OPAL Hour Recap: How We Build the Bigger We

Huy reads the OPAL Top Ten to the OPAL Hour crowd

OPAL Hour on March 13th was a huge success. We gathered with food, friends, wine and beer, and a fierce determination to build power for our communities. The real reason the OPAL Family gathers at OPAL Hour is to hear the OPAL Top Ten, and the theme for this OPAL Hour, Building a Bigger We, was at the heart of the top ten.

Our Executive Director Huy Ong spoke in front of a packed room of our closest supporters. His full remarks are below:

Good evening. Super excited everyone is here with us. Always happy to see supporters and people helping us build power for Environmental Justice and Civil Rights in our communities. This OPAL Hour’s Theme is Building the Bigger We. It’s not trademarked, but it comes from our friends at Grassroots Global Justice and the Climate Justice Alliance – which OPAL is a proud member of both. GGJ and CJA are anchor members of the It Takes Roots Alliance and we felt it was important to echo their call for building a bigger we because in this moment for our communities we need to be stronger and more powerful.

Do you agree?

So here’s a bit of a test. Some of you have heard how OPAL defines power. How do we do that?

(An OPAL Member raised their hand and shouted out, “Organized people and organized money!”)

It takes organized people and organized money. So yes, we’ll ask you to organize money with us at the end of the OPAL Top Ten. But before we start, I want to do some recognitions. We have some amazing elected and appointed officials in this room. Young women of color who are taking the lead – Kathy Wei, youngest TriMet board member, perhaps the first TriMet board member to come to an OPAL event and a member of the Clackamas School Board. And Andrea Valderrama, the first woman of color on the David Douglas School Board, now serving as vice chair, and amazing mother and role model to our daughter Rosalia.

We also want to recognize the businesses and organizations who stepped up to sponsor this OPAL Hour. Thank you to to: Beneficial State Bank, EcoVibe Apparel, Elephants Deli, New Seasons, Partnership for Safety and Justice, Toast, Twenty First Avenue Kitchen and Bar, and Virtuous Pie.

If you know me, you know I like to foreshadow things to come. This is going to be the FIRST OPAL’s Top Ten of 2019. The power of bringing people together to laugh and reconnect is such a critical part of movement building. So look out for another OPAL Hour later on in the year. Without further ado, OPAL’s Top Ten: how the OPAL Family Builds a Bigger We.


The Portland Clean Energy Fund – the most significant climate policy in the nation passed in November. The first environmental ballot initiative led by people of color in the state. This means 50 to 70 million dollars of direct investment into our communities every year. That is real power, built by an amazing coalition of organizations Oregon has never seen before.


We’re part of Stable Homes for Oregon’s Families, a coalition which just won the first in the nation statewide cap on rent increases that was just signed into law by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. It’s a huge win. And we know, and you know, that we’re not done. We will continue to fight to keep our families in our homes and communities.


Getting There Together – in 2020, if you live in the Metro region, you’re going to see a measure on your ballot. It will likely be for twenty billion dollars in investments. Our communities need to shape the policy, priorities and projects. We are a part of a coalition effort, centering our communities’ needs and ensuring we win the most significant regional investment in transportation we have ever seen.


Oregon’s Green New Deal – Last month, as an anchor organization of the Oregon Just Transition Alliance, we released the most significant, bold, visionary plan for Climate Action this state has ever seen. 100% renewable energy, a ban on fossil fuel infrastructure, healthy farm and forest communities, massive investments in jobs programs, clean air and water, and busting the state highway trust fund. This is our statewide communities’ vision of a just transition. We’re gonna make it happen. But the OGND would never have come together without the organizing and relationship building of the Oregon Just Transition Alliance Organizer Janaira Ramirez. Janaira built relationships with members across the state, and is building more intentional relationships with labor and tribal communities, to achieve the vision of a statewide Green New Deal. This is also her first OPAL Hour, she just joined our team in September. Give Janaira a round of applause.


YouthPass – Our Youth Environmental Justice Alliance organized to win YouthPass in East Portland. And for the last year and a half they’ve been continuing that fight under the guidance of Adrian Cato, our YEJA Organizer. Adrian is moving on from OPAL at the end of next week, and this is a chance to celebrate her for the great job she did in organizing and activating youth to push decision-makers not to forget about youth of color in East Portland. Adrian and the youth she organizes won $200,000 from TriMet, securing a total of $700,000 for youth transit. Let’s celebrate building a bigger youth movement at OPAL that grows youth power and wins youth-led campaigns.


We’re also building a bigger We by growing our policy work under the leadership of Maria Hernandez Segoviano, OPAL’s Policy and Advocacy Manager. Her thoughtful analysis and work to improve bills and concepts is leading to some serious victories in the state legislature. Maria is in the building, talking to legislators, pushing for Environmental Justice. Our diesel bill amendments are going to catch us up with California on making our trucking industry cleaner. Our amendments to the Oregon Climate Action Plan are going to make sure Oregon doesn’t sacrifice fossil fuel impacted communities, or oversupply Oregon businesses with permits to pollute. Maria is submitting OPAL comments on so many pieces of legislation, it’ll make your head spin. She’s a powerhouse and if you haven’t met her, you should meet her tonight. Let’s celebrate Maria. (applause)


Bus Riders Unite is OPAL’s flagship program, and OPAL’s Organizing Fellowship is the latest iteration of the Organizers In Training program. And the first cohort of OIT graduated The Mayor of Woodburn, Orlando Lopez Bautista. Now, Orlando oversees Bus Riders Unite and the fellowship, and this year, three of those fellows have been elected by members to serve on OPAL’s Board. Tristan is here – we now have three people under the age of thirty on our Board, who developed more leadership with us. That’s thanks to Orlando, who is part of how we’re building a bigger we. Developing movement leaders. And we need you to be a part of that bigger we because it will take all of us to stop TriMet’s proposed fare hikes.


Fundraising and Communications – OPAL had a banner year for fundraising last year. We broke the $800,000 mark. And we had some big victories in storytelling, pausing the hire of the TriMet General Manager and winning big changes at TriMet, and the appointment of Kathy Wei to the TriMet board. OPAL has grown tremendously in the last few years. We have projected confidence in dark times, vision of hope in an era of national helplessness, and we’ve convinced funders that OPAL is a sound investment – that movement-building and organizing is the key method to achieving a just transition. And we’ve done that with the guidance of Shawn Fleek, our Director of Narrative Strategy, who also organized this event and wrote this top ten list.


We believe in systems change and that starts at home. That’s Julie Reardon. Julie is our Operations Associate, who is building and changing OPAL’s internal systems to be better and more equitable. Julie is unschooling her kids, so they’re in the office with us often, reminding us to keep our space inclusive of youth and families. Julie is improving our HR, administration, payroll, everything that makes OPAL tick is thanks to Julie. She represented OPAL at the Womxn’s March in DC, as a Grassroots Global Justice delegate for the World March of Womxn’s contingency. Her story is on OPAL’s blog.


Organizing. If you saw OPAL’s new Strategic Plan – also on the OPAL website – you know we’re doubling down on Organizing. We’re going to grow our organizing, center our members, and build our base in a big way. And overseeing this growth, we have OPAL newest hire, our first Organizing Director Khanh Pham. We’re so excited to have Khanh on our team. She’s no stranger to OPAL’s community, having previously worked for OPAL in our infancy, then serving on our board, then as our board chair. Khanh is no stranger to organizing. Early on she was with the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles. She held many roles at APANO organizing for immigrants and climate justice. She was a lynchpin in the Portland Clean Energy Initiative. Adding someone so powerful, strategic, and thoughtful to our team is how we’re building a bigger we.

If you know OPAL, you know we work hard. We also have a PLUS ONE. Technically it’s a TOP ELEVEN. So:


One last way we’re demonstrating our commitment to a Bigger We. Voices of a People’s History is heading to Revolution Hall. It’s OPAL’s biggest night of the year, our annual fundraiser and a super-inspiring evening of revolutionary public speeches and spoken word, delivered by leaders in the movement. So we need you all there. And we need you all to make a commitment tonight to PACK the hall for revolution. Bring your colleagues, your whole organizations, your businesses, your families. Voices is on July 10th. Will you be there? Put it in your calendar right now. July 10th. Text someone right now, and tell them they’re coming.

That’s the top ten. That’s how we’re building a bigger we.

(Shawn interrupts: And let’s celebrate Huy, who steers this ship. (audience claps) Now ask them for money!)

Thanks Shawn. The way we have built the bigger we got us an invitation to meet with Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to talk about the Green New Deal and our Portland Clean Energy Initiative. More importantly, I got a selfie with AOC and Rosalia – it was awesome. In September of last year, OPAL was in the Bay Area for a week of climate action where we met the refinery-impacted people of Richmond, California and Albuquerque, New Mexico – they are part of the bigger we and the communities we’re fighting for in our own state legislature. We are building the bigger we when Shanice, our board member, connects and visits EJ communities in Detroit at the Black 2 Just Transition, or when Orlando visited Buffalo New York visiting with folks who want to learn about our Transportation Justice victories.

We’re members of national movements like Climate Justice Alliance, Grassroots Global Justice and the 100% renewables network. OPAL is Oregon’s hub for environmental justice, connecting you to the movements in our neighborhoods and around the world. And tonight we’re asking you to support us with an investment is growing the bigger we. In growing a bigger OPAL.

I have a surprise. Four people have agreed to make a donation totaling $1,000, IF we can raise $1,000 tonight. Now, who will match them?

(Our gathered community then stepped up contributed more than $2,500 to support our mission!)

Thank you so much everyone.

If you missed OPAL Hour, make a donation today. We’re sorry you missed great food and drinks, the company of movement youth, families and Elders, and a chance to talk to OPAL Staff and Board members about the work ahead. There will be another OPAL Hour in 2019! But don’t forget to save the date for July 10th: Voices of a People’s History at Revolution Hall! We need you there to build the bigger We!


Posted in Air Quality, Build the New, Bus Riders Unite, Celebrations, Climate Justice, Housing Justice, Invest in the Good, OPAL Fellows, Opal in the News, Policy Advocacy, Transit Justice, YEJA.