When Kirsten Midura started Engines for Change in 2019, she was merging her love for motorcycle riding and environmental activism. The nonprofit started off hosting beach cleanups. But as times quickly changed and the coronavirus pandemic hit New York City hard, Engines for Change volunteers began using their motorcycles to transport groceries to those who are unable to leave their homes, and they delivered Personal Protective Equipment to hospitals and health care centers across the city. With times changing yet again, the group is once again shifting gears – this time to support New Yorkers protesting police violence against black people.
Infected by the virus herself in March, Midura used the isolation period at her home in East Williamsburg to contact manufacturers of hand-sewn masks and 3D-printed face shields and had supplies delivered to volunteers’ homes. Now, as the number of Covid-19 cases declines significantly in New York, Midura utilizes those same contacts and local PPE organizations to distribute protective supplies to protesters.
“Thousands of people are getting together in one place when there’s a global pandemic that is still very much a threat to everyone’s health,” Midura says. “So we were like, alright, we’re going to go out and use what resources we’ve already established and help where we can for the next wave.”
Last weekend, Midura participated in two separate protests: a march on the Brooklyn Bridge and another at Times Square. She and several other motorcyclists handed out approximately 600 3D-printed face shields, which were donated by an organization called PPE4NYC. She notes that they serve as double the protection since they “protect against Covid and pepper spray.”
Both new and experienced riders are assisting Midura, maintaining communication through Whatsapp to notify where protests are happening and where to pick up and pass out supplies. Bettina Elling joined Engines for Change late last year after buying her first motorcycle, and has found it “really fascinating” to see her fellow riders helping people outside of their community.
Working with Midura, Elling has delivered over 1,000 PPE supplies to hospital workers since the outbreak. Although she recently left New York City a few weeks ago for Charleston with family, she has been sending donations to Engines for Change for protest distribution and has even participated in a few local ones as well.
Midura estimates that, in the past couple of weeks, she and her volunteers have distributed over 1,000 face shields for protesters, and says she’s determined to increase that amount. She has also handed out approximately 250 hand sanitizer vials donated by Moto Spirits, a motorcycle-inspired distillery in Bushwick.
Last month, motorcycle manufacturer Royal Enfield donated 5,000 surgical masks to Engines for Change; Midura says she was able to donate half of that stock to health organizations and hospitals around the city that still needed them. While marching in demonstrations, Midura carries large bags of the remaining masks to not only hand out to protesters, but also to give to homeless people she encounters that are in need of protective gear.
“I’ve mostly been walking to protests just because if we’re marching 50 or 40 blocks, I don’t want to walk all the way back to get my bike,” she says. “But it also means I encounter more people who need this equipment, so it’s been a good thing.”
As for riding her motorcycle during the protests, Midura, who has been riding for four years, says she intends to stay on foot and continue her distribution process, avoiding rides that may take away from the message of the protest.
“A couple of [rides] happened today but I hadn’t really gotten involved with those because the way they’ve been organized kind of just seems like an excuse for dudes to ride,” she adds, “like, ‘Oh, we’re all just going to go on cool group rides, we’re not raising money, we’re not raising awareness, we’re not having people signing petitions, we’re not handing out anything useful, we’re straight-up getting on a bike and riding around wearing black.’ That’s not what I’m trying to do here.”
Midura adds that she is ready to support motorcyclists of color who hope to do protest rides in the future. “I have been talking to motorcyclists who are people of color and talking about organizing rides. I will support them in whatever way they want,” she says. “If they want to organize a ride and they want my help and organizational skills and network, I will 100% get behind that.”
As the nation enters its third week of protests, which were sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota, Midura hopes to continue making an impact, even if her supplies can’t reach each one of the thousands of people marching for Floyd and Black lives throughout the state. Frustrated by a great deal of the motorcycle industry’s silence towards issues at the center of the protests, Midura says she is working on publishing resources and educational tools on a women’s motorcycling website that bring awareness to the movement and suggest how to support people of color in the motorcycle industry. She has recently published a variety of resources on the Engines for Change website, as well as a list of motorcycle companies owned or operated by BIPOC.
“We [white people] need to shut up and listen and learn. Do our research, do our due diligence, know what we’re talking about when we shout out our opinions,” she says. “I really need to make sure that I’m educating myself.”
Correction, June 13: This post was revised to correct the spelling of PPE4NYC and the headline was changed to better characterize Engines for Change.