Organizers raised the voices and issues of those most impacted by environmental hazards — people of color, low income Oregonians, rural communities and tribal people — at the People’s Climate March on April 29.
Following a blessing from Native Elder Ed Edmo (Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Pierce, Yakima) at Dawson Park in Northeast Portland, a crowd of nearly 3,000 set off for Buckman Field in Southeast Portland. Marchers repeated a familiar chant, first in English, then in Spanish, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!”
Intersectionality reigned at the event organized by Oregon Just Transition Alliance. Zen monks demonstrated alongside marchers protesting immigration sweeps and no-cause evictions. Vegans waved “no more meat” signs and youths wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts chanted alongside youths supporting farmworker rights and children holding “Kiddos for Climate Justice” signs and marchers for social justice.
Multnomah County commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson addressed the diverse crowd at Dawson Park: “Listen to front-line communities. Show up for racial justice, economic justice, worker justice and climate justice. Our fates are tied. Everyone has a role to play.”
“This is a demonstration of front-line activism,” said Huy Ong, executive director of OPAL, a recent Meyer grantee and a member of the Oregon Just Transition Alliance along with APANO, Beyond Toxics, Environmental Justice Oregon, PCUN, Unite Oregon and Rural Organizing Project. “The community is here demanding action to stop and reverse climate change and to grow our collective power.”
Carrying a sign that read “System Change, Not Climate Change,” People’s Climate March participant Charlie Graham said he was marching because the world is in crisis.
“The system is the problem,” said Graham, a retired elementary school teacher from Hillsboro. “It’s not just the environment over here or politics over there. Housing, climate change: we’re not on a sustainable path.”
All along the route, one of Tiffany Johnson’s hands gripped the palm of her 9-year-old daughter, Ona. The other hand held a sign that touched on many of the issues on demonstrators’ minds: “This is All Native Land: Love is Love, Immigrants Rights, Science is Real, Environmental Justice, Black Lives Matters, Women’s Rights and Feminism.”
“We go to all the social justice, police reform and environmental marches,” Johnson said. “But we don’t often see ourselves (Ona is Native American and black; her mom, Native American) reflected in the leadership or messages. Native people are commonly left out. It’s really important that Ona see the connections, that she claim her place and her voice.”
Rinzan Pechovnik, a priest from the No-Rank Zendo, a Zen Buddhist temple in Southeast Portland, scanned the crowd of thousands.
“This is the fundamental march,” he said. “We have to throw our bodies in to let the world know we care.”
Cary Watters (Tlingit), a Community Engagement Manager at NAYA, banged a hand drum leading marchers past the convention center.
“Ecological and social justice is really key,” she said. “You don’t have one without the other.”
Mary Phillips recently relocated to North Portland joined the march with her daughter-in-law, Erin, and son Mike, a program associate on Meyer’s Healthy Environment portfolio.
“We have to stay vigilant,” Phillips said. “Climate change affects everything — jobs, health care, housing — and this march shows how intersectional it gets. We’re all together in this.”