3.6 Million Revolutions for Justice

A google map of the United States overlain with Adventure Cycling routes
The interactive US bike route map from Adventure Cycling

For the next few months, this blog is going to be somewhat travel-related. In mid-April, I plan to embark on a trans-continental bike journey from the Atlantic Ocean shore in Bar Harbor, Maine to the Pacific coast at Astoria, Oregon.

My route will go through the mountains and hills of New England and then follow the shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie. From Cleveland, I’ll continue to Odell, Illinois, just south of Chicago where I will turn to the southwest to follow old Route 66 through St Louis, Missouri until a little east of Springfield in southwest Missouri. There I will pick up the TransAmerica bike trail which will take me across Kansas and into Colorado. Following that trail, I’ll parallel the Continental Divide up to Lolo, Montana. After Lolo, the trail bends westward and finally south through Idaho. Things get serpentine and curvy traveling through the Hells Canyon area and along the Snake River. Past there the route takes a more or less constant direction to the west toward Eugene as it passes through Eastern and Central Oregon. The last leg of the journey will go north along the Oregon Coast on up to Astoria from Lincoln City.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been telling people about the trip—partially for the purpose of committing to it. I’ve told too many people to back out now. Not that I would I think. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I can’t remember when. I do admit that the immensity of the undertaking is starting to sink in as the date gets closer. Some people think I am crazy. There is some truth to that, trip or no trip. A lot of people tell me though that they wish they could go along. I hope this blog can serve as a virtual bicycle for anyone who wants to go but can’t.

One of the first questions people have asked me is if I am traveling alone, and the answer is yes. However, I will be traveling proven routes established over the years by Adventure Cycling. They should be well-traveled paths with opportunities to meet ad hoc traveling companions.

Why am I taking this trip? A one-word answer could suffice, fun. However, I’ve been conditioned by all the Puritanical nonsense we tell ourselves in this country.  I can hear the parental tapes playing in my head: “Look at these grades! You’re just a good time Charlie!”  I would feel really guilty about doing it just for fun.

A longer answer would include my long-time desire to take the classic American journey in search of something. I have been inspired by so many of them, like John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America. On that trip Steinbeck travels the country with his dog Charley in a truck converted into a mobile studio. The great thing about traveling by bicycle (maybe I too should name my vehicle Rocinante) is that one can interact with those they meet, eye to eye. Eyes are windows to the soul they say. Maybe I’ll find America. I don’t know where it is anymore. Do you?

One of my favorite stories about crossing the US is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.  It is Pirsig’s story of a motorcycle trip taken from Minnesota to Northern California with his son. I appreciate it as a person who fixes things. Transcending gumption traps is the same whether it is a stripped bolt on a motorcycle or the WordPress white screen of death.

The trip log that resonates most with me now though is Blue Highways. In that book, the author William Least Heat-Moon recounts his journey circumnavigating the United States in an old van traveling the back roads and lost towns that were forgotten by the interstate car culture. Like Least Heat-Moon in his Blue Highways journey, I will be starting mine at the end of a long-term relationship. It was not my intention that I would be leaving under such circumstances but as it turns out I am. This trip will usher in a period of radical personal change for me which I will elaborate on as things unfold.

I am naming this ride “3.6 Million Revolutions for Justice.” That is approximately the number of turns my bike wheels will make crossing the continent. They are turning for justice in that I will be attempting to raise funds for two great organizations that are working to advance it.

Civil Liberties Defense Center LogoOne is Civil Liberties Defense Center. To quote their website, “The Civil Liberties Defense Center supports movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction. We provide litigation, education, legal and strategic resources to strengthen and embolden their success.”

I became acquainted with CLDC through my involvement with climate justice groups in Portland. Hence, I think of them as part of that movement though they do support others as well. Many of my friends have relied on their support over the last few years.

I think supporting CLDC is important because though we can and should still try to initiate change through the system as it is, that system is corrupted and controlled by wealthy interests—the fossil fuel companies, for example—who have mostly shut down the possibility of any change that will be effective in addressing climate change. Therefore, we must by necessity turn to extralegal measures. If you are meaningfully active in the climate movement then you must consider that sooner or later it may be necessary for you to risk getting arrested. Contributing to CLDC can then be thought of as an insurance policy (not literally but virtually) to cover you when that happens.

Social change is a game of numbers. We need more people to become comfortable with the idea of using civil disobedience as a tool for positive change. Having a strong organization like CLDC to cover our backs helps make that possible

Poor People's Campaign LogoThe second organization for which I am trying to raise funds is the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The original Poor People’s Campaign and Poor People’s March on Washington was organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Council in 1968. The campaign was led by Ralph Abernathy after Dr. King was assassinated. It sought economic justice for all poor people.

I was only in my early adolescence at that time and quite frankly well-indoctrinated into the white racist culture that surrounded me. How my own thinking evolved and escaped that mindset is the topic of another essay as is the exploratory discussion of what stalled the Poor People’s Campaign and the civil rights movement generally. But long story short, the progress made by those movements came to a screeching halt with the election of Ronald Reagan and we’ve been moving incrementally in reverse, at least as far as economic justice is concerned, ever since.

Therefore it is encouraging that William Barber II (the leader of Moral Mondays) and others have renewed the Poor People’s Campaign. We cannot say that we have ended racism in this country, or anywhere in the world until the dream of economic justice for all is realized.  We think we have racial equality because we don’t use the N-word (at least not in public), because we’ve had an African American president, or because Oprah is a billionaire. These are just window dressings and rare exceptions to the rule that the economic and social circumstances of African Americans have not improved since civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s. 

The reason I want to highlight both climate justice and economic justice is that the impediments to achieving either one are the same: greed, ignorance, apathy, and a rotting capitalist system that feeds and profits from them. It is the main thing that I want to draw attention to while I am on this trip. How to solve the problem is a complicated discussion but the place to start was identified so eloquently by Dr. King in his speech Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam. If you haven’t ever heard that speech, or if it has been a while since you have, I recommend that you listen to it. I will warn you though that you may be heartbroken when you realize that if you swap a few words like Vietnam for “War on Terror”, and communism for terrorism, and adjust some figures for inflation, these words delivered by King on April 30, 1967, could have been uttered yesterday.  As true today as it was in 1967, Dr. King asserts in that speech that what we need is a “revolution of values.” An excerpt of that part of the speech is embedded below. If the few million revolutions of my bicycle wheels can inspire that one most important revolution in the hearts of just a few of my fellow humans, my trip will have been a grand success.