Interview with Kelly Campbell, Oregon PSR, 2019 Visionary Leaders Award Recipient October 17, 2019
This year at the 2019 PSR Visionary Leaders Awards, we are delighted to honor several outstanding advocates who are working to abolish nuclear weapons and to address environmental hazards to health, including the climate crisis.
Kelly Campbell, Executive Director of Oregon PSR, is recognized for her outstanding coalition work, community engagement, and grassroots organizing at Oregon PSR to advance nuclear weapons abolition and address environmental hazards to health, including the climate crisis.
PSR asked Campbell about how she came to do this work, what inspires her, and her advice for young people just starting to get involved in advocacy.
Q: What first drew you to this type of work?
I first got involved in environmental health and environmental justice work in California in the late 1990s where I worked for Pesticide Action Network and the coalition, Californians for Pesticide Reform. Our coalition recognized the power of the voice of health professionals to support the communities impacted by pesticides to shift opinions, reach decision makers and change policy to be protective of human health. We worked closely with who was at the time PSR-LA’s brand new Environmental Health staffer, Martha Argüello, who is now their chapter ED. After September 11th 2001 when my brother-in-law was killed, I got involved in the peace and justice movement, co-founding September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, traveling to Afghanistan to meet victims of the US bombing campaign, serving on the steering committee of the national coalition, United for Peace and Justice, and eventually working for the American Friends Service Committee in Portland Oregon, directing the local peace program. There I collaborated closely with Oregon PSR which was a strong anchor for the local peace movement. When the ED position came open at Oregon PSR, it felt like coming home to be able to work on both environmental justice and peace and justice issues, all from a health perspective.
Q: How have the health impacts of nuclear weapons and climate change-related policies informed your work?
There is such power in framing the issues of nuclear weapons and climate chaos as health issues. For example, stories about how climate chaos is not just about polar bears but is about your child’s asthma have an ability to reach people and mobilize them to act for positive social change because it’s personal and relatable. Recognizing that the health effects of both these these issues disproportionately impact people of color, low-income people, indigenous people, children, and women and lifting up their voices and building power with those communities I really believe is the only path forward. It’s exciting to develop authentic partnerships in those communities and connect struggles for social justice with nuclear weapons and climate using a health frame.
Q: What would be your advice to a young person just starting to get involved in this type of work?
These are such heavy and dire issues there is a danger of the work being depressing. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Spending your energy connecting with others to save the world from climate and nuclear catastrophe can and should be joyful work. It is possible to listen to and learn from your elders in the movement and to not be afraid of doing things in a different way, and calling out problems with outdated organizing models. There are so many new ways of organizing and connecting the dots between issues into larger movements so it’s an exciting time to be doing this work.
Q: When it comes to changes or advances in nuclear weapons and climate policies, what is your greatest hope for the coming year?
My greatest hope is that we aren’t afraid to be visionary, bold, and intersectional in our policies. We aren’t going to “fix” climate or nuclear catastrophe by tinkering around the edges. These issues need to be imbedded in bold platforms like embracing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Green New Deal. Policies need to be firmly rooted in justice and connected to broader social justice movements to be effective. And recognizing the people, and the systems that got us into these messes in the first place won’t be the ones to get us out of them.
Q: Who or what is your greatest inspiration to do the work that you do?
Shortly after September 11, a group of Hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki came to meet with members of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and encouraged us to continue our work for peace and justice and to connect with them in their global struggle against war and militarism. It was so profoundly moving to hear their stories and to witness how they have turned their grief into action for peace and justice. I hope to honor their inspiration in the work that I do. I am also incredibly inspired by ICAN [International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons] and the feminist organizing model of Beatrice Fihn, and the fantastic Marshallese poet and activist, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner. Also youth such as Greta Thunberg and the March for our Lives kids, who are not afraid of telling the truth, changing the narrative, and leading the way toward the bold action we need to create the world we want to see.
PSR is grateful to have benefited from the incredible contributions of Kelly Campbell through her work for the Oregon PSR chapter.
Inspired? Don’t miss the chance to attend the Visionary Leaders Awards on November 7 as we honor Kelly Campbell alongside our other amazing VLA recipients. Learn more and reserve your tickets today.