The Intersections Of Our Stories Create the Narrative

by Cole Taylor

October 2, 2019

“I believe that telling our stories first to ourselves and then to one another and the world is a revolutionary act.” - Janet Mock

Storytelling is the heart of activism and community building. Part of my story is standing on the Fred Hartman Bridge and blocking the Houston Ship Channel for 18 hours on September 12th, 2019. Why did I feel compelled to do something like this? It really comes down to the many stories that make up my life, community, and passion.

The Houston Ship Channel is the largest fossil fuel thoroughfare in the US and the second largest in the world. While standing on that bridge, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen in my life. As the sun rose, the stark reality of the oil refineries and smokestacks of choking smoke came into view. Soon after, a rainbow arched over the bridge and dolphins swam underneath it. And still the air was thick with chemical fumes and toxic smells.

Greenpeace activists block Houston shipping Channel for 18 hours.
Photo: Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle

Prior to standing on top of the Fred Hartman Bridge I hadn’t been surrounded by the fossil fuel industry in that way. I didn’t grow up next to oil refineries, or coal plants. I was lucky because of the privilege of my skin color and where I was born in Orange County, California. I grew up close to the poverty line but, I was able to  afford to live a life where I did not have to worry about the systems of power and oppression, which for the most part, did not affect me all that much.

Being a part of a marginalized community wasn’t something I had experienced until I was older. When I turned 18 I came out as a lesbian, and then when I was 33 I came out as a transgendered male. Being a part of the queer community is what sparked my passion and need to stand up against the systems of power and oppression. My viewpoint broadened after years of working within activist spaces, where I realized the people who were getting out into the community getting their voices heard were mainly cis-gendered white people. It was apparent to me that if we were going to enact change, intersectionality needed to be at the forefront. I needed to act, and it needed to happen NOW.

Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Queer folks are the most impacted by climate change. According to author Alexander Cheves on them.us, “trans and gender-nonconforming youth of color — are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than our straight, cisgender peers.” Where do these people go when the extreme weather conditions hit, conditions becoming increasingly prevalent with climate change? As extreme storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy become more commonplace, low-income communities will be the most affected.

A school bus makes its way through a flooded road in Houston

Thomas B. Shea/Getty images. A school bus makes its way through a flooded section of Hopper Road in Houston during Tropical Storm Imelda.

Now is the time to act! Twenty-one other activists and I have been charged with a federal misdemeanor for obstruction of navigable waters, and  a state felony of blocking critical infrastructure. These”critical infrastructure” laws were created to criminalize protests against oil and gas. We are the first people to be charged with this law in Texas and in the country (similar laws exist in around half a dozen states, with many bills coming up in state legislatures across the country each cycle). Along with being criminalized for standing up against the tyranny of the fossil fuel industry, while in the Harris County jail we all went through dehumanizing and unethical treatment. We are out and safe for now, but thousands of people within this system are still being dehumanized.

This is just part of my story ⁠— our story. I ask everyone reading this to create their own narrative that will carry on for decades to come. The time for action has come, and the time for our collective stories to change the world for the better is just beginning.

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