Youth climate activist confronts lawmaker who supports ODOT freeway megaprojects

Oregon House Representative Susan McLain (Democrat – Hillsboro) is co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation (JCT) and there’s growing sentiment in some circles that she should be more skeptical of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the multiple, multi-billion dollar freeway expansion projects they’re working on.

After a meeting about the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program at the State Capitol in Salem Thursday night where McLain and other JCT members heard from an invite-only set of speakers who all expressed strong enthusiasm for a project that could cost as much as $7.5 billion and would widen five miles of I-5 between Portland and Vancouver, McLain was confronted about her support of the project.

Adah Crandall is a 17-year-old youth climate organizer and activist with Sunrise PDX who’s focused much of her work on transportation. You might remember her as the leader of the Youth vs. ODOT protests in front of ODOT’s Portland headquarters that began in 2021. Since then, Crandall has continued to fight against what she sees as projects that will lead to more driving and more carbon emissions that will hasten climate change impacts.

In a sign of increased frustration over how Rep. McLain has handled this and other freeway expansion projects in her eight years on the JCT, Crandall confronted in a hallway. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:

Crandall: Hi my name is Adah and I’m 17.

McLain: How are you?

Crandall: My classmates and I skipped school today to come here and talk to you because I’m generally concerned.

McLain: I talked to a bunch of you today.

Crandall: We’re really concerned about the climate crisis…

McLain: Would you like to stand and talk?

Crandall: … we’re concerned that the Interstate Bridge project that you’re supporting is going to increase emissions. And so we’re wondering if you would be willing to support a version of that project that is cheaper and still addresses the seismic issues and secures my generations feature by not adding freeway lanes.

McLain: So this is what I can tell you I’m absolutely willing to do all of those things through an appropriate process and review and that’s what we’re doing. So I’m happy to do that. Why don’t you come and see me in my office? Sometime or…

Crandall: I’m here talking to talk to you because this is really important. I want to talk to you right now. We’re going to talk right now because I’ve been here all day trying to talk.

McLain: So have I.

Crandall: I know, but your job is to represent us and I know that you used to be a teacher and that you care a lot about young people. And right now what young people need is your leadership on a project that is not going to extend freeway lanes. Our futures are literally depending on you taking action on climate.

McLain: And that is what I’m going to do.

Crandall: But that’s not what you are doing because ODOT hasn’t even studied a version of the project that doesn’t add lanes. Why are you trusting ODOT when they’ve failed time and time again to tell the truth about emissions and…

McLain: Do you want me to have a dialogue with you or do you just want to talk?

Crandall: I want to know if you’re willing to to prioritize my future over ODOT’s freeway expansions.

McLain: I want to very much talk about your future and about this bridge, but I’ve been here for 12 hours today.

Crandall: Can you tell me that you’re willing to prioritize my generation’s feature over upholding ODOT’s status quo freeway expansions?

McLain: So far I’ve said I’m absolutely here to support and to represent your generation and the future. So I am here for you.

Crandall: I understand that representative but that’s not what we’ve seen in your actions. And you haven’t asked ODOT to study other versions of the project.

McLain: I really appreciate your passion and we want to thank you for staying here to talk to me and I think that we need to have a sit down and I’m happy to give you my phone number. Would you like my phone number?

Crandall: Representative, it shouldn’t be difficult for you as someone who is representing the people of Oregon. It shouldn’t be hard for you to tell me that my future is important than a freeway expansion! Please my generation is counting on your leadership!


At that point, House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson escorted Rep. McLain away.

CORRECTION, 1:40 pm: The initial version of this story said a McLain staffer escorted McLain away. I regret the mistake.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Maria P
Maria P
10 months ago

Well that was a stumble for the young lady. With time hopefully she will realize it takes more than just a hallway confrontation to make a change in the world. McClain offer her phone number. How cool is that! Crandall should have jumped on that offer.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  Maria P

This is not a stumble at all. And I’m willing to bet this isn’t the first and only thing she has done to try and make change in the world, how about you?

Peter
Peter
10 months ago
Reply to  Maria P

I see this completely differently. Getting the phone number might have been good, but getting these people documented on their positions is important. Here, the lawmaker squirmed out of actually saying she will stand for the students’ future. I think Adah did an excellent job and i wish i could have been there.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter

I think McClain’s position is pretty well known. Though I fundamentally see the issue the same way Adah does, the approach she took struck me as confrontational and polemic. No politician would have committed to taking a new position in that kind of situation, and the tone of the encounter turned from a potentially sympathetic constituent asking to an activist berating pretty early on.

Adah, if you are reading this, I’d suggest you contact McClain, get a meeting, and ask simply that she direct ODOT to add a more modest project to its list of alternatives. If she balks, try to understand how McClain sees the issue. Does McClain believe that even considering a less dramatic alternative would be unacceptable? The most likely answer is likely connected to time and money, but that only makes sense if she knows ODOT will never pick the smaller alternative. Why is that? Does she agree with ODOT? Are there ways to insert doubt into her confidence in them? And for goodness sake, don’t film at the meeting!

I think approaching this issue as a problem to solve rather than a fight to win is most likely to yield results.

Dan
Dan
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Good advice here.

Gregg Dal Ponte
Gregg Dal Ponte
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Absolutely correct. A voice of reason!

Melissa K
Melissa K
10 months ago
Reply to  Maria P

The “let’s sit down and talk” is a stalling tactic, and it appears that Crandall is intelligent enough to know that. I’ve seen this tactic with some very small scale transportation issues at my kids’ school – I bring up an issue and get a “let’s set up a meeting.” If the meeting happens, it’s not with the people with any decision-making ability and I get told “we’ll take it into consideration” as the existing plans plow through.

Now imagine how open a state rep is to truly sitting down with a 17-yo regarding a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project when that rep has automobile and construction industries with deep pockets lobbying her. I applaud Crandall – she did a great job bringing attention to this issue and keeping her cool while highlighting the impact that freeway expansion has on transportation emissions.

Brandon
Brandon
10 months ago
Reply to  Maria P

Stumble? Adah was strong and was able to counter all of McLain’s attempts to bypass answering the question. What are you doing to make a change in the world that’s more effective? “Take my phone number” is an excuse to get away and never talk again. The phone number is available for everyone, call and see if you get to talk to her https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/mclain

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Brandon

bypass answering the question

Answering the question would have required accepting a particular framing that would have made any politician leery. It is quite possible that McLain sees no conflict between Adah’s future and an expansionist project. While I am strongly opposed to this project myself, I’m not sure I unquestioningly accept Adah’s particular framing either.

PS
PS
10 months ago
Reply to  Maria P

Meh, this is 21st century activism defined. You corner someone who you perceive to have more power than you, so you can’t be accused of punching down and can be lauded for speaking truth to power. You then present them with a false dichotomy that they can’t agree to without “squirming” out of the conversation by suggesting the issue is more complex and nuanced than what is being presented and should maybe be discussed in more detail in a different venue. You film the interaction, then present it as an own of the powerful because they don’t care about “our future”.

Unfortunately, none of it matters. One side gets their win of moral superiority over an elected official and the other side continues to realize how utterly complex the issue is and can’t possibly be solved locally, particularly in a location that is already one of the lowest per capita emitters in the country with what can easily be characterized as fragile economic standing. The future this young woman hangs onto with enviable youthful naiveté is unequivocally more at risk due to fiscal and demographic issues than anything to do with the climate.

Jenni S
Jenni S
10 months ago
Reply to  PS

I nominate this for “Comment of the week”!

Gregg Dal Ponte
Gregg Dal Ponte
10 months ago
Reply to  PS

Exactly. Well said.

Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago
Reply to  PS

The future this young woman hangs onto with enviable youthful naiveté is unequivocally more at risk due to fiscal and demographic issues than anything to do with the climate.

You really think so?

Steve B
Steve B
10 months ago
Reply to  Maria P

On the contrary, Adah successfully spoke truth to Rep McClain on behalf of our local movement against costly and unnecessary freeway widening in Oregon. Speaking truth to power is an uncomfortable process and I salute our youth lobbying in Salem. Thank you Adah!!

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve B

Adah successfully spoke truth 

And yet the project continues. It’s not really a win if you still lose.

joan
10 months ago
Reply to  Maria P

Adah has been quoted in national publications because of her reach and effectiveness as an activist. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and she certainly has excellent mentors to work with who can tell her if not. What a stumble this comment was for you.

Andrew N
Andrew N
10 months ago
Reply to  joan

The condescending “young lady” part of the original comment gave it away. Embarrassing. Kudos and THANKS to Adah for her persistent activism -keep it up and take the kind of patronizing comments you’re getting here from people who’ve internalized the mentality of their masters with a giant grain of salt.

idlebytes
idlebytes
10 months ago

The fact that she hasn’t asked ODOT to propose a plan for a smaller alternative and won’t commit to doing so really says it all. She’s paying lip service to climate activists and doesn’t care about the future or thinks that somehow it will just magically fix itself. Very disappointing.

Even from just a fiscal standpoint building a smaller bridge is important because ODOT is already unable to maintain its current infrastructure. Spending more money to build even more infrastructure to maintain just doesn’t make any sense.

John
John
10 months ago

Thank you, Ms. Crandall for doing this. Someone needs to. Lawmakers need to be regularly confronted in places they don’t expect and made uncomfortable. I mean, this is also a good way to become jaded by the political process if nothing changes, because McLane absolutely has already made up her mind. Maybe she’ll change, who knows. I hope so.

But certainly nothing will change with people acting like this is no big deal and we can just wait for the next generation or two to let the process play out. Anyone who says they believe climate change is real and something we need to deal with but also supports this freeway widening plainly does not believe in climate change. Or they don’t care.

green washing a new bridge
green washing a new bridge
10 months ago
Reply to  John

Anyone who says they believe climate change is real and something we need to deal with but also supports this freeway widening plainly does not believe in climate change. Or they don’t care.

Anyone who says they believe climate change [sic] should support the “right-sized” and non-status-quo multi-billion dollar freeway mega-project that Sunrise PDX endorsed:

https://i5bridgenow.com/

It’s so gross that this coalition has a web site named “I5 bridge now”.

joan
10 months ago

Adah Crandall is an incredibly effective, persuasive, and dedicated activist. What she doesn’t need: a bunch of adults giving her unsolicited advice on how to be a better activist. What she does need: more of us stepping up and using our own individual and collective power to demand better for us and our kids.

Adah has likely given and accomplished more in the past five years than some of us have in our entire lives.

I’ve also seen the way some adults talk down to her and try to tell her how to do better when she has not invited that conversation. It’s everywhere she’s active: social media, these stories, in person. It’s a steady stream of patronizing, unsolicited advice that’s also often wrong. Before you spend more time telling Adah what to do and how to do it, maybe write a letter or call your own rep and demand that they listen to youth activists like Adah.

I’m sorry to Adah, my kids, and all the youth that my generation didn’t do more, and I am incredibly grateful to them for their leadership. I also know it’s not their job to fix our mistakes; it’s our job too.

Way to go, Adah! Thank you. I am in awe of your talent and dedication.

Brandon
Brandon
10 months ago
Reply to  joan

Very well said. It’s weird how she is getting put down on here for doing way more than we were all doing at 17. If I were that age and wanted to get involved, I would be totally inspired by her. The suggestions about how we have to approach it a certain way and say things a certain way show how much we’re under the power of our representatives instead of the other way around. Yes, we should go about things in the conventional and diplomatic way, but if someone is pissed and wants to confront a representative that is making a decision affecting their generation, we should be applauding that. Let them have it from every angle. This filmed on the spot questioning shows everyone McLain’s stance and leaves no doubt about her not caring about the future generations.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Brandon

leaves no doubt about [McLain’s] not caring about the future generations.

But that’s the thing… it doesn’t do that at all.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  joan

Comment of the week!

Frank Perillo
Frank Perillo
10 months ago

Greta Thunberg she is not. But keep on fighting!

Matt P
Matt P
10 months ago

Gosh give the woman some space. Getting up on someone like that with a disability isn’t cool. Aside from that I guess she parrots all the talking points well enough.

rainbike
rainbike
10 months ago

Is McLain Crandall’s state rep. I might have missed that.

fiets503
fiets503
10 months ago
Reply to  rainbike

I’m curious about that as well. I’m also curious if Crandall is related in any way to George Crandall of Crandall Arambula? https://www.ca-city.com/key-staff

Freewheel
Freewheel
10 months ago
Reply to  rainbike

No, McLain represents District 29 (west Hillsboro, Cornelius, Forest Grove). Crandall lives in Portland. But it’s not unreasonable to lobby legislators who do not directly represent you.

rainbike
rainbike
10 months ago
Reply to  Freewheel

McLain answers to her constituents. All the other voices are just noise. I wouldn’t want my rep to be swayed by someone from another district. It’s one of the consequences of The Big Sort.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago

In an Oregon where there is no plan to decarbonize electricity (in PGE’s own words) and where the state and city have repeatedly failed to reach their own milquetoast climate goals, we have “urbanists” masquerading as climate activists to further extractive capitalist goals (e.g. more unfettered growth).

Oregon fell short in meeting its 2020 climate benchmarks by 13% and will also miss its 2021 reduction target by 19%, according to preliminary data.

https://www.opb.org/article/2023/04/14/oregon-must-cut-more-greenhouse-gas-emissions-to-reach-climate-goal-panel-says/

manicfixiedream
manicfixiedream
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Apropos of nothing, PGE quite literally has a plan to decarbonize electricity: https://portlandgeneral.com/about/who-we-are/resource-planning/combined-cep-and-irp

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago

Their plan is a farce. They admitted at a recent OPUC meeting that they don’t know how to meet renewable infrastructure goals (e.g. transmission and new generation) and had the gall to suggest that they could meet state renewable energy goals by sequestering carbon.

Roberta
Roberta
10 months ago

It appears Susans re election website is down http://www.susanmclain.org/

Maybe shes not running again and this is her last shot at doing nothing on Transport? Very consistent outcomes.

Activists need to recruit an actual candidate to run against her in the next election. She is a House Rep, which means she faces re election every two years.

Her nepo daughter is Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Fagan, so hopefully we are not looking at two generations of freeway builders from House District 29.

They want to build freeways in other peoples neighborhoods and have been brutally effective at blocking out activists concerns for the last ten years. Don’t expect the SoS auditors to do anything on the matter.

Great job activists.

Gregg Dal Ponte
Gregg Dal Ponte
10 months ago

Really? What did this student actually accomplish? She annoyed someone who is in a position to listen and respond to her concerns. She was rude and acted inappropriately. Others hail this as laudable activism. I call it disrespect towards authority done with a desire to garner a photo opportunity. At the end of the day her efforts are to be assessed by the real change they bring about … or don’t. This is not how you lobby. She needs a new mentor.

Josef
Josef
10 months ago

Textbook example of concern trolling, by Mr Dal Ponte, here. Kids, don’t take advice from people who wish you ill.

X
X
10 months ago

We’re taught to respect elders so a confrontation in a hallway may seem brash.

This a case where people who have lived most of their lives in a relatively wealthy and stable environment owe something to the young. Few people still pretend that the world is not changing. The time in hand to do anything useful is short even in the scale of a human life.

McLain has lived much of her life in an era almost uniquely privileged with resources. Crandall has the prospect of living her remaining time in an age that will be challenging, perhaps disastrous, to our society and to human life.