Anti-Oppression

Today is our second day in Baton Rouge. Although we are only three weeks into our journey, we have already worked with so many amazing community partners! With each person we meet and the more we learn, though, I often think back to one of the trainings we had during our stay in NOLA. During our second week at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, we had an Anti-Oppression training with Reverend Deanna.

On May 25th, that Saturday afternoon, the seven of us riders and three staff found ourselves in the Sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church. As we circled up, our mood became more serious as we fell into quiet reflection. Looking around the room, I saw 9 other people, people who I had just met only 6 days ago, people who I would be spending the next 9 weeks living and learning with as we biked together…people whose background and roots I had very little knowledge about.

But the next few hours were spent doing exactly that, getting to know the people I’d be working with more in depth. This training not only highlighted the importance of understanding who we are working with, but also the importance of recognizing the oppressions that exist in our society. Through different exercises, we focused on the extreme wealth inequality that exists within the United States and racism. I will never forget the major thing that Reverend Deanna stressed that day. Racism is prejudice plus power. So what does this really mean? It means that yes, anyone, of any race, can hold racial prejudices and biases against others, but for someone to be racist requires having institutional power. For example, in North America, whites have the institutional power. They have the money, head most of the corporations, and essentially control all of the systems that matter. Therefore, only white people can be racist, because they are the ones that hold the institutional power.

Perhaps this is a hard nut to swallow for many people, but it is the truth, and in order to work for the change we want, we must first open our eyes and not be afraid to look this reality in the eye. Only once we understand how and why these oppressions work the way they do, can we then uproot the problem and start healing the damage that has been done.

So as I am sitting here in Baton Rouge, I think back to the huge, gigantic, oil refinery that I saw yesterday on my way to the Pray for Our Air meeting. I think about the church that we met in that is literally right next to that refinery. I think about the community members I talked with (all people of color), their wish for clean air, and their inspiring strength to stand and fight the injustices they are facing. From what I have seen already, the injustices that these people are fighting against are a result of racism, are a result of that institutional power and that is wrong.

I have no doubt that as we continue on our journey to Houston, we will only see more of this unjust and racist system, a system that is deeply ingrained in our society. Throughout our trip, as we continue to actively listen to their stories and learn from these communities, we ask that others stand in solidarity with these people as they fight back against these systems of oppression, demanding justice.

-Hannah Mott

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In the Eyes of the Storm

Something I’ve only seen pictures of becomes more real than I could’ve imagined when we arrive, seven riders and a guide, at the infamous Lower Ninth Ward.  The hard, hot ride down floats off behind us like a hat taken by the wind as we bike through what used to be a congested neighborhood. Now lay empty lots cleared of the destruction, the devastation concealed by green grass and inviting trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut every now and then a house destroyed will come into purview, becoming clearer as we get closer. Finally, in front of it, we have a view in, where it is eerily dark and bright at the same time. Dark is what used to be the interior, crashed upon the ground as if still in motion. Bright is the sun unfiltered in a house with no doors or windows. This is a reality unattainable through pictures.

Aaron Viles, our knowledgeable volunteer guide from Gulf Restoration Network, brings us to the very spot where the levies were breached. From our vantage point, looking from afar at the neighborhoods we biked through to get here, it is a strange trickle of sweat that begs me not to acknowledge what I’m seeing. That at this moment I look through the eyes of the rush of water which was the beginning of Hurricaine Katrina for New Orleans.

Next stop is Bayou Bienvenue, where we learn about the destruction of the wetlands from an inflow of saltwater. John Taylor explains that the motives of shipping industries caused the death of the cypress population that used to house the thriving swamp instead of the now wide expanse of river. He went on to explain that had the swamp been healthy and hearty, Hurricane Katrina may have been subdued enough to not have even reached the city.

-Kaela Bamberger

Arriving in Baton Rouge: A list of Positives

936387_4754798842712_1893710202_nI am writing this the evening of June 4th, 2013. The following are the contributions to what I now reflect on as a great morning.

1. The sun was hidden by the big fluffy clouds. 50% chance of rain but it never did, instead our team was greeted continuously by the cool breeze, which flew past us and created the illusion that we were light and purposefully speeding across the roads towards our destination. I could feel myself getting stronger as my feet relentlessly peddle. I felt the same ache in the muscles of my legs but it didn’t stop me or slow me down this time, I only wanted to go faster.

2. I managed to take wonderful pictures of my team on the road. Although what hung above us most frequently were thick blankets of cloud, occasionally they would separate and let the sun rays fall onto Baton Rouge, which enhanced all the colors that we could see: our shirts a juicy bright orange, the sky blue with a radiating calmness and the trees a lush green.

3. A happy accident. We stopped at Home Depot on our way to Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, halting our bikes in the parking lot. A few people asked us questions, their curiosities about what a group of sweaty young adults were doing in a Home Depot parking lead to their momentary stop beside us. I never tire of the shocked reaction, the unrestrained gasp of “What?” when we tell people that we are biking to Houston. There are others that give us advice on biking on the freeways, telling us to be careful. The most memorable being “There are three kinds of drivers: Those that don’t know how to drive, those that don’t care how they drive, and those that don’t care that they don’t know how to drive.” The brief connection with these people as we tell them our purpose and the formation of a rapport as they give us their sincere opinion make up the special moments of this trip. One individual who stopped by made me feel truly lucky. As the team’s media coordinator, I’ve found the prospect of outreach quite daunting. When Othello Carter, an independent photographer of New Orleans walked up to us, with a camera slung over his shoulder, he shooed away those doubts I had, that perhaps our story wasn’t that great or significant, by asking about what we were doing and wanting to capture us with his camera.
Othello Carter is a talented photographer, you can check out his amazing work at http://www.othellocarter.com

All these things culminated into a great arrival in Baton Rouge.  I am looking forward to our stay in the capital.

-Daphne Chang

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

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade

IMG_2574My encounter with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade led to my rude awakening to how regulators and institutions, which the public is supposed to trust, can blatantly lie to cover the horrible truth in an attempt to avoid responsibility for the repercussions of their actions. The specific incident Kellen, who paid us Riders for the Future a visit to inform us about the Bucket Brigade, enlightened us on occurred last summer of 2012. A report of a 10 pound release of benzene (a known human carcinogen) from the Baton Rouge ExxonMobil facility was filed. Further investigations by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade uncovered the actual amount released: 28,000 pounds. I was in shock. Not only because 10 pounds of benzene was already a dangerous amount for humans to be exposed to but because if the Louisiana Bucket Brigade hadn’t pushed the EPA to investigate further, the truth may never have been uncovered. The impacts of the release would’ve only been felt and haunted daily by the individuals inhabiting fenceline communities (communities within 2 miles of a refinery).

Kellan also told us about The Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s iWitness Pollution Map, which provides a channel for anybody in Louisiania to report pollution from chemical accidents, oil spills etc. A report generally consists of health effects, description of smell, location and wind direction. Individuals can access all previous reports submitted and the scale of pollution in a region can be measured. Another service by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is the Rapid Response Team, which have partnered with the coast guard. If a huge impact occurs from a refinery accident, the team conducts informal health surveys throughout the community. Then they can provide a claim number for individuals affected to call and request reimbursement for medical expenses. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade appears to me, to service the communities by providing a forum for individuals to make accurate reports of pollution impacts, which are kept on record. Then the Brigade endeavors to figure out the source of these impacts, bringing attention to them and hold them accountable.

Eventually Kellan had to leave us. I am feel more comforted knowing of the Bucket Brigade’s existence, and I felt sharply, the importance of the duty I must fulfill this summer. Thank you Kellan, for pulling back the curtain and revealing the uncomfortable truth: the fenceline communities that suffer greatly rarely have the power or opportunity to change their situation. This truth motivates me to venture out and collect the individual accounts of the actual impacts of oil, gas and coal extraction on surrounding communities, and with these stories of truth that we carry from then on, to contribute to the movement against fossil fuel industries that fight for the environmental injustices. Hopefully our actions may lead to the alleviation of these individuals struggles and pain.

Find out more at http://www.labucketbrigade.org

-Daphne Chang

Hollygrove Market and Farm

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of our last group volunteer outings in New Orleans was to Hollygrove Market and Farm (HGMF). HGMF serves as a local community gardening space, a local produce market, and an urban farm. We volunteered at HGMF two consecutive days where we mostly were shoveling and sifting dirt. We were worried this would soon be the trajectory of work we would follow for the rest of our trip, Shoveling for the Future. The work was hard but our site contact Macon Fry, the mentor farmer at HGMF, made the work worth while by teaching us proper sifting techniques and the importance of the work we were doing. Volunteers at HGMF are what keep it going in the community and we were all glad we could help in whatever way we could.

Check out this video of our time at Hollygrove Market and Farm:

For more info about HGMF check out their website: http://www.hollygrovemarket.com

-Ernesto Botello