Jon Ostar, Executive Director OPAL, write about the impact of Enlace strategic consutling on the Environmental Justice movement in Portland.
OPAL: Case Study on Environmental Justice in Portland
Bus Riders Unite!, our new grassroots membership program based on environmental justice principles with a focus on transit justice, consulted with Enlace in the fall of 2010. Our members had prioritized a complex issue that required a strategic organizing plan: fares were going up, ridership was going down, and bus riders were under attack—with a new fare increase, the further out riders were forced to live, the less time and value they had on their fare. For transit dependent riders, this meant accessing an opportunity or not, or being able to provide basic needs for their family. Our members identified transfer time as the most critical transit justice issue for us to take on, and we consulted with Enlace to build a strategic plan and organizing training to increase transfer time from 2 hours to 3 hours.
Consulting with Enlace
As a newer organization looking to rebuild the culture around local environmental justice community organizing, we reached out to Enlace because of the trusted relationships Peter had from the past in organizing hotel workers against toxics. Peter had been instrumental in helping to move EJ work forward in Portland early in the movement, and we knew about Enlace’s strong track record with their Integrated Organizing Approach.
From Fall 2010 to Winter 2011, Enlace helped us develop a campaign work-plan that was member driven and reflective of EJ principles. Our organizing team consulted for multiple sessions with Enlace to plan an organizing retreat. At the retreat, we learned teambuilding, how to develop and practice grassroots advocacy raps, and storytelling. During one day long work-planning session, we first established the problem, power mapped, decided how to brand ourselves, and identified who our targets were. Enlace’s understanding of targets is something I still think about in every campaign.
We emerged from the consultation retreat with the Campaign for Fair Transfer, a campaign that our core membership was fully invested in, that addressed the scope of the problem, and that identified organizational strategies to move targets. We now knew how to base build and organize partners to buy in for a strong coalition. We were able to kick off the campaign immediately in February 2011. We wanted a 3 hour transfer and unlimited rides after 7pm.
We hit the streets and made 10,000 contacts using the rap we’d developed during our retreat. We collected 6,000 signatures from bus riders in the summer of 2011. We made a visible display of strength and were invited by Trimet Board to present our campaign in fall 2011.
With our strong 18-month work plan and ongoing 1-on-1 check-ins and support from Enlace, we were able to deal with barrier in Trimet budget. Trimet board manufactured a budget “crisis” in Spring 2012. OPAL’s budget analysis was that transfer time increases were close to cost neutral, but we minimized how fiscal impact could lead to bureaucratic trade offs as a form of control. So our narrow, complex Campaign for a Fair Transfer blew up into a bigger fight around Trimet’s budget practices and budget allocations. This enabled us to develop a Bus Riders Unite! Budget that is legitimately developed by riders. Our policy solution and organized base forced Trimet to become transparent, and exposed their deeper oppressive practices around the budget.
OPAL was able to defeat Trimet’s counter attempt to eliminate transfers, and to push for the establishment of a $1.3 million mitigation fund, a program that subsidizes fares for low-income riders.
Once the budget fight was settled, we reignited the CFT and came back to organizing strategy after we overcame the barriers that Trimet put into place.
In March 2015, we won! We won greater distribution of benefits to and unfettered freedom of mobility for transit dependent riders through a 2.5 hour transfer, and a $1.3 million mitigation fund.
We achieved transformative change. We shifted power tangibly with the creation of a new fund and new budget procedures. Our win changed Trimet’s perception of and engagement with riders—their budget practices are more transparent because we had a plan to connect and uplift voices of transit riders to the people in power. We showed we could win, and now we can keep up momentum.
Enlace helped us create a movement for transit justice in Portland. Without a strategic workplan, we wouldn’t have a tangible movement for transit justice. I wouldn’t hesitate to consult with Enlace again.