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Recently, I’ve had a couple of interviews, via email correspondence. Thought you might want to read them. They have been a good way for me to stay centered with the Peace mission-staying close to my beliefs. I might finally be getting a grip on a 40 hrs work week again. I’ll be honest-it’s been hard to switch gears. I’m trying to keep my head up and earn some cash, without being drained and while still giving myself time to appropriately incubate all the past 3 month experiences. My friends Andy and Christy were staying here the past 4 days, and Andy set up an interview with me-on video. I froze a bit in front of the camera- choked up when trying to explain the trip. I know that these other interviews helped jumpstart me back into gear. Andy was interested in the “what now that its over”. More to come 🙂
Questions by Nicholas Cole
How would you communicate or coordinate your efforts with other activists without the internet? Would you be more or less active without the internet?
Before the internet, my focus was much more local and regional. I subscribed to zines, newspapers, and relied on local chapters. My close proximity to Washington D.C. meant better access to activists groups and information.
Also, I, like many others, are coming of age, so to speak, with the internet intertwined into our lifestyle. So, its hard to address whether or not I would be more or less active without it. Prior to the internet, I was still a free thinker and mobilized to support social justice. Revolutions have been forged without the internet.
Does the internet make your efforts much easier?
The internet has definitely strengthened the grassroots community. Activists now have a faster avenue to share information, build contact lists, and attract participants. Information is now traveling much faster than ever before. But so do the organizations that they are mobilizing against. It’s also probably a lot safer for someone “riding the fence” to check out a website before attending a groups direct action demonstration. The internet has that comfort feature-which ultimately means more inclusivity. While some people might not come to an event or protest, the internet gives them a way to donate, comment, and relay messages. The internet is such a blessing that I fear there will be a eventual seizure of its public accessibility. One thing to remember though is that it is not truly a democratic experience. There are demographics who can’t get online-who don’t have the resources to connect.
It made my efforts much easier, and continues to, because I want to host One Billion definitions for Peace online. This means the website will be up for the rest of my life. This particular art/activist project would be impossible without the internet. You, the interviewer would not have heard of my project where it not for the internet. So many people were able to contact me-house and feed me, because they heard about the trip via the internet.
How would you have funded your trip without the donations given through your website?
Great question. What happened was the way it was supposed to happen. The quote, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the rest of the staircase,” by Martin Luther King, JR. echoed in my head as I made plans to take the trip. In June, I decided to push ahead with P.E.A.C.E SCOOTER, no matter what obstacles where in my way. I was going to start walking if necessary. I had no money to even buy the necessities-riding jacket, good helmet, saddlebags, tent, and the like . I decided to take a small loan out, which disappeared early on. I now make monthly payments on it.
Perhaps I would have waited a year and applied for grants. There was always the promise of numerous sponsorship, but I didn’t want to convolute or restrict the message of the trip. Fortunately, Genuine Scooters offered full support. It was an honor to have such great people behind my cause. My belief is that there is more than enough to go around in this world., so I didn’t want to let lack of money stop me.
Do you think the internet has caused people to become lazier (in that they are not going out and protesting or participating in a unique way, as you did) or more active ( in that more people can speak out over the internet via message boards, blogs and online petitions)?
I believe that people are too preoccupied by the whole rat race to be conscious activists. I also think there are a lot of scare tactics, like Homeland Security, police abuse, FBI/CIA profiling that keep people from being visible activists.
At the very least, the internet makes people more politically informed.
Active? Well, there are different perspectives. Is the true definition of active being visible and taking direct action in a public sphere? I still think of activism as a social activity, one that requires the mobilization and engaging of actual people. I think the internet helps in connecting and educating people, but they still need to come out, be counted, and experience a palpable solidarity.
Short version: Do you think the internet has helped or hurt the anti-Iraq-war (or other anti-war) cause(s)?
There is no way that the internet is responsible for hurting the anti-Iraq war cause, nor has it been that helpful. Perhaps someone who organizes protests would think differently-I would ask them. My personal experience is that even with resources like the internet, many anti-war/ pro-peace groups are disconnected. I noticed a lack of solidarity among peace groups and activists while I was traveling. A divisive, competitive mentality will hurt the anti-war movement far more than the internet. Historically, except for the Civil Right Movement, a minority group (or activist group) will experience internal dissent which dilutes the group’s unity and focus. Whenever a group struggles for power against another who shares a similar message-the original altruistic notion become less important. The competition for recognition and resources becomes the focus-not the cause.
Going along with the question above…What would your definition of an activist be?
I believe there are many shades of activism. An artist, too, beliefs in direct action- in just the manifesting of their vision. Activism and activists can take many forms, but there are certain distinct principles to an activist. I don’t think an activist has to be confrontational, as usually perceived. Unfortunately, speaking your mind, proposing big questions and challenges is often seen as contentious.
Any persons who take direct action to support their beliefs, to cultivate a better world and to create common ground. An activist questions injustice and proposes viable solutions to build better futures. An activist faces challenges and disciplines themselves-working for a political or social goal. That type of willingness, selflessness and determination is rare. They view obstacles as landmarks, not roadblocks. Ironically, activism has a certain duality, it involves both opposition and support. Sometimes its hard to remember that someone shares as much conviction as you do towards a cause, but in opposition. I try to remember that and craft a dialogue from the differences, until we can find a common ground, or simply listen to one another with respect.
Questions by Rebecca LaFlure
What was it that inspired you to travel 11,000 miles on a scooter in the shape of a peace sign?
The overall impetus was my love for America and my belief that we are all responsible for creating a better world. Earlier this year, I felt a consuming frustration with our Nation and it’s lack of deliberate, mainstream movement calling for Peace and Justice. I don’t believe that promoting Peace and Justice should be left to grassroots, alternative organizations. I think a Peace making mentality should be first and foremost in all our internal and international affairs- should saturate our culture. The initial catalyst for the trip was a quote I saw at the John Lennon Instant Karma art exhibit; “If a billion people were thinking about Peace, there would be Peace in our world.” The immediate thoughts that followed were, “Wow, that seems really easy. Why wouldn’t a billion people think about peace? Do people know what Peace means to them?.” I instantly realized that most people believe Peace is impossible and I wanted to know why.
How did you get the idea?
I spent the next week (after the art exhibit) perplexed that a majority of people in our world do not have a working definition of Peace. I was also sick of just holding up Peace banners at anti-war rallies. I wanted to make my route be the sign-it’s the idea that Peace is the Way. The idea quickly morphed and all components began to fall into place. I decided traveling the Peace sign route would give me a good representation of American ideology. I would be able to hear the perspectives from many demographics and see if they had a definition of Peace. If they already did-well good-either way I would have a chance to listen and learn.
I choose to ride the scooter because it “environmentally friendlier”- on the oil supply and the roads. And they are FUN. I think everyone who can should own a scooter. With an escalating environmental crisis and exorbitant fuel costs, scooters are a fun and logical mode of transportation. I also had little funding to complete the trip and I had to big obstacles-time and money. Riding a scooter meant I could cover more miles than biking or walking-therefore I could interview more people. My scooter was also a great conversation piece and icebreaker. “You rode that thing from Virginia?” gave me a way in-automatic credibility.
Were there any moments during the trip where you felt like giving up? Any bad weather?
Oh there were many challenges. But I never wanted to give up. It became a quest to transcend whatever fears or self-imposed limitations I had. Quickly I realized that the world out there is not as scary as the one projected onto our TV screens. I became comfortable traveling alone as a woman, taking the necessary precaution of course, but it took awhile to push past years of programming that woman aren’t safe when traveling alone.
I was also scared of lightning when I started this trip, and by the first night was riding in it, along with pouring rain and hail. I was stuck out in the Plains during amazing storms, with not a place to seek cover, lightning striking around me. Physically, riding on 12 inch wheels for 11,000 miles can be brutal. My butt never hurt, something I get asked frequently, but overall my body ached. Had I not tried to cover so many miles in a short time, it would have been fine. I rode in temperatures from 40-105, and I learned to turn those climate changes into metaphors for the cultural climates I went through. I learned to laugh through what could seemingly be tragic, some random mishaps with the scooter and I used this quote often: “Calm seas don’t make good sailors.”
Did you recieve any oppopsition during your travels or were people mostly supportive?
Oh, people were surprisingly supportive, even in very conservative climates. My approach, from the beginning, was to be inclusive. I didn’t tell anyone they were wrong or try to change people’s minds-and that makes a difference in the dialog. I simply asked, “What does Peace mean to you.” Of course, there were responses that I didn’t politically agree with, but my role was to facilitate a common ground, and steer us away from an often divisive political framework. I played a beautiful role of “midwiving” people’s thoughts about Peace. Often they were more personal with me, I believe, because there was no threat, no judgement, and because I was leaving the next day.
There is something liberating about sharing your personal stories with a passing stranger-you don’t get that uncomfortable “morning after” feeling.
Sometimes just holding a space to listen to people allows them to listen to themselves-and that will create a life change.
I found, unfortunately, that the hardest conversations were with people my age, whose apathy and mistrust have made them quite jaded. Although, they were often super excited and thought the trip was cool,but it was harder to delve into the deep conversations.
I never once felt that my life was in danger, by grace, I felt protected and welcomed almost every place I visited. Even in conservative areas people would stop me and offer donations and encouragement. A lot of conservatives also said they don’t approve of the war and although they voted for George W. Bush, they wouldn’t do it again .
What are some memorable places that you stopped to talk to people?
Wow, I have an incredible amount of memories that I am sorting through and processing. From Wayne, NE to Newton, KS, the many people I met made the landscape more memorable. Never before had Kansas seemed so interesting. I stopped in Newton, KS because of the Mennonite Church, whose doctrines explore the presence of God in peacekeeping.
The first one that comes to mind is the most recent-meeting Kay at the Crawford Peace House. I didn’t speak with her until two weeks before my arrival. Our phone conversations really offered me the support and clarity that I needed those last two weeks on the road. For three months I knew the Peace House was my final destination, but I tried hard not to forecast how it would end. Within my first ten minutes there, it was more than I ever could have envisioned. It felt like coming home, to have “Momma Peace,” (as we dubbed her-maybe others have too) greet me and to know, at every level, what I intended through this journey. It was really a refuge. We met and then walked through the Peace Labyrinth, sharing our thoughts about Peace, world change, politics and war. It was mythical, as though she was my Daedalus, a guide helping me find a way to process the many events of P.E.A.C.E SCOOTER.
Another memorable place was the International Peace Garden in North Dakota. Sadly, there were very few people there. It’s a lovely garden, created in 1932, by Theodore Roosevelt. It wasn’t a planned stop, but I asked why the North Dakota license plates say, “The Peace Garden State,” and discovered we share a Peace Garden with Manitoba.
What’s the overall message you want to give to the U.S.?
That for us to build a better future we must utilize a common ground and build from those similarities, instead of being polarized by our differences. Our daily lives need to be extensions of our beliefs. Justice and Peace are worth working for, even if you support the war. In fact, the war itself is meant to create a democracy, its being sold as a noble gesture to improve lives in the Middle East. We must always consider how to achieve more Peace, and to do so we must know what Peace means to us. I have received many answers to that question and I hope to receive many more. The website, www.peacescooter.com will be up and running the rest of my life, to collect one billion definitions of Peace. Every individual has a responsibility to help make a better world-to be the change they wish to see.
I chose to travel in the shape of a peace sign for many reasons. First and foremost to indicate that Peace is the Way. Our country is often polarized into two camps; anti-war or pro-war. That classic division seems outdated to me. I believe there is a common ground deep under the surface of classical political and religious differences.
War itself in the “post war era” is a different cup of tea. Most military operations are now intended to do good for smaller countries, not harm. Let’s focus on the good that is intended-that’s a common ground, something we need to utilize more in conversation. Constantly seeking a common ground and utilizing non-violent priniciples are the only way we will foster a culture of Peace. We need to have the patience and interest to ask important questions like, “Is War really the way to Peace?”
Will there always be conflict? Yes. But how do we want to resolve it, and will our decisions be good for future generations?
Any plans for a future scooter tour?
You know, three weeks ago, I would have said No. I do entertain thoughts about doing the route again, maybe every 5 years, and schedule talks and rallies along the way. The hardest part, the ground work has been done. Now I know which roads to take, good stopping places and organizations located around the country.
I’m also very open to collaborating with interested parties in the future. I know that at least 4 different groups either walked, biked, or scooted for Peace this past summer. One of those parties has contacted me to mention combining resources and doing another cross country ride for Peace. I believe the Peace movement needs to channel its collective resources for any of us to really be effective. A massive mobilization can reach more people and be funded a lot better. I incurred some debt by plunging into this journey solo. Thankfully, the company, Genuine Scooters, donated the scooter and provided free routine maintenance. Genuine’s support also made the trip more visible and scooterists offered lodging around the country.
Otherwise, I just got my scooter back and I’m excited about taking small jaunts around my hometown. My happiness seems to be proportional to the amount of miles I ride in a day!
And finally… does your scooter have a name?
Audre, The Chrome Mistress. It seems a lot of the readers on www.peacescooter.com remembered her name- which is pretty cool. Often though, I was addressed as “Scooter girl.” I’ve noticed that a lot of women around the country get called Scooter Girl. Seems kind of funny to me-I can’t think of a single guy with the moniker,”Scooter Boy.” Her name came to me within our first 60 miles together. It’s kind of a rite of passage, naming the scooter. I decided to spell it without the “y” in honor of Audre Lorde, who said, “You can’t dismantle the master’s house, using the master’s tools.” That’s an ideology that I kept close with me this summer.