OPAL emerged out of the Portland-area Environmental Justice Action Group (EJAG), and brought together many regional movement leaders to form a new organization. OPAL’s founders worked together as community organizers with EJAG, then established OPAL in 2005, incorporating as a non-profit in 2006. Early OPAL organizers worked with the Multnomah County Health Department on environmental health concerns facing public housing residents in North Portland. Many of these residents expressed concerns related to transportation and transit access, and so OPAL pivoted toward transportation justice organizing and founded Bus Riders Unite (BRU) in 2011. OPAL brought this community-based transit justice work to East Portland neighborhoods that were becoming increasingly diverse, and started the OPAL Organizers In Training program to train the next generation of movement leaders.
OIT leaders have since gone on to professional organizing roles, and appointments alongside high-level political leaders. The 2015 OIT class was a specially-selected cohort of youth aged 15-19, and that cohort would go on to found OPAL’s Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA), and take up the important fight for transportation justice for East Portland schools who faced disproportionate access to free transit services.
In 2017, OPAL launched the Oregon Just Transition Alliance (OJTA) as a founding member of the OJTA Steering Committee. OJTA, an alliance of frontline community base-building organizations from across Oregon, aims to propagate a new narrative about climate justice in our state, rooted in the principles of a just transition and other frameworks from our national and international community of base-building movement organizers.
While OPAL’s initial work focused on disproportionate indoor and outdoor air quality and asthma concerns in communities along the I-205 freeway corridor, it has since expanded into the intersections of transportation, housing, land use, public health, and climate policy. Leadership in the Board and staff has rotated as the movement has shifted and grown, and OPAL Family members have gone on to found the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), Momentum Alliance, and Groundwork Portland (organized with PCUN, CAT, local government and school districts, and Zenger Farms) and engage in countless other movement and base-building spaces around the globe.
Our leadership today reflects a true commitment to the environmental justice value of authentic, community-based advocacy. Highly-impacted community members form a core staff, leadership, Board of Directors, and membership bases across distinct program areas. Together, we are leading a statewide movement of environmental and climate justice communities to achieve a just transition in Oregon’s economy from an extractive and exploitative, destructive cycle to a feminist economy rooted in regeneration and cooperation. From our home base in East Portland, we still fight for transportation justice in our neighborhoods. In Oregon’s Capitol, Salem, we change statewide air quality, energy and housing policy. Nationally we maintain a presence leading in spaces like the Climate Justice Alliance and Grassroots Global Justice.