My name is Mahala Lahvis, and I’m a rising sophomore studying International and Global Studies, Environmental Studies, and French at Brandeis. This summer, I have the incredible opportunity to be an intern at Environment Oregon, a non-profit organization in Portland, Oregon that focuses on standing up for clean air, clean water, and open spaces.
There are many social injustices that affect our local community and entire state that the people at Environment Oregon and our sister organization OSPIRG (Oregon State Public Interest Research Group) work to combat everyday. Goals that we are currently working towards include banning plastic bags statewide, completely removing lead from drinking water in the Portland Public School District, banning bee-killing pesticides nationwide, and many others. The goal I am working towards is getting Oregon’s main public transportation organization, TriMet, to transition to a fully-electric bus fleet.
I have learned a remarkable amount of information about global climate change from listening in on the first meeting of the new Joint Interim Committee on Carbon Reduction, meeting with representatives and other environmental groups, and doing research on my own. From the meetings and hearings I have listened in on and participated in, I have also gained some of the most valuable knowledge that I didn’t necessarily expect that has forced me to see these issues from different perspectives. For example, I have learned where the resistance exists for anyone who is working towards constructing a more sustainable world. I have learned how money plays a large role and can create resistance when considering transitions to more sustainable practices. I have also listened to politicians discuss their hesitation or even opposition to commit to be more sustainable when it is not in the best interest of their constituents.
I have had the opportunity to meet with the General Manager of TriMet and others who are able to influence the future of the city to learn what my job will be to have a voice in this process. I have learned the impact of public support and the importance of spreading awareness to give people who really care about issues – in this case decreasing diesel pollution in Oregon – a chance to speak up.
My tasks for this summer mostly surround forms of public outreach. I have been reaching out to business owners to sign our “bus-line business” coalition letter, contacting neighborhood associations to help raise support within smaller communities, writing Letters to the Editor for local magazines and newspapers, planning community events, talking to individuals to sign-on to our petition and taking pictures with our sign and attending events, and meetings to learn more about my role as a public educator.
By summer’s end, my goal is clear: to get TriMet to commit to a plan to stop purchasing diesel buses by 2020 and eventually transition to a fully electric bus fleet. I will be raising as much public support as I can before the fall (when TriMet decides where to allocate their funds), and my job is to show TriMet that the City of Portland is ready for this transition.
Here is more reading material if you want to look more into the specifics of the campaign!