Building a Movement for Green Jobs and Justice

Nick Engelfried

"Oregon’s struggle for economic justice is linked to Wisconsin’s, just as the work of empowering Oregonians to create green jobs by weatherizing their homes is tied to the fight of organizers in Idaho and Montana trying to keep tar sands “heavy haul” shipments off their highways."

If there’s one thing progressives should have learned from Wisconsin, it’s that voting, letter-writing, and blogging, while part of the democratic process, aren’t enough by themselves. Sometimes you have to get into the streets. Yesterday hundreds of Portlanders did just this, rallying and marching for good jobs and a sustainable economy at Portland Rising downtown. After witnessing the energy and enthusiasm at Portland Rising, I believe we are well on our way to building the kind of sustained justice movement needed beat back the corporate-controlled Tea Party.

I myself began an afternoon of political participation at noon yesterday, at the first major rally for the brand-new Climate Justice Coalition PDX. About 70-100 people gathered on NW 8th and Davis to honor the climate movement’s role in creating a just and economically sustainable future, before we joined the rest of the Portland Rising march later that afternoon.

While labor and climate activists won’t agree with each other 100% of the time, the reality is both groups have much to gain from working together. Confronting climate change means re-building a large part of the economy, creating millions of jobs in the process. Climate and worker groups need to come together to ensure these jobs materialize and that they’re supplied by union-friendly companies with good labor records.

After hearing several speakers point out what the climate and labor movements have in common (besides both needing green jobs, we’re fighting many of the same corporations and billionaires), we marched to join the rest of Portland Rising. On the way we stopped to picket a 76 ConocoPhillips gas station. ConocoPhillips, if you didn’t know, is one of the companies exploring the Canadian tar sands for oil. This super-dirty project threatens to derail the clean energy by flooding the US market with another polluting fuel. Big Oil is using the Northwest as a corridor to transport Korean-made refining equipment to the oil fields of Alberta. ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips will reap the profits, then export their polluting fuel across North America.

The climate justice contingent met up with the rest of the march outside a downtown branch of US Bank, one of many Wall Street companies profiting off the economic downturn. After some rousing chants we departed with the rest of the marchers, to parade through the streets of Portland and eventually end up at the Terry Schrunk Plaza.

Never having perfected the skill of estimating a crowd size, I can’t say how many people turned out for Portland Rising. All I can say is it looked like a LOT—definitely well into the hundreds. In the plaza we heard from more speakers, including special guest Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. Listening to Mitchell describe how our struggle for social justice in Oregon is linked to the union movement in Wisconsin, I realized again how we are truly part of a national grassroots movement.

Unlike the Tea Party, which is controlled by corporate donors like the Koch brothers and political figureheads like Sarah Palin, the national justice movement is a truly grassroots organism. Since we don’t have a Glenn Beck to tell us what to do on nation-wide TV, we sometimes seem quieter and less coordinated than the Tea Party. But it’s the very decentralization of this movement that makes us both authentic and unstoppable. With no single figurehead to rally around, we’ll never be defeated by the downward career spiral of a politician or TV host.

For me perhaps the most memorable moment yesterday was when Mahlon Mitchell said he’d take stories gathered in Portland and bring them back to share with progressive activists in Wisconsin. It’s this kind of movement-building that we’re going to need to reclaim our country from corporate control. Oregon’s struggle for economic justice is linked to Wisconsin’s, just as the work of empowering Oregonians to create green jobs by weatherizing their homes is tied to the fight of organizers in Idaho and Montana trying to keep tar sands “heavy haul” shipments off their highways.

The dream of a united progressive movement isn’t something out there in the future. It’s happening right here, right now, and it looks a lot like Portland Rising.

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    What do you have against yellow, blue and red jobs. Last I checked, they still put food on the table, clothing on peoples backs and roofs over families heads.

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      Thanks for making this point, Michael. "Green jobs" certainly aren't the only good jobs out there, and I don't advocate they should be the only jobs we push for. However I do believe the transition to clean energy is the single most promising opportunity to create thousands of new jobs across the country, if only we will seize it. I'm in favor of all good jobs that contribute to a sustainable economy while putting food on the table, etc - and as time goes on, more and more of those job opportunities (though not all of them) will inevitably turn out to be green.

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        My primary concern is that leadership in Oregon likes to focus on the "flavor of the month" industry, be it chips, biotech, biofuel, etc. The problem with this strategy is that so is every other state. What ends up happening is a bidding war, which only benefits the company, not the state.

        What we need to focus on, in my opinion, is a diverse base of industries, with the hope that when some industries are down, other are up and the state stays stable.

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