Christian Tamte's travel agency aims to move people toward activism.
In late 2016, Christian Tamte woke from what seemed like a slumber. A self-described armchair activist, she was roused by the election that November, which didn't go the way she'd hoped. She felt she had to do something—emphasis on do.
“We have to step outside of our comfort zones,” Tamte says. “We have to get up and move and make change because if we don't do that, then change will happen and it won't be in the ways that we want.”
She'd never been to a rally or a march, but the travel-industry veteran did have a useful talent for her newfound purpose: She knew how to move people. She founded Rise Travel, an advocacy-based agency that encourages people to make their voices heard. Tamte charters transportation to political events, arranges for accommodations, coordinates payments and schedules workshops and lectures to educate participants during the trip. Rise fits snugly beneath the umbrella of Tamte Travel, which includes four niche agencies that offer different opportunities for philanthropy, education or volunteer work in the guise of tourism.
Rise operates two types of trips. Organizations such as the Sierra Club can pay for Tamte's logistical expertise to arrange travel to events like the climate march, as the environmental group did in 2017. Or she'll host a Rise-sponsored trip in which the company fronts all the financing, works with vendors and promotes the event while trying to sign up enough passengers to fill the allotted space.
Such was the case for Rise's first venture on Jan. 21, 2017, just 74 days after the election, when Tamte and two busloads of 110 activists traveled to the nation's capital for the Women's March. She and her friend Mary B. Relotto arranged to bring speakers on the buses to lead workshops on topics like advocacy and crowd safety. There also were sessions by Toledo Rep. Teresa Fedor and former U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, who offered personal and political stories.
No one took their messages to heart more than Relotto herself. Listening to the women made her realize she had the same skills and passion to serve. “I thought, ‘My God, I have to get involved,'” Relotto says. Two months later, she announced her candidacy for District 24 state representative, though she lost in the May primary.
Mackenzie Lewis has never needed encouragement to get engaged. The 11-year-old and her mother, Traci, joined in Rise's second sponsored trip to Washington, D.C., for this past spring's March for Our Lives gun reform rally. Mackenzie says she has been participating in political and humanitarian efforts for years, from organizing a local benefit for kids affected by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of the march to Birmingham. She was ecstatic to receive a free ride, arranged by Tamte, so she could be one of the 165 people on three Rise buses traveling to the March for Our Lives. Mackenzie and her mother carried signs—Traci's read “Not my child, not anyone's child #EnoughIsEnough”; her daughter's read: “I want to go to school to learn and not be killed.”
“I wanted her to be able to exercise her voice and know that even though she's 11, her voice does count,” Traci says.
Tamte hopes to inspire just that type of self-possessed belief. Asked whether Rise's events will always align with her own political views, Tamte says company-sponsored trips will focus on causes she fully supports because she has to put so much of herself into them. The decision about whether to work with organizations with conflicting goals is more complicated. As a business owner and a member of the LGBTQ community, her outlook has been informed by discussions about wedding vendors who refuse to sell to gay couples. It might be hard to offer her services to someone she opposes, and she'd probably keep the Rise name out of advertising it, but yes, she'd serve them.
“It's the free market, and that's what America is about, and we're patriotic. We love this country,” Tamte says. “We love what it stands for and what it can be, and it's our job—every one of us—to defend that and to make it a better place.”
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