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.

DSC_0070-Omar Navarro

Grace Presbyterian Church

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My first impression of the Grace Presbyterian Church occurred when my mental condition was affected heavily by 40 miles of biking, being completely drenched in my sweat and my readiness to collapse from exhaustion. I felt excitement as we biked along Roselawn Boulevard and the lovely brick building hidden by large masses of bright green leaves branching off a couple of thick, sturdy tree came into view. The colors of red, green and blue painted the prospect of a pleasant stay, and my initial prediction based off these vague impressions proved to be correct!

We met Pastor John in the parking lot of the church. Recognizing our slight discomfort from biking at least 4 hours in the heat and humidity, Pastor John tactfully kept his introduction succinct and led us into the church, where a large picture of Jesus laughing greeted us. (I discovered soon after that laughing Jesus adorned many walls of the church, he had a friendly presence within the building). He told us briefly about a cool project where plastic bags are woven by hand into sleeping mats to be given to the homeless. The construction of one mat takes 30 hours of patience and the laborer’s dexterity. I was curious on how well they function so I tested it myself by sleeping on one for the night and I can confidently say I’ve never slept better! An anecdote Pastor John shared with us stuck with me, he told us that the church had initiated efforts to donate shoes to poverty stricken communities in Haiti, but instead of wearing the shoes, the Haitians used the plastic bags carrying the shoes to sleep on them. It highlighted the disparity and gap between our experiences as individuals that have never suffered severe poverty and those that live it everyday, and how it could lead to misguided aid giving.

Pastor John lead us on a tour around the church, showing us the library, which we instantaneously designated as the area for productivity and work after we discovered it was within the range of WiFi, a room with a carpeted floor and groovy, colorful chairs, which I immediately decided was where I was going to sleep, and the kitchen, which was spacy and full of all the equipment we needed to whip ourselves up a delicious vegetarian meal (which, now that we’re halfway through the program, is our staple diet). The church was truly lovely, not just because its facilities contained a washer, dryer and a shower so we could conduct common practices of hygiene, which have become not so common for us riders, but because we understood the space was to be utilized by the community. Throughout this program we have been staying in Houses of Worship, which readily accepted to host us. This openness led to my comprehension that religious institutions, prevalent in the South, are significant points of community and provision of help for those in need, for example the space is used for elementary education, and AA meetings. Despite my lack of religious affiliation, each stay encourages the growth of a deep rooted respect for these institutions and their service for the people of the community.

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Plastic Bag Mats

Our stay in Grace Presbyterian ended far too early, I’d say, but I’m extremely filled with gratitude for all the church and the pastor has done for us by allowing us to store our bikes, trailers, panniers, our sweaty selves and host dinners. Thanks for letting it become a home where we lived comfortably, event if for such an interim period!

-Daphne Chang

Thank you WHYR, for having us!

IMG_1478During our stay in Baton Rouge, 3 Riders for the Future were lucky enough to be invited by WHYR Community Radio Station for an hour long interview with David Brown.

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Being Interviewed

WHYR is a local radio station, which operates wholly by the volunteering of local residents. It claims to be progressive, which may be a true statement to make due to their warm welcome of us riders on the show, considering our politically sensitive message. We were given a list of 10 questions before the interview to prepare. David Brown informed us that it would be set up like we were having a conversationand that it wasn’t live, this contributed significantly to the reduction of my nerves and possible anxiety. The questions David provided for us were simultaneously challenging but exciting for us to engage in. Examples include “What does it mean to be an activist and what compelled each of you to become activists when it would be so much more comfortable to just get a job and pursue your passion or other recreation?” and “How do you envision what you’re doing making any kind of a difference to the fossil fuel industry or the “oil addicted”/”drill baby drill” status quo?”. Before we worked together to answers these questions, we decided upon Ernesto Botello, Kaela Bamberger and me, Daphne Chang to be interviewed. We spent an hour brainstorming separately and then converging to share our individual responses. It was a really eye opening experiencing because we got to see, as a group, the variations in perspectives and motivations between individual participants of this program, and what we believe our approach us. It brings us to the characteristic of Ride for the Future as a program that makes it so unique, which its flexibility and the capacity for our influence to shape the program and the experience for ourselves, the participants and leaders of this journey.

Another quesiton which prompted me to learn something new was on the “precautionary principle”, something I had never heard of before Ernesto Botello, the Public Health and Health Science major educated meon the different approaches of policy of prevention versus treatment. News of the Geismar plant explosion that morning was spread all over media outlets and it was also a relevant in the context of the precautionary principle. Ernesto craftily used it as an example of how efforts of prevention could avoid the necessity of repercussions and treatment.

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David Brown and the Riders

After we went through adequate preparation for our interview, Ernesto, Kaela and I set off for the radio station. My first impression upon arrival was the appeal of the space the radio was held in. It was small but had a hip and casual feel to it. There were records on the walls and inspirational quotes along with the faces of influential individuals, which the quotes were taken from. So the wisdom of Bob Marley and John Lennon helped calmed my nerves as well. David Brown, our interviewer was especially great to interact with. He was friendly, hilarious, soothed our nerves, but at the same time he really engaged with us in exploring our mission as Riders for the Future. He made us value the powerful influence we our connection with our listeners have as interviewees. After all, we are here because of a strong message that we wish to spread, and how we can do that effectively, inclusively and in a manner that does not alienate or cause divisions was interesting and important to explore.

One of the themes of many that was touched upon, which was important to me and something I ponder regularly, is what activism means to the general public. I’ve been referred to as an “environmental activist” by my friends and I dislike it because they seem to say it with the intention of separating what I pursue as an interest and what they pursue. In our complex world there are varying levels and meanings of activism. You do not need to give up your job our make great sacrifices in order to be active in a cause that you truly believe is worth fighting for. As someone who is trying to fight for something and constantly interacting with people who may think the cause I’m fighting for is ridiculous or unworthy, I struggle to recognize that different people have different passions. I pursue activism and organizing because I enjoy it, but as a collective of talented individuals, we can contribute to social movements for justice in all sorts of different ways. There’s no reason why anybody can’t be an activist, or should I say, active on an issue that is asking for change not just for an individual, but for society and the common people.

-Daphne Chang

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