By Ben Trolio, Ride For the Future
Our program arrived in Dallas excited to share stories from communities we visited along the way with ExxonMobil, the richest oil company in the world. Scarcely three days before the scheduled meeting, our excitement was ruined. With one voicemail, our meeting had been swept out from under us. Exxon’s spokesperson, Alan Jeffers, told us through the voicemail that we were affiliated with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an organization filing a lawsuit against them. This is simply not true, as the Louisiana Bucket Brigade does not focus its efforts on lawsuits, but rather encourage regulatory agencies to enforce the laws that are already in place. Allegedly, their lawyers had advised against meeting us because of this affiliation. Upon further inspection, we discovered that this was not Exxon’s real reason for cancelling the meeting. Repeated phone calls from community partner Mike Tritico and staff member Craig Altemose, revealed that Exxon really cancelled the meeting over a portion of our website, mentioning an invoice of damages. The invoice was never mentioned in any of my conversations with Exxon, but the corporation seized on this statement to scrap the meeting. Exxon scraped the bottom of their bucket for reasons to cancel and had found one. It is a shame that after 15 phone calls, and countless miles biked, our meeting was cancelled and we were lied to in the process.
In the absence of a meeting, we charged forth with plans to bike to Exxon’s headquarters. By biking to Exxon, we wanted to attract media attention and pester the world’s biggest oil company into granting us a meeting. Showing up on site certainly wouldn’t hurt our chances of getting a meeting this year so why not try? Twelve miles later, we stood on the sidewalk staring up at the building, housing a company actively reducing the viability of our planet for future generations. We were greeted by three police cars and no Exxon executives. Our impressions of Exxon were sealed and not in a good way. Our fight to honor these communities would not end with a failed meeting; we had a candlelight vigil to plan.
Twenty-five people stood, hands locked in a circle. Although Exxon wouldn’t listen to the stories of the communities we visited, these people did. The crowd had gathered at our candlelight vigil to honor communities negatively affected by the fossil fuel industry. We had cemented our ties to a community of people in Dallas, connecting an entire region of people through the art of story. Through the power of individual and collective stories, we will secure meetings with Exxon in future years or overcome their opposition if they refuse to grant us an audience.