Hilton Kelley

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Since the discovery of oil in 1901 Port Arthur, Texas has been a hub for the world’s largest oil refineries. Hilton Kelley, who grew up in Port Arthur, explained to the team how this dependency has been one of the major factors leading to the city’s current deep recession. He clarified how the temporary employment offered during refinery construction is NOT a sustainable job creation source. After construction the petro-chemical companies mostly hire experienced non-locals for the long term positions.

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Hilton hasn’t always been highlighting the industry’s impact on his hometown. After serving in the U.S. Navy and working in the acting industry Mr. Kelley found a new calling during a visit home.  He noticed how many of his friends from high school and different community members were dying of cancer and how they had contracted other respiratory illness. Residents were also moving away every year in search of better economic opportunity. He asked his friend who was working on ameliorating these problems. More needed to be done. It was then Community In-power and Development Association (CIDA) was founded in 2000 with the belief that chemical polluters should be held accountable for the chronic, systematic poisoning of low-income communities living along the “fence line” of their operations. The organization has had many victories since then. One major accomplishment includes accountability for the companies releasing toxic chemicals into the air and the enforcement of air permits. Another includes a fund by petro-chemical companies for local entrepreneurs to participate in the revival. These have been acknowledged by the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2011. It is granted to one environmental hero from each continent. The work of Goldman Prize recipients often focuses on protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies and striving for environmental justice.

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Mr. Kelley with President Obama

The team was lucky to be able to meet with Mr. Kelley. We learned a lot about Port Arthur and the refineries impacts on the communities that live in that city.

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-Omar Navarro

Red Stick Farmer’s Market

DSC_0033 Buy Fresh Buy Local is the slogan. Sounds cliché, but Baton Rouge delivered the most unique farm to market experience yet.

The Red Stick Farmer’s market in Baton Rouge offered more than I had ever expected from the idea. This ideal market offers a weekend event for the entire family, while connecting community members. Consumers were offered various selections of locally produced vegetables, seafood, meat, honey, wine, books, and baked goods. There was even live music to enjoy while grocery shopping. Many of the vendors offered catering services as well.

DSC_0034The team ventured throughout the market tasting new foods. As I was sitting on a bench soaking in the environment and resting when a Francis Chauvin of Blue Ribbon Pies asked, “Would you like a shoe sole young man?”

“A shoe sole?” I asked.

“Yes, they’re thin slices of dough cover with cinnamon and sugar,” she responded.

They were delicious. She let the team try the treats for free.

The Red Stick definitely set a high bar for farmer’s markets everywhere. It has been my favorite one so far.

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Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Democracy Project

1001447_546530882053016_556959833_n 1002091_546530888719682_202879575_n943721_10152880080220247_1298885727_nOn the first day of arriving in Baton Rouge the Ride For the Future Team was invited to attend a meeting called Pray for our Air. So we got on our bikes and headed over there. We pass the second largest oil refinery in the country to the north and sporadic patches of an Exxon-sponsored flower garden to the south. We were overwhelmed by the horrible stench of the plant.
Stephanie Anthony began the meeting with, “The first thing we should all do is pray for our air. God we pray that the politicians, lawmakers, and businessman allow our children to breathe clean air.” Stephanie Anthony of the Louisiana Democracy Project was hosting a meeting at Allen Chapel Baptist Church in the Scenic Blvd. neighborhood, a fence line community. The 2,400 acre ExxonMobil petrochemical complex had an underpublicized incident last week. Only one resident at the meeting had received a phone call from ExxonMobil following the accident. The company representative only stated that an incident had occurred and that it had already been resolved. No quantitative measures of exposure were mentioned to the resident. Last week’s incident is one of several that occurred in the past year. Ms. Anthony and several community members are outraged by the audacity of Exxon’s request for a new permit to increase the annual limit of chemicals released into the atmosphere. Exxon already releases 24 tons of sulfur dioxide a day, a dangerously high amount.
In response, the community has formed a petition to be presented at the Environmental Protection Agency conference on environmental justice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hopefully the petition would place Exxon on probation for new permits so that Scenic Blvd. residents have healthier air. The Ride for the Future team collaborated with the Louisiana Democracy Project and canvassed around the neighborhood surrounding Exxon to gain signatures and support for the petition.
A few days later we met with Stephanie Anthony again and helped to clean up a community garden at the Little Rising Sun Baptist church. We met with local children and showed them our crane project.
-Erik Rundquist
-Omar Navarro

Bridge The Gulf: Ada Mcmahon

Before Ride for the Future began, participants were assigned readings in preparation to provide context for what we’ll be doing this summer, which is visiting Gulf Coast communities to collect individuals’ stories told of their struggles imposed by oil extraction, refining, production and climate change. Two articles that had been taken from Bridge the Gulf Project had an immediate distinction amongst the scientific studies we had to read. I noticed an authentic and unique voice from people from the Gulf Coast community speaking about everyday ground struggles in an area vulnerable to sea-level rise and still suffering from the repercussions of the BP Oil Spill in 2005. This gave me a vague idea of what the Bridge the Gulf Project was about. Ada Mcmahon, an editor at Bridge the Gulf, visited the team and enlightened us on the commendable intentions of the project, which aims to create a platform for individuals in the Gulf Coast community to able to express and tell their stories. They create citizen journalists and train them to utilize media in order to amplify their voice, allowing their stories to reach a wider audience across the internet. The power of it lies in the many sparks across the communities carried in the passion and indignation of those suffering in the community, and as they become aware of their own influence and others’, they began to build a movement.

Because we are still only beginning our journey our objective is not fully fleshed out, however Ada’s explanation of Bridge the Gulf’s mission resonated with us deeply. I shared the perspective that the many authentic voices weaving stories of struggle creates a larger and impactful picture of the prioritization of fulfilling our energy demand through fossil fuels over human lives. This, I believe could be instrumental in the environmental justice movement, although as someone who has only scratched the surface of what makes a successful movement capable of drastic change (which the current climate crisis demands), I’m still full of uncertainties when considering the complex intricacies of the dynamics between localized grassroots organizers, who are capable of voicing a diverse group of people and NGOS working on a national scale, who may removed from the many concerns of people “on the ground”. Where is the compromise? Ada’s response seems to suggest that every movement is different and there is no clear cut formula or established rule to follow. Collaboration seems to be the most difficult when coordinating successful actions that strive to impact as many as possible, due to the plethora of voices, which all come from unique perspectives. However, one thing that Ada said struck me as something I could hold onto amidst all these potentially conflicting factors we must consider as young activists with the intentions of creating change entering the larger movement, full of passionate organizers with years more of experience, against fossil fuels. “You are who you are, show up as yourself,” which was a response to Kaela Bamberger’s question on how to deal with skeptics or those who may shoot us down.

I know that we, the Riders for the Future, have the passion and drive to fight for our futures. However, our awareness for the injustices against humanity also makes us self conscious of our naivete and our positions as outsiders when approaching Gulf Coast communities. Ada’s words gives me hope, that if we express ourselves and our desire to collaborate to these communities by actively listening to their stories and what they think would help themselves, they will accept us. In the end, I believe our power lies in the fact that we are people that care about other people, and despite our many differences, we will come together to fight for the future of humanity.

Find out more about this amazing project at http://bridgethegulfproject.org

-Daphne Chang

Week One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArriving in New Orleans to kick off the Ride for the Future marked the beginning of an empowering adventure. Since initial contact the organization emphasizes the input of each individuals opinion for continued growth in the climate change and fossil fuel accountability movement. Local community partners have continued to give our team the opportunity to donate service that could contribute to positive change.
Reverend Deana of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans welcomed our group with open arms and southern hospitality and hosted us at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. The center has helped volunteers contribute to the rebirth of New Orleans in concrete ways since Hurricane Katrina. Since we’ve been here our team has worked with Bayou Rebirth and the Columbus Street Children’s Center.
Bayou Rebirth is an organization that promotes wetland restoration and awareness. Our team worked to dig the beginnings of a city rain garden, which is designed to collect and infiltrate runoff from rain events before it can enter a storm drain.
The Columbus Street Children’s Center food bank delivered food to hundreds of families. The team was able to help out during a typical day’s operation, which seemed somewhat chaotic to inexperienced volunteers. As the day flew by I noticed there was an order to the chaos, stemming from a simple notion to feed people.
The ride for the future team has been offered these incredible experiences and it has only been the first week. This summer holds many more opportunities for us. I hope to paint a story that becomes a base for justice.

– Omar Navarro

The 2013 Riders

I’m Kaela, and I’m pursuing a BS Applied Arts Activism at Ithaca College. Packing for this trip is strange because as I carefully gather everything I need I find my room is still overflowing with clothes, personal items, various toiletries… I am faced with the fact that these two bags of belongings will fulfill my basic needs for the entire summer. And as I kiss (literally, kiss) my queen-sized bed goodbye, I have to question how what we’re used to changes what we require to be comfortable. I’m ready to be comfortable and uncomfortable, filled with hope and heartache this summer, in our journey through Louisiana into Texas.

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My name is Erik and before arriving in New Orleans I was living and studying in Worcester, Massachusetts. Before my arrival I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect on this trip, but I got on a plane anyways. I decided to take part in Ride for the Future to learn more about how climate change is affecting communities in other parts of the country and I think the journey will be a meaningful experience.

Hola my name is Ernesto. I’m from San Diego, California and just recently graduated from Boston University. I’m excited to learn and share experiences with the other riders on our way to Houston. There’s still a lot I have to learn about climate change and the movement to end our dependence on fossil fuels. I’m hoping this summer will help me learn more about these issues and the communities that have been most affected by them in Louisiana and Texas.

My name is Dena and I graduated college two days before starting my Ride for the Future adventure. I was born into a long line of Texans, many of which make a living in the oil and gas business. Being accepted onto this year’s Ride for the Future team has brought up many personal questions regarding the lifestyle I’ve grown up in. I’m looking forward to finding that middle ground between the culture I’ve been raised in, and the reality of oppression so many people face as a result of today’s Fossil Fuels industry. I’m so very excited to be traveling exclusively by bike, and can only imagine how much I’m going to learn from others and about myself as a result.

My name is Hannah and I just finished my first year at Wellesley College. While growing up in Suches, Georgia I wasn’t involved in any kind of environmental activism. This past year, though, I have been learning a lot about the different kinds of injustices that millions of people are facing around the world, from fracking and toxic waste dumping to food injustices. But I have also been learning about the innovative ways these people are fighting back, demanding justice. So this summer, I am excited to be taking action with 6 other amazing riders as we visit different communities along our ride from New Orleans to Houston. As we become active listeners of these people’s stories and not only learn from them, but work with them as they fight back against the fossil fuel industry.

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People call me Daphne and know me as a student that has finished her first year at Mount Holyoke College. The appeal of actively listening to and collaborating with the communities that have been directly affected and oppressed by the fossil fuel industry compelled me to become a Rider for the Future. I’m determined to overcome any uncertainties by physically and mentally challenging myself to act with the intention of working for a better future for the world, which is currently threatened by the climate crisis.

My name is Omar and I was born and raised in Houston. I graduated from St. Edward’s University in Austin with a major in international business last year. Since then, I’ve been pursuing experience involving non-governmental organizations’ impact on legislation. I hope to bring attention to the illegal actions carried out by certain petroleum companies this summer. Most importantly, I hope to motivate entrepreneurial individuals to pursue alternative energy endeavours.

Yeah Bike! (Or, Gratuitous Picture of Your Bike)

(By Kelly Pope)

We make a lot of jokes about “that guy.” You know, that guy. That guy who is a little over the top, that guy who just looks silly. We all know that guy. I never wanted to be that guy, and even though I love my bike, I have a feeling that when I go home, my bike alone is going to make me out to be “that guy.”

My bike is pretty old. I have no idea how old. It was most likely donated to the cooperative bike shop near the house I lived in, in Chicago. It’s the first big thing I bought and paid for, aside from rent and food, with my own income. I’m not really a gear head, I don’t know how much it weighs, and I don’t even know how I could ever find out what it’s made of. Steel? Aluminum? Wrought iron? Dreams?

It’s dark red in color, and my roommate was trying to get rid of some things, so I have a bright yellow bottle cage. My lock that I’ve had ever since I started riding my bike to school (some time during elementary school) has a lime green ring of plastic around it. Up to now, I thought my bike had a gross color scheme going for it, but it was lighter than the mountain bike I’d had for years, and served me well when I was a bike messenger in Chicago. So I couldn’t complain. I had a job that allowed me to train for this program and afford rent and food. I could accept that my bike looked like a bad flashback from 1973.

After a fall on wet train tracks coming in at a weird angle in Baton Rouge (shout out to Stephanie Anthony!), the tape around my handlebars was pretty badly cut up. I would need to replace it at some point on this trip, as it would eventually unravel. It also provided no cushioning, unlike the assortment that Bicycle Superstore in Lake Charles had. They offered to give us free tune ups, and discounts on such items as new grip tape and noise-makers. My bike makes me laugh, a lot, now. That silly gator head? It squeaks. Look at its face, the cranky expression!

The head mechanic of the shop was as curmudgeonly as I can sometimes (often, frequently, openly) be.”Those are for children,” he said, I suppose in an attempt to embarrass me into purchasing a real bell. For adults. I’m pretty much a little boy, so I think I’ve stayed true to my integrity here. “I’m from Florida. It’s an alligator. How can I not need this?”

Although, it doesn’t make for the best bike music. Bike music? Wait for the video, friends. There will be bike music!