On the morning of March 1, 2017, 150 community advocates from around the state joined the Coalition of Communities of Color at the state capitol to share concerns with their representatives and senators. The atmosphere was full of excitement as we learned about a bold, cross-cutting legislative agenda that will help advance racial equity in Oregon through healthcare, education, environmental justice, housing, racial justice and civil rights, and economic stability. Communities of color worked in tandem with allies on these issues that affect all Oregonians. These issues, driven by compassion and concern, offered real solutions for some of the greatest challenges being faced by the state.
For many of the attendees, it was their first time visiting the state capitol. As they were being trained on the issues, participants shared deeply personal stories about how state policy affected Oregon families-- from evictions to lack of health care to wage theft to increased pollution-related asthma and cancer in their communities. Tokenization, disparate impact, marginalization, and exclusion were common themes that continued to surface. However, if one main lesson was emphasized in the training, it was that personal stories are the most powerful advocacy tool to drive change and fight for justice. Throughout the day, over 50 legislators heard these stories and demands for equity loud and clear.
In the afternoon, a Clean Energy Jobs rally was held on the steps of the capitol. Environmentalists and social justice advocates spoke about a path forward for holding major polluters accountable while investing in those Oregonians most impacted by pollution and climate change. Participants chanted, “Clean green economy, this is what we want to see!” These chanters carried their passion and stories to a Joint Legislative hearing on the Clean Energy Jobs bills, which would put a cap and price on pollution, and reinvest those proceeds into a new clean energy economy and rural, people of color, and low-income communities throughout Oregon.
It is clear: no matter the area, policy needs to address the needs of all Oregonians and provide benefit to those who are most vulnerable to negative effects. The stories shared throughout the day in Capitol offices reflected these experiences.
As we were gathering to take group photos and as I spoke with individual participants about their experiences, the words of Dr. Cornel West kept resonating: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Truly, this lobby day was an embodiment of the pursuit of justice in Oregon.
Simon Tam is marketing director for Oregon Environmental Council and serves on the board of directors for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), Know Your CIty, Portland State University’s Cultural Resources Center, and is on the steering committee for the Jade District.
For more information about the Coalition of Communities of Color and their racial justice agenda, contact Maggie Tallmadge, Environmental Justice Manager at email@example.com.