Building Power: Case Studies

When community activists stand up to a threat, they grow stronger. People come together for a common cause. And when they win, the victories build power.


No LNG rally on the water 2009.
"No LNG!" rally on the water 2009.

When community activists stand up to a threat, they grow stronger. People come together for a common cause. And when they win, the victories build power.

Riverkeeper works shoulder to shoulder with people in dozens of diverse communities. You are protecting the Columbia—whether fighting David-versus-Goliath battles against the fossil fuel industry or testing water quality to empower people to swim safely. From phone banking in small towns, to media trainings for activists, to strategic planning with our members, we help develop local leaders in the heat of high-stakes campaigns. Together, we are making a difference for clean water and strong salmon runs.

Riverkeeper strategically engages in urban areas like Portland, Vancouver, and Longview, as well as dozens of rural communities. We work with allies beyond environmental organizations. This includes frontline communities, farmers, fishers, rural landowners, labor unions, and health professionals.

Building Power Case Studies

Creating new pathways to build power: Comunidades
comunidades meeting, sept. 26, 2018
Comunidades meeting, September 2018.

Comunidades is a new collaborative project that provides space for more Latinos and people of color to get involved in environmental issues. “There are many Latinos who want to protect clean water, clean air, and all of our natural resources, but have not engaged in traditional environmental groups,” explains Ubaldo Hernández, community organizer for Riverkeeper. “Comunidades aims to change that.”

The group formed in late 2018 and includes Columbia Gorge-based educators, activists, parents, and students. Comunidades provides an inclusive, Latino-led space that encourages people to protect the places they love. Riverkeeper lends a hand with staff support and meeting space.

A Tale of two cities: From fossil fuel proposal to ban
Portland Fossil Fuel hearing December 2018.

Former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales was a major booster of a propane-by-rail export terminal. Then we organized. Then he changed his mind. “At some point, those of us in power have to listen to those who put us there,” he remarked. One year later, Portland’s City Council voted unanimously to prohibit all new fossil fuel infrastructure such as oil and gas terminals. This is building power.

What moved Mayor Hales from a fossil fuel project booster to a climate change champion? Singing kids, raging grannies, and heartfelt testimony from people from all walks of life. Diverse coalition partners carried the same message: We need local climate leadership. “Testimony from young leaders had a dramatic impact in strengthening the City Council’s resolve to pass a strong ordinance,” said Dan Serres, Riverkeeper’s conservation director. “The hearing seemed to turn on the stark contrast in testimony between students and industry lobbyists. Some of those same young people are pushing today to stop tar-sands trains from coming through Portland.”

Victories build power: CREATe
Astoria, Oregon.

Building power also means keeping people engaged after important victories. Case in point: after defeating two liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals in the Columbia River estuary, local activists formed the Columbia River Estuary Action Team (CREATe). CREATe’s mission is to protect the health of the rich and productive Columbia River estuary, the life it supports, and the many livelihoods that depend on it. In over a decade of fighting LNG terminals and pipelines, volunteers honed their skills organizing, talking to media, and activating their neighbors. The LNG victories also built power beyond CREATe. Activists ran for local offices and won. They continue to work on political campaigns. They take on important issues related to logging, pesticides, and affordable housing, to name a few. They share their skills and passion to help other communities, too.

The Playbook Issue: How Columbia Riverkeeper is tackling corporate polluters, staving off fossil fuel giants, and inspiring people to fight for clean water.