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Aaron Brown and Anti-Freeway Activism
Episode 2022nd July 2021 • BikePortland Podcast • Pedaltown Media Inc
00:00:00 00:47:46

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In this episode, we'll get into the weeds of anti-freeway activism.

You may have heard the story of how Portlanders successfully turned back the Mt. Hood Freeway plan and removed a major downtown highway in the 1970s. About 40 years later, activist rallied again to fight the Columbia River Crossing, a plan to widen I-5 between Portland and Vancouver.

The latest fight is being waged against the I-5 Rose Quarter project — right in Portland's backyard. Despite a state that is literally on fire due to climate change, and the fact that the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon comes from  transportation, the Oregon Department of Transportation wants to add lanes to I-5 between Interstate 84 and the Fremont Bridge.

But standing between ODOT and their $800 million project is a plucky, all-volunteer nonprofit named No More Freeways.

In this episode, I interview one of their leaders, a 33-year-old community organizer named Aaron Brown. He's spent four years building an opposition campaign against ODOT's project that includes thousands of followers, hundreds of donors, three lawsuits, and a lot of snarky tweets.

We talked about how he became the face of the freeway fight, why he doesn't trust ODOT, what it will take to stop building freeways, how he's  navigated racial tensions around his activism, and more.

Transcripts

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- You know, we have to be a little militant

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on some of this stuff right?

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And I think that the militancy needs to be aimed

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at the institutions more than the individuals

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and I don't claim to be perfect on that

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and we've all you know, it's been a learning process

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of figuring out what does that tone look like

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and how do you target the right institutions,

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you know, because the problem here is there is

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a bipartisan coalition of lobbyists that are part

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of the freeway industrial complex, that, you know,

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have tons of money to throw around to hire

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really good consultants to make fancy videos,

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to put, you know, spend 10 times what we spend

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on Facebook ads and stuff you know you'll just be scrolling

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through your phone and you'll see these beautiful ads

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that ODOT did, right?

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They're getting op-eds in the newspapers,

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and those are real skills, right?

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It takes somebody that knows how to work community groups,

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it took somebody who knows how to write

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something really well.

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So as opposed to like me getting paid to do that

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for bad guys, I'm just kind of doing it for,

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because to pay my rent on this planet,

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and because as a transportation advocate,

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as a social justice advocate, as a climate advocate,

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as a housing advocate, as someone that has spent a lot

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of time in all of these different universes,

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I see the explicit ways that the status quo

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of the freeway industrial complex directly hinders

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our ability to build the bigger world that we want,

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as opposed to the Green New Deal, I always say,

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like, the freeways are the Grey Old Deal,

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and they have to be retired to fund the good stuff

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