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Organizing People Activating Leaders

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OPAL organizer Lisa Serrano at a Save Our Ride rally in June 2010

Organizing People Activating Leaders, also known as OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon or simply OPAL, is a Portland-based environmental justice nonprofit that shifted its primary focus in 2009 and 2010 to organizing bus riders and opposing cuts to bus service or hikes in bus fares.


[edit] Bus Riders Unite! program

Grayce Bentley
OPAL organizer Grayce Bentley speaks to transit riders in August 2010

OPAL's campaign to build community among bus-dependent people in TriMet's service area, especially in east Portland, includes regular outreach to riders on the 4, 9, 20, 71 and 72. The organizing director, as of summer 2011, was Galadriel Mozee.

[edit] East Portland Bus Stop Project

In 2011, OPAL began a project, funded in part by a Regional Travel Options grant, to advocate for bus stop improvements and "to increase ownership of bus stops by the people who use them and to transform our bus stops into community spaces where people gather and connect."

The group kicked off the event with a Dec. 12 workshop that included free food and childcare. The event's organizer was Myrna Andrade, available at (971) 340-4866 or

[edit] Protests of service cuts

OPAL organized a "rally for the bus" and march to City Hall to protest TriMet's 2010 TriMet cuts and fare increase. They repeated the demonstration in 2011, outside a TriMet board meeting.

[edit] Campaign to extend transfer hours

See full article: Campaign for a Fair Transfer.

In early 2011, OPAL began lobbying TriMet to extend the length of its bus and rail tickets from one or two hours to three hours and to make them last all night after 7 p.m.

In January 2012, Executive Director Jonathan Ostar said "we see the writing on the wall" for the campaign, which "is really rolling into the budget conversation."

[edit] Major policy goals

Ostar said OPAL's long-term goal for the Bus Riders Unite! program is to influence future service cuts and fare hikes.

"We want to see it rolled back to $2 and we want to see it capped there for a while," Ostar predicted.

[edit] History

[edit] Roots in north Portland

OPAL was founded in 2005 by Kevin Odell and Jonathan Ostar. The two had met in 2001 as volunteers for the Environmental Justice Action Group, when Odell was an Americorps worker and Ostar a student at Lewis and Clark Law School.

After four years with EJAG, which focused its work in the historically African-American Albina area of north Portland, Odell and Ostar decided to form a new group that would address developing environmental justice issues in east Portland, caused by the gentrification of central neighborhoods.

According to Ostar, the two decided that "in 10 years we're going to have this extreme concentration of people of poverty and immigrant communities and people of color" in east county. "This is what we saw as the new frontier for doing EJ work on the ground."

From 2005 to 2009, OPAL focused mostly on air quality issues, using grants from the MRG Foundation and Environmental Protection Agency to lead educational workshops about asthma prevention.

[edit] Major accomplishments

Ostar said the group's two biggest accomplishments before taking on transit activism were:

  • Leading the creation of Oregon's Governor's Task Force on Environmental Justice.
  • Offering air quality workshops that educated 46 families and a total of about 150 people about asthma and asthma prevention along the Interstate 205 corridor.

[edit] Shift to transit activism

During the group's air quality work, Ostar said, OPAL concluded that air quality was "still not elevated to a top-three priority" for families it worked with.

"Folks that we were just meeting at their door or on the street or at events, it didn't resonate with them," Ostar said.

But in 2009, Ostar said, growing public attention to the ill health effects of car-oriented development made the group realize that it could focus on transportation as an environmental justice issue.

After conversations with the Coalition for a Livable Future and Oakland-based group Policy Link, OPAL was a founding member of the Transit and Health Equity Network in January 2010, along with Ride Connection, CLF, Oregon Tradeswomen and Upstream Public Health.

[edit] Public support

OPAL began regular public meetings in March 2010, Ostar said. By August, he said, the group's meeting drew 30 people and it had gathered about 12 highly committed volunteers "that we can rely on."

[edit] Lessons from Bus Riders Union

In early 2010, OPAL sent organizers to Los Angeles for a weeklong training with the Bus Riders Union there. Ostar said OPAL's most important lesson from the BRU was to immediately engage new volunteers.

"They will meet somebody on the bus that day, and that evening they will call them," Ostar said. "They have regular opportunities for involvement. ... You can meet them on the bus, call them that day, but if you don't have something for them to do that week or the next week, you're going to lose them."

[edit] Budget and funding

In an August 2010 interview, Ostar said OPAL had a budget of about $150,000 per year and five employees (some of them as contractors) who share 3.2 full-time equivalent jobs among them. By the end of that year, according to IRS records, the organization had grown substantially, bringing in $399,839 and spending $361,267.

Ostar received $27,220 for an estimated 28 hours of work per week, while Santos-Lyons received $20,800 for an estimated 20 hours.

Ostar said in August 2010 that about 80 percent of the group's revenue at the time came from private foundations, 15 percent from government and 5 percent from individual donations. As the organization's development officer, he aimed to bring that ratio to 60/20/20 in the next few years.

By January 2012, Ostar said much of the group's funding in 2012 would come from a two-year, $150,000 grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund and from its two-year, $63,000 grant from Metro's Regional Travel Options grant program for an East Portland bus stop assessment.

[edit] Leadership

OPAL's executive director, as of January 2011, was Jonathan Ostar, and its organizing director was Galadriel Mozee. Ostar had previously split the director job with the Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons, who stepped down in December 2012 as part of a restructuring. Santos-Lyons, who had simultaneously been working as the part-time executive director of the Asian Pacific-American Network of Oregon, planned to continue working for OPAL as a part-time contractor for at least a few months.

Ostar said under the new structure, Mozee would handle most direct organizing and rider outreach, while his own tasks would "lie primarily with fundraising, relationship-building in a broader sense."

Former lead bus organizers have included Grayce Bentley and Shannon Olive.

OPAL's board of directors included Ben Duncan, Chris Winter and Roberta Hunte.

[edit] External links

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