Matt Niswonger

Using the power of nature to fight racist policies

This summer Nevada and California were on fire. I’m not just talking about the wildfires that burned thousands of acres. I’m also referring to the people who faced off in the streets in places like Nevada City, Oakland, and Minden. Not since the free speech movement of the late 1960s and the antiwar protests of the early 1970s have so many passionate people filled the streets to condemn racism and oppression. 

This is an exciting time to be alive, but also a scary time. Under the Trump administration we have no plan in place to fight human-caused climate disruption. We also have no plan in place to fight racism. Under Trump, brazen corporate pollution and overt racism have become more visible than at any point in my lifetime.

Yes, I am scared. There is so much riding on November 3rd. I’ve watched friends and members of my own family fall victim to the Trump propaganda machine in ways that are shocking and disturbing. What I see is a growing cult of personality surrounding President Trump, and the threat of fascism unfolding in real time.

As a student of history, I can’t think of a greater threat to our democracy than authoritarian fascism in the form of our current president. 

That is the scary part, now here is the exciting part. As a result of this summer’s astounding events, outdoor enthusiasts are rising up and getting involved. A passion for social justice is permeating every part of society, including outdoor recreation. Antiracism and the desire to be antiracist is suddenly becoming a part of bike culture, climbing culture, surf culture, and snow culture.

Seeing this unfold, and desperately needing something positive to cling to, I started working on an idea. Needing to deal with my emotions in a season of wildfires and social justice fires, I landed upon the idea of an organization called Riders Against Racism. After some brainstorming with friends, things quickly fell into place and we began to organize the first official Ride Against Racism 50/50 Challenge. The idea is to have cyclists attempt to climb 50,000 feet in less than 50 days to raise money and bring awareness to the need for inclusion and antiracism in cycling.

Right now the plan is to start the 50/50 Challenge on October 1st, so by the time you read this there may still be room for more participants. To find out, go to and please consider getting involved. If you are going to ride, you might as well ride against racism!

One of the initiatives we are supporting is a collaboration with the Washoe tribe near Minden, Nevada. Since 2006 the Washoe have been working to silence the nightly 6pm siren that has been ringing out over the Carson Valley since the late 1940s. For decades this nightly siren coincided with a Minden town ordinance requiring all Washoe to leave town by sundown. 

As the first official initiative of the Riders Against Racism, I started an online petition to silence the siren and it quickly grew to over 10,000 signatures. The petition spread throughout the tribe and eventually to the many friends of the tribe throughout Nevada and California. As a result of the attention the petition was getting, I was invited to participate in a local TV news story about the siren conflict. The result was a very informative and persuasive history of the siren and why the Washoe find it so offensive.

Just a week or so later, Sq*** Valley Alpine Meadows announced an official name change of the legendary ski resort, a major victory for the Washoe tribe after years of effort. With this momentum to build upon, optimism is running high that the siren will fall next. We are hopeful and cautiously optimistic. 

To watch the KOLO 8 local TV news story about the siren, check out for a link to the interviews and a link to the online petition if you’d like to learn more about the history of the siren and/or sign the petition.

One thing I learned from long time ASJ reader and Club Dust founder Ray Meltvedt, is that helping people can also be fun. Club Dust helps a lot of people, and everyone has fun at the same time. That is how we picture Riders Against Racism: a group devoted to having fun and helping people at the same time.

Thanks for picking up this copy of ASJ you hold in your hands. As usual this issue is handcrafted directly from love. We want you to read these words and be inspired. Like I said, this is a time of fear and also inspired action. We can wallow in fear or we can do something about it.

How about you? Has the incredible summer of 2020 inspired you to take action? What does that look like? Please send me an email. I read and cherish every note I get from readers.

We’ve started a web page for Riders Against Racism. You can learn more here.