From September 6th – 15th, OPAL and delegates from around the world headed to the San Francisco Bay Area as a part of the It Takes Roots Solidarity to Solutions Summit. OPAL and the Oregon Just Transition Alliance sent a delegation of ten organizers, members and staff to be a part of this movement moment. Over the coming weeks, OPAL will be publishing a three-part series about the journey, as told through the eyes and experiences of our resident storyteller, Community Engagement Coordinator Shawn Fleek.
Day 1 – the Just Transition Express
It’s 4:30 AM. I’m in the back of a long, remodeled bus with five other people. Rick, the driver, has been instructed to sleep after powering through for the past 12 hours. This bus has been to movements all over the country for longer than I have – Rick tells me it was in Miami for the FTAA2003 demo where I was first radicalized – after my arrest in NYC in 2003 protesting the invasion of Iraq. Stickers on the bus decry the Cuban embargo, demand an end to Nuclear testing and “Trident” whatever that means, say NO LNG with an outline of Oregon, and a sticker that hangs above the back bunk says “Apathy Kills.”
Comrades from Seattle and Tacoma, Got Green and Community2Community, respectively, are my bunkmates. I’m travelling with 3 members of OPAL – Kimo, David and Tristan. Several other OPAL members and staff will fly in to meet us. David, who is blind, ran into some ableism at our first stop in Eugene, to pick up friends from Beyond Toxics. A store clerk essentially refused to accommodate him, which was irritating to many of us. All total, we’ve got a 22-person crew here, representing 22 unique identities at the intersections of race, class, ability, age, gender, sexuality, hometown, nation of origin, religion, and personal philosophy. But we’re unified in our work as a part of It Takes Roots, a national movement of four national alliances: Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), Right to the City, Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), and Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). OPAL is part of both CJA and GGJ, and I consider myself a close follower of IEN though not registered in any formal capacity.
The governor of California, Jerry Brown, now in his 4th term leading the 7th largest economy on the planet, has called major corporations together in California to celebrate the “Global Climate Action Summit” – as they hawk the idea that major corporations should be setting the agenda for climate action, after a century of unmitigated carbon output and poisoning of our communities. The solution they are pushing – a global carbon market – threatens to commodify the sacred air we breathe, selectively permit and allow the poisoning of air, and pits poor communities against each other by allowing (for example) a rural community with a forest in Oregon to receive payoffs from polluters so that a community living near a refinery can be toxified.
Don’t worry, Inglewood residents. Yes, your refinery is toxic, but there’s a forest in Oregon that offsets the carbon output of that refinery so, you know, feel better, asthmatic children.
I’m gonna try and get some sleep. Tomorrow we’ve got to drive around the wildfires in NorCal.
Day 2 – Welcome to the BART-y
We woke up at the rest stop, and it stank of fire. We drove all morning through some horrible, toxic smoke from the forest fires. The sun was absurdly red this morning – this smoke is even worse than what Portland experienced either this or last year from our wildfires.
We finally pulled into the parking lot of the Waller Center at about 3:00pm – a Methodist Church in Haight-Ashbury where we’re staying for the week, in a large dormitory with about 25 bunk beds. It has so far been an absurd trip, bumpy, midnight refueling, sleeping on the floor, smelling of diesel, soaked in sweat, crawling through clouds of smoke, climbing steep bay hills in an ancient biodiesel-retrofit bus that sometimes stalls on plain horizontals. I always say thank you to my bus driver in Portland, but man, Rick and Ross, you really did something amazing getting us around.
We settle in and get ready for the opening / welcome, an evening event. It is a storm. Logistically, the location of setup and registration is a big challenge. The 500+ people in the room get food in a mob of others who also have to register and get swag. “Here, have a t-shirt, silverware, a Clipper card for access to BART and Muni, a cup of posole, some horchata, and then navigate a crowd of hundreds including chairs, children, and large and small conversations.” For the first hour, very few people listen to (or can hear) the speakers. The repeated cries for “one mic” (organizing parlance for “shut up and listen, you’re being disruptive”) ring out. It’s a cacophony of national activists all seeking to make the next best friend and the next movement ally. It’s a networking event disguised as a kickoff, but don’t tell the organizers who essentially insist upon quiet attention. It seems like either a) most of the people in the room are talking because they already know about all the details and are stellar activists, or b) none of the people talking knew this was something more than a place to eat free posole in a bowl that is too full. The very presence of all these people from around the world is a testament to the amazing organizing that has already gone into this moment.
I met Janaira, our new OJTA organizer, at the kickoff. She started last week but has been working remotely from NYC before she moves to Oregon. I’m so excited, she has a great energy and confidence and it really makes me look forward to what’s on the horizon for OPAL. We had already met by Skype but this is better. It’s so good to be in a room with people. Oregon better watch out.
Logistics is the name of the game at the opening: important details that we need to keep in check to be successful. Apps, access codes, volunteer signups, bracelets for free food. Out of an abundance of caution I make the decision to be the Pod leader, or “Responsables,” the person who keeps his team safe. Leading the buddy-pairing system, signing up my team for volunteer roles. It’s a lot. We’re getting ready to do a lot. My own hypervigilant tendencies are running in overdrive. A highlight of this evening was the first time a group of poets led us through a song that’s going to guide our entire journey:
The people gonna rise like the water
We’re gonna calm this crisis down
I hear the voice of my great-granddaughter
Saying “keep it in the ground.”
It’s a powerful, soulful refrain.
Our delegates had intended to get a late night taco after the opening. I ended up cancelling as I realized I had not the energy to both go eat and download apps to help make the team more smoothly functioning. I was at the height of control-freakiness this evening, realizing how much we’re actually taking on in this week. I’m doubting myself a bit, and not yet realizing how strong the team of delegates OPAL and OJTA brought is. We were just beginning to build our group unity. I’m just beginning to feel comfortable here.
Day 3 – The People’s Climate Movement March San Francisco
We woke at 8:30am to get to the march. I ate an apple and made strong coffee. David navigated us all to the bus stop because he’s better at transit directions than the rest of us. A better navigator in general, it turns out.
The march was long, but well executed. The It Takes Roots contingent – about 600 folks – took the front of the march as the rightful frontlines from around the US and world, followed by the local / regional climate movement. All total the march is 20,000 people, and there is a power in that kind of mobilization that’s hard to describe. It’s electric. Our clique at the front are an inspiring set, decked out in our yellow Sol2Sol shirts and red inked, yellow cloth bandannas. Much of the march following the It Takes Roots cluster was a little more confused in messaging, but they’re here, they’re a part of this moment. A movement takes all types, and these people aren’t to be left behind. We’ll develop their analysis eventually, too.
I and others held up the hand of a giant Berta Caceras 3-person puppet. I burned excessive amounts of sage. led chants, and jumped up and down way too much. I ran into Alex Garcia, a once-and-forever, beloved OPAL member, who is such a good friend to me, and a powerful activist. I led an EJ101 training with her in it in late 2016. We became super supportive friends and she became an member. She moved back to Southern California last year, and I was leading chants when I saw her with her crew of youth from CAUSE, an EJ nonprofit she’s now working with down there. I gave Alex my BRU pin, and a great big hug. I love having movement friends from all over the world, who are all out there doing incredible things. It Takes Roots suddenly feels like a space where I’m going to grow new relationships with countless people from around the globe.
I made friends in the street with folks from WE-ACT in New York. When we talk about organizations in the US doing work like ours, they always come up, but it was awesome to actually meet them in person. Their crew and ours led chants together in the streets.
As the march ended, we walked past the largest street mural in the history of the City, maybe in the Guinness book if the organizers got their way. We ate Banh Mi – Portland’s most average are better, funnily enough. I introduced Huy to a few WE-ACT folks, and he introduced me to a friend or two he knows from his long history in the movement.
After the march, after the food, we went back to the hostel. It was the birthday of the Executive Director of Got Green, Jill, but I was feeling restless and wanted to see more of the city now that the first major action had gone off so well. Kimo and I went out in the Castro (a gay men’s mecca), and met and hung out with a super friendly guy in a very cute floral romper who showed us around a few fun spots. Alex Garcia joined us with one of her colleagues, a nice way to reconnect after we had only had a second in the street. Kimo and I went back to the Waller Center late to sleep, though we had an early action. Usually in a new city, I look for organizers and Indigenous people, but they’re all hanging out at It Takes Roots. It was nice to get some time with queer community as well – though It Takes Roots does intentionally uplift the leadership of queer and genderqueer people as well. I have to say, San Francisco is pulling at my heart strings.
Part two of the story is online here. Stay tuned for further updates on the amazing journey Shawn and the OPAL / Oregon Just Transition Alliance delegates took to Sol2Sol. This post will be updated as the final blogs are posted.