Listen to Courtney’s Earth Day interview on KBOO

by Allison Milionis | Apr 23, 2021

To round out Earth Day 2021, Crag executive director, Courtney Johnson, had an engaging conversation with KBOO radio host, Nat Moon, as part of the public station’s Earth Day Special Programming. During the 20-minute interview, Courtney articulated the important work done by coalitions and communities against polluting industries, and the role Crag plays in supporting these groups. “With the power of a lawyer standing with you, we can balance the scales of justice by giving communities the power to stand up to industries and corporate greed and ensure government oversight,” she said.

The two also talked about the recent Jordan Cove victory, working with the Nez Perce tribe on the Portland Harbor cleanup, and Crag’s commitment to mentoring future environmental justice advocates. Nat wrapped up the interview by asking Courtney what KBOO’s Earth Day theme meant to her: Plant the seeds, defend the roots. You can hear Courtney’s response and the entire interview here, or read excerpts from the interview below. Great job, Courtney!

Earth Day Special: Crag Law Center

by KBOO Community Radio | Hosted by Nat Moon | Air Date: 4/22/2021

“With the power of a lawyer standing with you, we can balance the scales of justice by giving communities the power to stand up to industries and corporate greed and ensure government oversight.”

 


Nat: I saw that Crag won another historic victory at the Jordan Cove natural gas. As with many projects, I imagine it was a long haul with many victories along the way.

Our role was supporting efforts at the local and state level. So, when we secured early victories at the local level, and recent victories again at the local level coupled with decisions by the state to deny permits, it signals that it could be the end of the project. 

A victory like this shows that when working with communities, we can fight, and we can protect our environment for everyone. The coalition that’s standing up to the project is diverse. There are landowners, tribes, climate groups, local environmental groups… it’s people worried about the public lands the pipeline would have crossed. So, it’s exciting to see that kind of outcome after so many years of work.

Nat: I imagine it’s empowering to have that kind of meaningful position in your work.

At Crag we really try to help our partners and clients understand what the [legal] landscape is. 

In a project like this [Jordan Cove] where there’s these long-lasting legal challenges and organizing and messaging around why it’s important. It’s shifting mindsets away from the false frame of jobs versus the environment and showing there’s collective incentive to not have this be the future of Oregon. Partnership with our clients shape the campaign and help us see where Crag can be most supportive to those groups.

It’s really empowering to be part of a team and to be able to give positive energy to the people on the ground who are really fighting for their communities.

Nat: Can you talk about coalition-building and the work you do with other organizations?

The more a coalition is made up of a diverse set of people, the more you realize this is a fight for everyone, and they see that this is a fight for everyone, too.

I think that’s where we’ve seen a shift in Oregon. And this is relevant to Earth Day. The original Earth Day wasn’t necessarily for everyone. I think there’s been progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do to make Earth Day and the environmental movement a place where everyone feels welcome. Whatever environmentalism means to you is important and valid and there’s not one right way or limited view of what it means to be an environmentalist.

Nat: Can you talk about your work with indigenous groups in the area?

One of the primary places we work with tribes is representing the Nez Perce tribe on the Portland harbor cleanup. That’s a really interesting project. The Nez Perce tribe came – and still do – all the way out to the coast to gather for seasonal foods and have ceremonies and meet with others. This is very much part of their aboriginal landscape. So, to be able to represent their relationship to natural places is a great honor. 

Tribes are sovereign nations, so to be able to ensure and respect their independence is very important. I think in the past, the environmental movement hasn’t done as good a job of recognizing that. For Crag to be in a position to have a relationship with tribes helps us bring their perspective more broadly into the movement.

 

Nat: Crag has multiple interns that work with you every year. Can you talk about that?

It’s been wonderful to work with younger people.  Helping to mentor the next generation of environmental and justice advocates has always been central to Crag’s mission. I was an intern at Crag when I was in law school at Lewis & Clark! There’s mobilization and interest from younger people to engage in meaningful ways and it benefits us as well, by giving us fresh perspectives and different points of view about how we talk about our work, and who’s engaging in our work.

We’ve also been a part of the CommuniCare grant program, which allows high school clubs to develop a mission statement and give grants to nonprofits in the area. To talk to young people and help them see what their careers might be like is very exciting. 

 

Nat: KBOO’s theme for Earth Day this year is “plant the seeds defend the roots.” Does this resonate with your work at Crag?

Yes, environmentalism and Earth Day has grown. There’s a traditional idea that environmentalism is protecting forests and those sacred wild places out there. I see that as the “roots”—Mother Earth and protecting wild places. I think there’s growing recognition that protecting our environment is protecting people, and protecting our communities is protecting the environment. 

To me, “plant the seeds” is allowing more people into the movement. It’s also recognizing collectively the role that everyone can play in protecting the environment and it can mean different things to different people. It’s working toward a collective goal of having a healthy place for ourselves and our future families to thrive. 

Allison Milionis

Allison Milionis

Allison Milionis is a writer and editor, and long-time supporter of Crag’s work.  She was born in the Pacific Northwest, left to experience life in a big city, and then returned 20 years later to put her roots back into the rich soil of her beloved PNW forests and fields.