What started two years ago as a club for black and brown kayakers, has turned into a league of activists who want to do something rather than nothing about climate change.

Thirty-two kayakers buzzed a berthed oil tanker at the Chevron Oil Refinery on Sunday afternoon. As the fog lifted, a company security guard with a megaphone told the paddlers to back up beyond a 100-yard safety zone. Ten boaters got brave and darted closer, teasing authorities to escalate. In the end, the activists did not stop the oil tanker’s 2 p.m. departure. But they will try again.

“I think next time we’re going to get a little closer to their departure time,” said one of the group’s organizers Alfredo Angulo, 23.

The Rich City Rays is a collection of hobbyists and seasoned kayakers that perform their First Amendment rights on water. They acted at Lake Merritt on Earth Day in 2021 and again in support of Greenpeace International, as that legacy environmental group fought a seven-year slap lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Northern California and eventually won in 2022.

YouTube video
The Rich City Rays protest outside the Richmond Chevron Refinery on Sunday. (Matt Leonard, Rich City Rays via Bay City News/YouTube)

In the shadows of climate change

The originators of Rich City Rays grew up in Richmond, drinking the water and breathing the air emanating from the century-old petrochemical plant, the city’s largest employer.

“All the people that have lived in Richmond for the last 120 years have been in the shadow of this refinery,” said Aguro. “They have experienced every fire event, all the benzene emissions, every oil spill.”

Aguro is a first generation Mexican American who grew up in Richmond before earning his political science degree at UC Berkeley. He spoke as his colleagues dragged their vessels from the water at Richmond’s Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline Park. Wooden flag stands were cobbled onto boats with bungie cords, upholding colorful banners inscribed with the big asks of Generation Z — End Fossil Fuels, Pollute No More, Rise Up for Climate Justice.

“There’s this understanding that we need to move away from oil and gas for the health and safety of our community, but also as the climate crisis strengthens and our communities are being more exposed to the negative effects of climate change, we need to move away from oil and gas to stop this climate chaos. The world is on fire, and Chevron plays a massive role in driving the crisis.”