Rally crosses borders, communities in pursuit of climate justice

While international leaders were in Bangkok attempting to move forward with implementing the Paris Climate Agreement, Portland community groups, labor unions, environmental advocates and other members of the community gathered at Glenhaven Park on Sept. 8 to take part in the “Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice” rally.

Organized by Oregon Just Transition Alliance, the event joined a worldwide weekend of action in which thousands of people across the globe participated in marches, protests and demonstrations, calling for more urgent action by all world leaders to address rising global temperatures.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet from the Marshall Islands, spoke at the event, describing her life’s work as “writing poetry and creating art on climate change so that people know how it’s affecting the Marshall Islands.”

“Some islands are as big as this park,” Jetnil-Kijiner said. “Some parts of the island are so thin that you can stand in the middle of the road and feel ocean spray on either side of you. We are incredibly vulnerable to the rising sea level.”

A theme of the rally was working toward a just transition away from nonrenewable forms of energy. As described by author Naomi Klein in an interview with Street Roots last year: “The two pieces of just transition are the people who got the worst deal are [the ones] first in line to benefit from the transition, and the people who did the most to create the crisis need to pay the most.”

One local organizer attending the event was Jai Singh, a Portland State alumnus and field director at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. While at PSU, he worked as a Neighborhood Climate Resistance Fellow in East Portland’s Jade District as part of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions’ Climate Action Internship Program.

Singh was part of a number of groups tabling at the rally and drawing attention to several upcoming ballot measures, including an affordable housing bond measure and a bill to repeal Oregon’s Sanctuary State Law, a tax on large corporations for investment in renewable energy and job creation.

Many of the speakers discussed the links between climate justice and issues such as affordable housing, transportation, food security and migrant rights. Inequities in the criminal justice system and disproportionate political representation were highlighted as major factors which contribute to the vulnerability of historically marginalized groups due to adverse effects of climate change.

“Communities of color, immigrants, refugees and migrants must focus on the movement for environmental justice as passionately as we focus on all other forms of oppression,” said Lanija Harris, a youth facilitator in the Umoja Kijana Shujaa Black Youth Leadership Program. “There is not an option to not be political in these times.”

Also addressed were the controversial $7.6 billion Jordan Cove Energy Project export terminal and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline the Trump administration revived after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected. Rural communities in Oregon and across the globe are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, yet also rely heavily on natural resources to support their economies and ways of life.

A top priority for the state’s top lawmakers is passing legislation to cap statewide greenhouse gas emissions during the 2019 legislative session, an effort supported by Gov. Kate Brown. If passed, Oregon would be poised to join California, Quebec and Ontario in a carbon market representing the equivalent to the fourth largest economy in the world.

According to Brad Reed, communications director for the Renew Oregon campaign, the bill aims to include specific carve-outs ensuring that communities of color, rural communities and low-income populations—groups typically hit “first and worst” by climate change—get a fair share.

PSU alum Lydia Wojack-West handed out posters she had made for the event while also acknowledging reservations about the difficulty of overcoming massive lobbying campaigns by industries involved in the production and consumption of fossil fuels.

“How optimistic am I about all of this? On a scale of one to ten? Two or three, probably; on good days, five,” Wojack-West said.

“There are a lot of folks [who] are grateful for me bringing up the voter guide to them, educating them about the elections,” Singh said. “People feel valued. They feel like they have a say in this process. That’s what gives me hope to keep going.”

Jetnil-Kijiner, who spoke at the opening ceremony of a climate change conference hosted by the Vatican in July, said she has struggled at times with her faith in the movement. When asked how her entry into higher arenas to discuss climate issues has informed her perspective, she replied that many of the conversations around her are about the constant push to move forward.

“Let’s grieve, let’s mourn some of the things that are getting lost right now. If we allow ourselves to grieve, we allow ourselves to feel the emotions that we meet and to keep fighting,” Jetnil-Kijiner said.