Eugene Celebrates Earth Day with Rally and March

On April 22, climate justice activists took to downtown Eugene to celebrate some mighty wins for forest defense. 

Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and 350 Eugene organized the event bringing together over 200 Eugenians for a celebration starting on the steps of the old federal building on 7th and Pearl. At 1 p.m., the event kicked-off with a performance by the Raging Grannies Eugene, a group of vocal climate warriors who repurpose old folk songs into catchy tunes about protecting the environment.

  • Approx. 10 Raging Grannies from the Eugene chapter stand on top of the stairs in front of the old federal building after giving a brief performance opening the Earth Day Rally
  • Two people hold a banner supported by PVC pipe that reads "U.S. military is #1 CO2 contributor to climate crisis" and "planet vs. pentagon"
  • A white handmade sign resting up against a planter with blooming bright orangy yellow flowers. The sign reads "forest defense is climate defense."
  • A person in a bright orange Lorax costume with yellow hair rests a sign against them that says "forest defense is climate defense" as they wave to passersby in their cars.
  • An older (probably 80s) bright yellow-green fire engine arrives with a larger banner that reads "President Biden Protect" and "Mature & Old Growth Forests" arrives.

They were followed by a land acknowledgement and a short introduction outlining the day’s event. Oregon Wild’s Victoria Wingell welcomed the crowd and thanked them all for being there. Wingell said that it was an important day to celebrate some recent big wins for Oregon’s forests.

One year ago President Biden signed an executive order to protect mature and old growth forests and Wingell encouraged the crowd to continue to demand that Biden follow through on his word. 

There is reason to hope that he will as, just two days prior, on April 20, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior announced actions to “develop several reports” as directed by Executive Order 14072:

“The executive order calls for inventorying mature and old-growth forests, setting reforestation targets on federally managed lands, and analyzing reforestation opportunities on state, Tribal and private lands. In addition, the Forest Service is releasing a new tool that illustrates the risks and vulnerabilities of climate change across the landscape along with a call for public input on how national forests and grasslands should be managed for climate resilience.”

But this wasn’t the only reason forest defenders were celebrating, these same activists helped to end the Flat Country timber sale last year keeping mature and old growth trees standing.

Wingell reminded the crowd this victory was only one small step towards the protections that old growth forests and humans truly need. Wingell hopes that to make sure that old growth forests, including the Flat Country, are “taken off the table forever.”

 “Old growth forests are our first line of defense against climate change,” said Wingell. Trees are responsible for sequestering and “storing carbon in their trunks,” for clean air and water, and provide habitat for all Oregon’s creatures.

Wingell then introduced the first guest speaker, Mayor Lucy Vinis, who spoke to the crowd about the work she is doing as a “climate mayor” to protect all of Oregon’s trees, including its “urban forests.” 

Vinis pointed out that in response to climate change, the City of Eugene is planting giant sequoias. She said they are more resilient in the hot dry summers as compared to Douglas firs. She echoed Wingell’s sentiments and said that these recent protections are a “critical victory but not the final battle” and that “we need to do more than just appreciate those trees, we have to act.”

Eugene Councilmember Matt Keating spoke on behalf of Senator James Manning who was unable to attend the day’s event. Keating asked the crowd to remember the work done by former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradley to defend forests with a moment of silence. 

Keating also urged listeners to continue to fight for forest protections. Even though the Flat Country sale was withdrawn, there are other logging projects across the state that threaten Oregon’s trees, including Ragged Ruby, Evans Creek, and 42 Divide. 

“There are 370,000 acres on the chopping blocks if we don’t take action,” Keating said and “James Manning stands with you, next to you, and as a lawmaker, in front of you to protect these forests.”

Miriam Oommen of the Civil Liberties Defense Center was the last guest speaker of the day. Oommen is a “community organizer, gardener, and musician” who has been fighting for climate defense since they were a teenager. Oommen spoke of personal experiences living in an area that relies on trees to filter the water in their springs and the devastation found after those trees were clear cut.  Oommen also spoke about the importance of asking oneself what limits there are to your activism, or more specifically, what you’re willing to endure for your beliefs. 

Around 1:45 p.m., shortly after the speeches ended, the crowd began their march towards the Saturday Market for a flash mob performance — which did not go off without a hitch. 

Just when the march was going through its first intersection, a frustrated motorcyclist revved his engine from afar and then, suddenly, drove through blocked traffic up to the crosswalk. Greeted by a few rally attendees, the man expressed his desire to get where he needed, and fast.

“This is illegal,” he claimed. “You know that right?” 

In actuality, the rally and march was approved, however, according to Eugene Police Department Public Information Director Melinda McLaughlin, the department’s Traffic Safety Unit “did not have capacity to assist with traffic direction.” 

A motorcyclist complains about the march just as they are starting and speeds through a break in the line of people on April 22, 2023. [James Croxton // Double Sided Media]

The march—featuring an older fire engine from Extinction Rebellion PDX and World On Fire Department and tailed by six electric vehicles in the road—was led by local percussion band Samba Ja and mostly straddled the sidewalk. Noticeable was the overall lack of traffic control  as intersections weren’t previously blocked to the march going through and traffic often drove only feet away. 

Samba Ja sets the beat for the march to the Saturday Market as part of this year’s Earth Day Rally on April 22, 2023. [James Croxton // Double Sided Media]

After arriving at the Saturday Market to much fanfare, Samba Ja continued their performance for a few minutes before everyone congregated in the food pavilion. There, an environmentally-themed flash mob was performed on stage before the rally ended and an afterparty hosted by Wildcraft Cider Works.

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