Over the last two years, as part of my work on the climate crisis, I’ve been part of two multi-day bike rides and two multi-day walks, all of which were valuable in a number of ways. The two bike rides were the five-day, 300 mile, NYC to DC Climate Rides in 2012 and 2013, and the two walks were the 50-mile March on Blair Mountain in 2011 and the 100-mile Walk for our Grandchildren this past July.
All of these actions had significant impacts upon the people who took part in them, including me. Combining action on an issue with strenuous physical activity over a number of days with like-minded sisters and brothers has a way of deepening the commitment to a particular cause by those involved.
Based on my experiences, I would say that this happens because during these walks and rides a person meets new people who have similar beliefs and a shared commitment. As a result, new friendships can easily develop. Community-building is at the heart of these multi-day actions. And in this insecure and often-difficult world, to make these kind of connections is no small thing.
Walking and riding also encourage personal meditation, which is a good thing.
These actions have ripple effects. Others not taking part but who hear about them, or who see the walkers or riders as they go by, are often affected by the willingness of people to undertake such actions despite the physical challenges involved.
The most recent action of this kind for me was the Climate Ride from NYC to Washington, D.C., a 300 mile trip over a five day period of time. It was not easy, although there were many special moments as we rode through the often-beautiful countryside and sometimes gloried in long downhill rides. Those helped to counter-balance the many hills, some very steep and/or long, over which we had to ride.
Because this was such an out-of-the-ordinary experience, I was able to get a local media outlet in my town to carry my daily blog, and I know others were also able to get local media coverage. Though we didn’t get any major media, these smaller-market, more localized forms of media coverage are very much part of the process of movement-building.
Indeed, a person who I met on the Climate Ride made a comment at one point about how this action helped her to feel part of a movement. For people whose work to make a living may not put them in frequent contact with movement realities, these actions, as is also true for conferences and demonstrations, are morale builders and strengtheners.
Mass movements on other issues and in other countries have often used long, multi-day walks as an effective tactic. For the Indian independence movement, Gandhi’s salt march to the sea had a huge impact. For the civil rights movement of the 60’s, the Selma to Montgomery march was a very big deal. The American Indian Movement held a successful “Longest Walk” across the United States in 1978, and another one was held in 2008. The organization 350.org grew in part out of a five-day walk in Vermont in September, 2007. And there are other examples.
A Great March for Climate Action is being organized for next year. As described at climatemarch.org, “The goal of the Great March for Climate Action is to change the heart and mind of the American people, our elected leaders and people across the world into acting now to address the climate crisis.” The march will leave from Los Angeles on March 1 and walk nearly 3,000 miles across the country to Washington, D.C. It was initiated by former Iowa state legislator Ed Fallon.
Next year will also see Climate Rides on the west coast and east coast, in May and September.
Walking and biking are both healthy activities that are good for you. Combining them with action for a better world has been proven to be effective. Let’s keep moving!