Adah Crandall is a sophomore at Grant High School. She is the co-lead of Portland Youth Climate Strike and an organizer with Sunrise PDX’s Youth Vs ODOT campaign, a biweekly series of rallies fighting for the decarbonization of Oregon’s transportation systems.
City Observatory is pleased to publish this commentary by Adah Crandall on a proposal currently being considered to move Harriet Tubman Middle School to facilitate the $1.25 billion widening of the Interstate 5 freeway through Portland’s Rose Quarter. Crandall’s advocacy was recently profiled in a report by Bloomberg CityLab. Portland Public Schools (PPS) is considering an option that would close another predominantly Black school (Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary) to provide a new site for Tubman.
Crandall gave this testimony to the Portland School Board on January 25, 2022. A full video of her testimony is here:
Good evening board members, my name is Adah Crandall and I’m a sophomore at Grant High School.
I’m here tonight because I am extremely concerned about your proposed relocation of Harriet Tubman Middle School. It’s finals week right now, and I should be studying for my algebra test tomorrow morning. But instead, here I am at a school board meeting begging you to do what is right and not displace students to accommodate the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the middle of a climate crisis.
In preparation for this, I spent some time looking into PPS’s bullying policy, because here’s the thing: I think the Oregon Department of Transportation is a bully, and that you all are bystanders doing nothing about it. And I don’t know what you all were taught, but what I learned in your school system is that when you see someone being picked on, you’re supposed to stand up for them.
So why is it that when ODOT’s proposed freeway expansion is literally cutting into Tubman’s backyard and threatening to displace hundreds of students, your response is to just give in and let it happen? The PPS website says bullying is “strictly prohibited and shall not be tolerated,” and to me it seems like you’re breaking your own rule. Why aren’t you modeling to students what it means to be an active ally and stand up against injustice?
As a former Tubman student, I know the pollution at Tubman is dangerous- no students should have to worry about if the air they’re breathing at recess will one day cause asthma or lung cancer. But the decision to move the school rather than fight the freeway expansion follows the same short- sighted line of thinking that started the climate crisis in the first place. Yes, you can move student’s away from the direct threat of pollution, but you cannot move them away from the life of climate disasters they’re inheriting as a result of your decision to support fueling this crisis without making ODOT even study the alternatives.
ODOT has bullied you into thinking this freeway expansion is inevitable, but it’s not. PPS could avoid all the community disruption associated with displacing Tubman and potentially King Elementary by simply forcing ODOT to consider “not building the freeway”. The project just lost a key federal approval last week, remains tied up in multiple lawsuits, and is currently $500 million short. These recent updates are a massive step forward for efforts to stop the expansion, efforts that for some reason, PPS seems to be completely ignoring.
I urge you to join in with the community groups demanding ODOT fully study the environmental impact of the Rose Quarter freeway expansion, which would include studying congestion pricing, an alternative that would reduce congestion and pollution rather than increasing it.
At the last board meeting I attended, I asked each of you to raise your hand if climate justice was important to you, and as I remember with striking clarity, everyone had their hand up. This is your chance to follow through on that promise. Don’t just raise your hands, raise your voices, and raise your standards. If you truly value climate justice, you will not settle for the displacement of students to accommodate expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure into the backyard of a middle school.
If you truly care about climate justice, you will not let ODOT get away with this and destroy my generation’s future. Tonight I urge you to stand true to the values you teach students, and dare to imagine a better world. Stand up for us.
Editor’s Note (March 29, 2022): Portland Public Schools subsequently decided not to relocate the Harriet Tubman School to the King school location. It is exploring other locations in Portland’s Albina neighborhood.