A Reflection on Richmond Kayaktivism

A Reflection on Richmond Kayaktivism

By Laura Mangels

On the morning of Saturday, August 8th, ten years after the Chevron fire that put thousands of Richmond residents in danger and in the ER, a few dozen of us gathered at Brickyard Cove. Kayaks, a support crew, months of preparatory training, and uncounted hours of planning, banner-making, sweating, and stressing all came together on this day to launch our official first action as a group—our very own homegrown Bay Area kayaktivism group. In coordination with a land-based march organized by Richmond Our Power Coalition, we paddled together as a sign-festooned flotilla to Keller Beach in order to highlight the harm Chevron causes to folks living on the front lines of fossil fuel, and to demand an end to the poisoning of our land, air, water, bodies, and future. Despite the grim anniversary, the mood among my fellow kayaktivists as we circled up that morning was decidedly elated. We knew what a special day this was.

The rise of our local kayaktivism represents a sea change in kayaktivism generally, a momentous development both for the Bay Area and for the environmental justice movement. Conceived and built in our frontline community of Richmond, our kayaktivist group breaks from the white-dominated kayaktivist tradition, in that we intentionally center BIPOC folks who bear the brunt of environmental racism. We are different from other kayaktivists in that we take seriously that we cannot hope for an effective and just environmental movement unless we take leadership from those who have been systematically excluded from leadership until now. Only then can we include us all in the movement; stronger together, we will be unstoppable.

I hope the Richmond Progressive Alliance will take this opportunity to fully live in our collective commitment to center the young, Black, indigenous, and other folks of color in our movement to ensure a people-centered and just transition from fossil fuels. The RPA has a fine history of cultivating local leadership, and our members now have a chance to support and follow the bold direction of a new generation of activists. For many of us—especially those of us with greater privilege–it may also be something of a stretch to relinquish leadership. If we are to succeed, we must find that stretch. Those among us who struggle with the difficulty of reining in our assertive tendencies will surely be persuaded by the stunning feeling of solidarity generated by the first “raft” experience, when kayakers line up together and hold onto each other to create a cohesive floating unit, often for the purpose of holding up a banner.

If we want to hold Chevron accountable—and make no mistake, we will!—we need to understand that the fight for a more livable planet, the fight to create equitable access to nature, and the fight against racist oppression are all part of the same fight–here in Richmond, in Ecuador, and beyond. See you on the water.