Our 4th year of the Summer Organizers in Training program began last week and it is amazing how much the new OiTs have already done. In addition to their trainings of several hours a day, they have attended a TriMet Board meeting, spoke at the “Voices” benefit, attended a social justice rally, and are preparing for their initial 1st Saturday Organizing day as OiTs. We are already impressed with the commitment of these five young activists (four OiTs and the Program Coordinator). They seem to be a perfect fit, as OPAL begins to step up our efforts to activate more youth behind environmental justice.
So without further adieu, meet our 2013 OiT team…
Vania was born in Peru, but has spent half of her life living in the beautiful state of Oregon. A University of Oregon alum, and a Year of Service Fellow for the Oregon Bus Project, Vania has dedicated the last five years of her life fighting for student rights, and equity and accessibility throughout the state of Oregon. Last summer as a Politicorps fellow, she spent 10 weeks working on voter registration and knocked over 500 doors for the Tuition Equity campaign. Afterwards, she went on to be the 2012 election field organizer for the AFL-CIO where she organized union members to rally for pro union candidates. During the legislative session, Vania worked as the inland organizer for Our Ocean, a conservation coalition that protects the health and legacy of the Oregon Coast. Now, as the OPAL OiT Coordinator, she wants to be inspired by the stories of her OiTs and is excited to help create an awesome program for new leaders. In her spare time, Vania loves going on long distance runs and looking at sunsets.
Raised in the Vancouver/Portland area, Halla started volunteering at 12 years old at the free clinic in Vancouver. During high school she studied abroad in Argentina, which led her to pursue a degree in Spanish at Portland State University. While at PSU she continued studying abroad and volunteering in the community. For the past couple of years, Halla has worked with adults with developmental disabilities. As an OiT she hopes to gain skills and experiences to be a great leader and for pursuing a masters degree in Social Work.
Emily is a recent graduate from Willamette University where she studied Environmental Science as well as social justice. Relatively new to Portland, Emily moved here from Newport where she worked in a bakery. She is passionate about environmental and social justice issues and excited to be a part of OPAL’s movement for accessible and equitable transportation. Emily hopes to learn a lot from the Organizer in Training program, and to use her new skills to continue a life of fighting for social and environmental justice, as well as healthy communities.
Perla moved to the United States from Mexico City when she was 11 years old. She recently graduated from the Catlin Gabel School in the west hills of Portland. Her privileged school and its surroundings is a totally different place than where she lives (East Portland). Through commuting one-and-a-half hours every day on the bus from East Portland to Washington County, she noticed that Portland has a long way to go regarding environmental justice. Perla became familiar with OPAL through her involvement with the Mulnomah Youth Commission (MYC), where she learned to become an advocate for social justice. Perla will be attending the University of Oregon in the fall. She decided to apply for the OiT program to continue fighting for environmental and social justice and to learn more about Portland by interacting with the community. She’s excited to work with her amazing OiT teammates this summer!
Omar Shay Omar
A native of Kismayo, Somalia, Omar immigrated to the United States at age 3 and has lived in Portland since 2002. He is currently a student, taking courses at both Portland Community College and Portland State University. Omar has been inspired by many mentors in his life and is motivated by the many social justice issues facing his community.
What an exciting week at OPAL! The last days of June were filled with activity as we launched our 2013 Organizer In Training program, held our Voices of a People’s History event, and participated in a Jobs With Justice rally promoting healthy cities. With all of the outreach behind these happenings, there is a good chance we saw you or contacted you at some point in June. It is an awesome feeling to see how much we have grown in numbers and influence! Speaking of which, and in addition to these events, TriMet released to OPAL it’s evaluation of the financial impact of extending transfer times. We will have more on this and the progress of the Campaign for a Fair Transfer in the coming weeks.
Dante James reading at “Voices”
The Voices event was a huge success and we can’t thank you all enough for all of your support. As the event was a benefit for our Organizer In Training program, our four new OITs introduced themselves on the same evening. Look for a separate post released alongside this one for more information about the newest faces at OPAL.
Coinciding nicely with the beginning of OIT training, OPAL was part of the Portland Rising J29 rally. Portland Rising is a project of Jobs With Justice, focusing on uniting labor and community organizations to fight austerity measures in our government. The campaign seeks to highlight how people are suffering while big banks and corporations are profiting from tax breaks and shady negotiations. With support from our friends at JWJ and SEIU 503, among others, OPAL and BRU! had a really great activity area. Our OITs had plenty of opportunity to message the CFT and the inequities around fare enforcement, plus collect contacts to expand BRU! membership. The rally ended with a march to Bank of America where BRU! member Lynne was part of a delegation that entered the bank to demand that the public’s money be returned. What better way is there to celebrate Independence Day than to stand up for our rights as citizens through a bit of rabble rousing?
Christopher ringing Neil’s bell at the J29 rally
Have a safe holiday, everybody. We encourage you to take a minute to reflect on what Independence Day means to you and to find ways to participate in shaping your community. For an immediate opportunity, join us for 1st Saturday Organizing and meet the new OITs in person!
1st Saturday Organizing – July 6th, 11:00
OPAL office: 2407 SE 49th Ave, Portland (TriMet Lines 4, 14, 71)
This month’s Bus Riders Unite! meeting marked the final adoption of our guiding document. The Bus Riders Unite Organizational Structure and Collaborative Vision includes by-laws, membership criteria and forms committees. Built into all of this is the ability for members to present ideas, provide input, and be the decision-making body that will guide BRU! efforts now and into the future. A huge thanks to the members of the Leadership Committee all of the hard work put into this process.
Presentation to Portland City Council
This week was also a big one for the East Portland Action Plan, as stakeholders of the project from the Transit Rider Subcommittee presented their annual report to Portland City Council. The final selections from the East Portland Bus Stop project that BRU! members voted on were included in the presented report. It was great to hear Commissioner Fritz express her interest in the project as she urged the Transit Rider Subcommittee to also present the report findings to TriMet.
Join us on June 27th
We are all really excited for OPAL’s upcoming event, Voices of a People’s History. Whether you have read Howard Zinn’s book or not, you are in for a treat as we bring parts of it to life through readings from local activists. There will also be amazing silent auction items to fit every budget. Tickets are still available so spread the word. Click here for tickets and info. Let’s pack the house!
Also, another reminder about the Jobs With Justice/Portland Rising rally that OPAL is a part of. Come play with us on June 29th at Holladay Park (Lloyd Center) for a carnival-style rally complete with a dunk tank and music! Invite community members and bring your children. A march to Bank of America will follow the rally, for those of us who like to rabble rouse! More info here.
Even with all the excitement around the OPAL office, something has been missing. More accurately, someone has been missed. OPAL’s Youth Organizer, Nicole, is on hiatus as she pursues an incredible opportunity for training and experience with Politicorps. She will remain in Portland but will need to dedicate all of her time to this important program. Nicole left a note: “Remember OPAL, Nicole misses you!” We miss you, too!
Voices of a People’s History: Benefit for OPAL’s Organizer in Training Program
Thursday June 27th, 6:30 – Curious Comedy Theater (Bus lines 6, 72)
J29: Labor and Community Gathering
Saturday June 29th, 10:30 – Holladay Park (Bus lines 8, 70 and MAX)
We had another great day of 1stSaturday Organizing last weekend, with blue skies and more than 15 volunteer organizers! We even had three youth representatives out with us for their first day of organizing. It was great to see them engaging the public about Youth Pass and Campaign for a Fair Transfer, issues that are crucial to their ability to access the services they will need as they become more independent. These future leaders all said they enjoyed their first experience as community organizers. Way to step up!
1st Saturday Organizing
With our volunteers and staff, we had a big enough group to cover two separate areas; Lloyd Center and Interstate/Rosa Parks Max stops. With TriMet committed to reviewing the dollars and cents (and sense!) behind CFT, we need to be connecting with as many transit users as possible. Will enough of you join us next month to form THREE groups?
In the meantime, there is no shortage of ways to get involved with BRU! or OPAL. There is an EPAP Transit Riders subcommittee meeting next week, when next steps for the East Portland Bus Stop Project will be discussed. OPAL’s benefit to support our OIT program is just two weeks away and there are still tickets available. See the previous blog post for details.
EPAP Transit Riders subcommittee: Wed, June 12, 6:30-8:00; Arbor Glen Apartments – 2609 SE 145th (TriMet Lines 4, 9)
On June 29th, OPAL will be part of a multi-organizational rally focused on Healthy Cities. Portland Rising and Jobs With Justice are organizing a carnival-style rally that will be family-friendly and informative. Come learn more about how the campaigns of Portland Association of Teachers or local food workers are directly tied to ours, while playing giant Monopoly or watching street theater. Click here for event details. In addition to attending the event, we could use some fun and creative people to help plan our games.
Work session: Friday June 14, 5:30 at OPAL. For more info, contact Mike(at)opalpdx.org
On Thursday, June 27th, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon will host Voices from a People’s History of the United States, a benefit for the summer Organizer in Training Program at an inaugural fundraising event at Curious Comedy Theatre, located in the heart of Vanport Square in Northeast Portland. The evening will feature community leaders, elected officials, and other notable Portlanders reading excerpts from Howard Zinn’s book “Voices of a People’s History of the United States”, highlighting the people who paved the way for social justice.
OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon builds power for civil rights and environmental justice in our communities. We organize low-
income communities and people of color to achieve a safe and healthy environment where we live, work and play. We strive to create opportunities for meaningful participation in the decision-making that sets policy in our region.
For the past three years, summer has been the season to look forward to at OPAL. Not only because it’s a great time for organizers to connect with community members in the warm sunshine, but because every morning, a group of inspired young people walk through the doors ready to take on the challenges of the day as a part of OPAL’s summer Organizer in Training (OiT) program. The OiT program
develops leadership and organizing skills in young people (mostly high-school and college age youth) through a 9 week long summer curriculum; this successful program has developed 12 leaders of its’ 3 year history, many of which have continued to work in social justice and grassroots organizing.
Please join us and the following confirmed readers from our social justice community:
Robert Liberty, former Metro Councilor | Jeri Sundvall-Williams, City of Portland | Steve Novick, Portland City Council | Sharon Gary-Smith, MRG Foundation | Jo Ann Hardesty, Civil Rights leader | Dante James, Office of Equity and Human Rights | Mara Gross, Coalition for a Livable Future | Alissa Keny-Guyer, Oregon House District 46 | Cameron Whitten, Social Justice Activist | Lisa Bates, Portland State University | Lynne Barrett, Bus Riders Unite Leader | Terrence Coleman, Bus Riders Unite Leader | Rex Burkholder, former Metro councilor | Jean Yamamoto, SEIU | Cameron Johnson, Bus Riders Unite Leader | Teresa Keishi Soto, Bus Riders Unite Leader
On Thursday, TriMet and the agency’s Board of Directors acknowledged the hard work that OPAL and Bus Riders Unite! has put into our analysis of extended transfers and the effects this might have on transit riders who depend on single ticket fares. They repeatedly referenced and commended BRU members on the amount of civic engagement we have shown in trying to improve our transit system. We haven’t exactly been making it easy for them to ignore us though: in addition to showing up at board meetings to testify, as we did on Thursday morning with 15 testimonies given by BRU and OPAL, we have been sitting down with individual TriMet board members to discuss CFT, we have been writing op-ed pieces and press releases for local newspapers and we have been strengthening our transit justice coalition with other community organizations. You might even have seen OPAL’s Executive Director Jon Ostar on a recent KOIN 6 report. TriMet stated again that they will provide detailed analysis to the board at the end of June as to the financial impact of extending transfer times.
BRU and OPAL give testimony at the TriMet board meeting today
The testimony given at this week’s TriMet board meeting really portrayed just how transit justice affects us all and is directly tied to the health of a city. Comments today ranged from that of personal stories by transit dependent community members, to those who sometimes have the option to drive but are trying to make the environmentally-conscious decision not to. We heard how the best part of their public transit experience to some people is the bus drivers themselves and how a fair system will also respect its employees. We heard from bus operators who want to provide the best service possible but are stuck operating over-crowded buses and making late arrivals due to service cuts. The CFT is about finding new ways to approach old problems. Instead of making riders shoulder the burden of increased fairs and decreased service, let’s find solutions that encourage the use of our transit system. When you restore service and value, you restore faith in the system and grow ridership. When you help people meet their basic needs, you help create healthy cities.
OPAL and BRU members look forward to working with TriMet to analyze the issue in June and recommending a full implementation of three hour transfers and unlimited after 7pm.
First Saturday Organizing: 11am – 3pm at the OPAL office, 2407 SE 49th
This week’s guest blog post is from long time Bus Riders Unite member and self-identified ‘transit geek’ Cameron Johnson.
Hello fellow transit riders and activists.
You may have noticed how the mainstream media has picked up the pace in investigating TriMet’s decision to allocate almost $1 million in non-union wage increases as part of the FY 2013 budget, at a time when they were raising our fares to historic levels and further cutting back our service. After KOIN Channel 6’s hard-hitting piece last night, TriMet has their PR machine out in full force, implying that we over here at OPAL were told about the intended wage increases and failed to bring it to our members and the public at-large.
Here’s the truth: in analyzing the proposed FY 2013 budget, we noticed they were doubling their Contingency Fund from $10M to $20M, seemingly without justification. This was critical because in doubling the Contingency – a source of backup money intended for emergency situations – leaves us with $10M less in operating money, and along with a manufactured budget shortfall, allowed for the impression that TriMet needed to raise fares and cut service to break even (more on this later).
In May of 2012, TriMet provided us with a memo to explain why the Contingency Fund could not be reduced as we were asking them to do, and we’re sharing that piece with you here:
From page 2 of “Memo to OPAL Regarding Contingency”, received May 2012. via e-mail
We want to be clear – we didn’t consider questioning each line item that was presented as a possible unexpected expense to be a priority then, nor is it a top priority now; not when fares continue to rise, service continues to be cut, Free Rail is eliminated, billion dollar light-rails continue to be built, money continues to be thrown at a streetcar to nowhere, and riders – especially those of us most dependent on transit – continue to suffer. The non-union wage increases represented less than 5% of the proposed Contingency, and less than 0.2% of the overall operating budget, and there was no indication they were even going to happen. There are bigger fish to fry.
Does this mean we agree with the raises? Absolutely not. TriMet has made some terrible decisions over the past several years that have jeopardized the integrity of our system, and we don’t support throwing money at poor performance. But we were focused on one thing: fighting for a more equitable budget, meaning lower fares, more service frequency and coverage, and generating revenue from those who are getting subsidies – park and ride users, WES and streetcar riders, even drivers. Furthermore, we weren’t even aware that those raises would actually happen; after all, the whole point of the Contingency is that it is to be used for unanticipated overages. What TriMet did was an incorrect and potentially illicit use of the contingency, and had we understood TriMet’s intentions, we would have included this in our argument that the “rich” were getting richer while the “poor” were getting poorer. All we were concerned with, and all we remain concerned with, is preventing further fare hikes and restoring service and value for the riders.
Let’s not get distracted here. There was NO budget shortfall last year. TriMet maintained its federal funding, has a substantial surplus in payroll tax revenue, and won its arbitration with the union. Not only does TriMet have that $12M in pocket, but they also got a short-term surplus to boot. Yet, here we are at the bus stop, paying much more for much less. We want to see this money come back to the riders, in the form of increased transfer times, stronger and safer infrastructure, and increased service frequency.
Rest assured that we at OPAL and Bus Riders Unite will always be honest with you. I started out as a Bus Riders Unite member helping to analyze and develop our Budget Alternative to minimize the impact of fare hikes and service cuts. We saved our ability to make round-trip transfers (imagine that!); we won a million dollar mitigation fund (from the Contingency) to help offset the impact to low-income riders; and we mobilized hundreds of new voices to the decision-making table. As a current BRU Leadership Committee member, my job is to not only fight for transit justice, but to also demand more transparency and clarity from TriMet, which I have always been happy to do. Knowledge and awareness are the highest forms of power for us. We won’t stop until we get there, and we welcome you to join us on this ride. Because this is how we roll.
Wishing you the best in your transit travels,
We are really excited about two significant milestones for both BRU and OPAL that occurred this week! The first one you may have read about in OPAL’s Facebook post about 1st Saturday Organizing. We had a record number of participants on May 4th with 12 organizers! Many of them were brand new faces and all were just as eager to help build support behind the transit justice movement. As our number of organizers grows, so do our ranks in BRU membership, giving transit riders a stronger voice than ever. Can you imagine how many potential allies we could reach if we consistently turn out in these numbers? Mark your calendar for June 1st, our next organizing day, to find out!
The other first-time-ever occurrence from this week was the initial meeting of TriMet’s new Transit Equity Committee, which took place on Tuesday, May 7th. You may remember that OPAL has been advocating for the necessity of such a committee since 2011. We have all seen how easy it is for our transit agency to overlook the needs of bus riders, especially those in the outer boundaries of TriMet’s service area. Even when well-intended, TriMet’s management and board simply don’t know what daily life is like for the transit-dependent. That is why it is especially significant that BRU member Terrence is a member of this standing committee. To put that into perspective, this means a direct voice for transit riders at an ongoing official TriMet committee. We commend TriMet on taking this important step towards transit justice, in addition to continuing a dialogue with BRU through meetings with TriMet board members.
As we continue to build capacity, OPAL and BRU campaigns are moving forward. We encourage you to attend the East Portland Bus Stop Prioritization meeting on May 14th, where we will be selecting the bus stops to present to TriMet as needing immediate improvement. The sites have been narrowed down to four cluster areas and if you want to have a say in the final cut, we need to hear from you. Food, childcare, and Spanish translation will be provided but please RSVP so we know what to plan for.
East Portland Bus Stop Prioritization meeting: Tuesday, May 14 – Rosewood Initiative, 16126 SE Stark St (Line #20 and MAX Blue) RSVP to hector(at)opalpdx.org or 503-342-8910.
If you are a youth interested in advocacy and fairness, or know somebody who is, please make a note of the upcoming Youth Environmental Justice Workshop, hosted by OPAL’s Youth Organizer, Nicole Johnson.
Youth Environmental Justice Workshop – Saturday, May 18 – CIO, 700 N. Killingsworth St (Lines 72, 4 and MAX Yellow)
Sunday is Mother’s Day! Give her a hug. Maybe take her on a tour of the public art along TriMet’s bus and MAX lines: http://trimet.org/publicart/ or take Line 15 to within walking distance of the Washington Park Rose Garden.
This week’s blog post comes from OPAL Youth Organizer, Nicole Johnson, who has been working with youth city-wide to advocate for stable funding of the YouthPass benefit, and to expand it to all students in the Portland metropolitan area. Herself and Multnomah Youth Commissioner Jose Lopez Delgado penned an opinion piece published this week in the Oregonian about the importance of YouthPass. This blog post is about her own personal experience.
As the OPAL Youth Organizer, I’m so excited that we are going to have the YouthPass for another school year. I have heard from many students that without YouthPass, they wouldn’t be able to go to school or do daily errands or even work.
The year I graduated high school was the year YouthPass was implemented. Even though I walked to school, YouthPass would have benefited me tremendously. When I worked at Chuck E Cheese as a senior in high school, I would take the bus. But with having a job comes responsibilities (helping out with my household bills, phone bills, etc.), and I soon couldn’t afford bus fare. This meant that my trips were limited and often I would walk home. You might say “hey, walking is great exercise!” but my neighborhood in southeast Portland has a lot of bars, video poker establishments, and convenience stores with people coming and out of them at all times of the night.
One time I was walking home from work at 9pm at night. I was about two blocks away from my house and while trying to fix my headphones, I dropped them on the ground, right in front of a door entrance to a bar. As I picked them up, 2 guys walked out and looked at me with sort of a crooked look. One of them said, “What are you doing around here?”. At that moment, I was so afraid that I ran all the rest of the way home. If I would have had access to a bus pass, I would have been dropped off right near the street where I lived, and not had to worryingly speed past 3 bars to get home.
Even though I am not eligible for YouthPass now, it’s an important issue to me because I don’t want someone else to have the terrifying experience I had that night. I see YouthPass as helping students get to and from school, extracurricular activities, and other opportunities which keep them engaged with their community. But it’s mostly important to me because it means having a stable form of transportation and getting to and from destinations safely.
This has been a big week in the world of Bus Riders Unite and OPAL. An active BRU member and outer Southeast Portland resident Eavan Moore is our guest posting for this week, offering her take on the future of Campaign for a Fair Transfer.
Think back to October 2010. Who were you two and a half years ago? What’s changed since then?
If you’re a bus rider, here’s one answer: Now, we are united. And now we shape our own transit system.
Last Tuesday, TriMet met riders where we’re at — which is to say, the Bus Riders Unite! HQ at 49th and Division. General Manager Neil McFarlane, Chief Financial Office Dave Auxier, and board member Travis Stovall spent an evening speaking with seven of the many bus riders who have worked on Campaign for a Fair Transfer. Cameron, Teresa, Keith, Lynne, Vivian, Jared and I described the long wait times and steep fare increases that make the length of a transfer such an urgent issue for the transit-dependent. We stressed that TriMet can easily afford, and must use, this opportunity to regain public trust and grow its ridership. And we finished by asking for two commitments: First, that TriMet allow for our proposed transfer extensions in its FY2014 budget; and second, that its May board meeting — which could see the budget approved — be held in the evening, to make it truly accessible to the public.
Neil McFarlane made no promises on that score, but he did offer a set of unprecedented commitments that evening and at TriMet’s board meeting the next day. TriMet will use new data to complete a financial and ridership impact analysis of BRU’s proposals by July 1. BRU will participate in a work session in July, and will work with TriMet staff to prepare recommendations to the TriMet board. If TriMet decides to implement the fair transfer, new bus fareboxes under installation would make it possible to switch over in just one or two months.
Let’s take a moment to let this sink in. Back in 2010, bus riders brainstormed ideas from their own experience. Two separate proposals solidified into a campaign. Volunteers organized new riders, gathered 6,000 signatures, and won community support. We went out on the buses, in the streets, at TriMet board meetings. We spoke out for the riders. And because we spoke for the riders, three of the top decision makers at TriMet came to us and listened.
BRU has cred. And this summer, we’ll put its full force behind the Campaign for a Fair Transfer. It’s time to dig into the data, find the funds, and hold TriMet accountable to those who live their lives on public transit. At Wednesday’s board meeting, we proposed new budget language. We’ll be looking for it when we come out en masse to the next meeting on May 22 — this time, to celebrate.