mobilize different sectors around the change,” Maria says. “There was a lot of community building as well”, Adrian adds, “learning about the ways organizations and individuals can support one another.”
OJTA members “deeply believe we can envision [an economy] different from what we have now,” Maria says. “We currently have a system that only benefits a few folks,” and, “we continue to see the environmental racism that results” impacting our communities. “For me the retreat was about drawing the connections between the exploitation of people and the exploitation of land,” said Adrian, noting the way that these exploitations parallel each other.
“The folks present were intentionally brought there because they are individuals who are building people power, and who recognize that people are what drives change,” Maria says. Labor, community groups, and folks working with big mainstream organizations were invited, as well as organizations that work with youth, which made this retreat different than others like it prior. Adrian summarized that everyone who attended was, “in some way working within highly-impacted and frontline communities.”
“A lot of the conversations we had about the rural-urban divide in some of this work-there was an intense moment when we were discussing carbon offsets. It was an intense conversation around how we continue to support rural and tribal communities while being aware of where these communities are at,” and not perpetuate economic exploitation of those areas. Adrian notes that rural and tribal representatives say that white environmental groups are usually “pulling them along,” tokenizing their participation in processes. “We have to note how we need to move resources, and recognize the political context these communities exist in.”
“The first day was heavy,” Maria says. “We must understand our history in order to move forward and find solutions that work with our communities,” Maria says. Oregon is very white, and the political establishment has a set of solutions that work for some folks, but not everyone. “Healing is not a one-time thing,” Maria says. “It’s often like, you take an hour, go heal yourself, come back. But in our movement and our efforts to move a Just Transition, we must ground ourselves in the day to day and to celebrate all our little wins, celebrate our individuals, celebrate us as a whole. Our movement must be celebratory, and make room for healing, and grounding.” The issues surrounding the climate crisis are all so heavy, Maria says, “that without celebration, healing, and grounding we will never get to the community level from the individual.”
Maria and Adrian took so much from the retreat that it was hard for them to select highlights or key takeaways. “It’s all important,” Adrian says, “but I plan to follow up by collaborating with other youth orgs, and bring what the trainers from Movement Generation presented to our youth base,” and to our allies in the youth movement.
“I’ll continue my follow up with individuals who can support the co-creation of policies that affect low-income communities, and keep learning how we can support each other,” Maria says. In the short term, that looks like activating OPAL and our Oregon Just Transition Alliance allies around food sovereignty and energy democracy, addressing anti-blackness, and “challenging the current narrative, and amplifying the knowledge of our own communities, and the solutions from our grassroots. How can we make sure [the solutions] are beneficial to, and co-created by, our communities?,” Maria asks. That’s what our engagement with the Oregon Just Transition Alliance seeks to answer.