“Imagine all the people…
Living life in peace…
Nothing to kill or die for…
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one.”
- John Lennon
Randy and I took a cross-country road trip three years ago to take a time-out from our daily lives, enjoy the freedom we all often forget that we have, and choose a small town to which to relocate. The journey was certainly a watershed experience for each of us as individuals as well as for our relationship. Planning for our time on the road, quitting our jobs without a solid plan about where we would live afterward or what our income situations would be, and taking the trip without definite time lines was so much more exhilarating than frightening. Even just looking back on that time is liberating and a source of ongoing empowerment. So our interest is always piqued by others’ “spiritual journeys” of sorts, and we enjoy finding out the philosophies behind these usually once-in-a-lifetime trips.
So we hit the jackpot yesterday when we met Tom Weis through an unlikely series of events. Tom’s cross-country road trip is passing through Springfield this week. Before he was president, then-Senator Obama announced his presidential campaign here in Springfield at Illinois’ Old State Capitol, and Tom hoped to get some video footage at the site. While here, he also planned to take pictures of the power plant and so, wandering onto our lane, got as close as he could before the houses blocked his shot. Our neighbor Terri spotted him pondering his next move. Striking up a conversation with him, she discovered the purpose of Tom’s mission, said he was welcome to use her backyard for his photo shoot and, when she discovered he hadn’t yet arranged lodging for that night, offered her guest house for his use. (Those of you who have read our blog recently are already acquainted with Terri’s famous hospitality.)
Wonder what his mission is? Having spent his entire career as an environmentalist - as a congressional aide and political campaigner and then, most recently, in the field of wind energy technologies - he recently became frustrated with the lack of significant progress Congress and the Obama Administration have made towards developing sustainable energies. At that point, most of us would have just vented to our spouse or friends over a couple of beers. The more passionate of us might have written a letter to our local news publication or blogged about it. But Tom decided he needed to work even harder. So he left his home in Boulder, Colorado on September 12, 2010 for Washington, D.C. On an airplane? No. In a car? Nope. Cashing in his retirement and savings to take a drastic personal stand (or ride, rather), Tom purchased an electrically assisted recumbent tricycle on which to pedal across the country to visit the White House and Congress and advocate along the way for America’s development of 100% sustainable energies by 2020. The side of his vehicle communicates his message clearly, as does Tom in his traveling blog and to the people and news cameras he meets along the way. One of the few items in the tricycle’s incredibly limited storage compartment is a tent, and at night he finds spots to camp. (Little known fact for future road-trippers: In many small Kansas towns, camping on city squares is not only legal but encouraged. Who knew?) Self-employed, Tom’s only real deadline is weather-imposed; he needs to ride to D.C. before winter’s first snows. After he visits the White House and Congress, he’ll travel back home by Amtrak.
Determined to support a fellow road-tripper and eager to present my twenty or so questions, I had Tom over for breakfast this morning. Like me, Tom was inspired in 2007 by Barack Obama’s seeming potential to facilitate meaningful dialogue in order to transcend politics-as-usual in Washington and bring about real solutions to our very real and impending climate and energy problems. Tom voted for Obama, not because he was the Democratic candidate, but because he hoped he could make questions of Democrat-or-Republican irrelevant, at least for awhile. However, before long Tom became disappointed that the Obama Administration has been more focused on political compromise than on developing and implementing wind power and other sustainable energies. Tom believes wholeheartedly that if Obama "would use the full power of the bully pulpit to rally the American people around a green energy moon shot, the American people would back him and Congress would have no choice but to go along." “I am not a Democrat or Republican,” he continued. “If Republicans are the ‘Party of No,’ Democrats are the party of slow. Most Americans I've met on this trip, of every political persuasion, are ready for bold solutions to our energy and climate crises."
We then discussed how advocacy for sustainable energies is also a form of peace activism. In many parts of the world, frustration over western oil corporations’ presence and tactics fuels anti-Americanism and even terrorism, therefore fanning the flames that have resulted in American wars. In fact, few today doubt that America's initiation of the war in Iraq was largely motivated by oil interests in the region.
Always making literary connections, the conversation with Tom brought to mind the book 1984 by George Orwell. It seems that, much as described in the novel, our macro social system conspires to keep us afraid so we will cave to Corporate America’s political arguments. Furthermore, in the Orwellian predicted manner, the American people are kept endlessly busy (an ever increasing slew of stuff that we “need” keeps us working constantly to afford it all), then zoned out in our rare downtime by never-ending entertainment aimed at placating us. Thus we are kept sufficiently distracted so we won’t realize or exercise our personal power and potential. Meanwhile, we’ve enabled the powerful to violate our birthright (a healthy planet) to do whatever necessary (decimate the planet) to make mass profits and ultimately maintain power.
I’ve heard it said that originality is a by-product of sincerity. As much as Randy and I talk about living deliberately, it was terrific to talk with such a grand example of it, including extraordinary doses of both originality and sincerity. Tom’s journey embodies what it means to live with authenticity and passion. My spiritual journey has mostly been about finding a place in life, literally and figuratively, where I can experience calm and respite in a peaceful and loving atmosphere. Tom’s journey, however, is clearly much less about the small bubble of his own life and feelings. His journey is about all of us. It is about securing a place of calm and respite in a peaceful and loving atmosphere – the Earth - for all Americans and humans. His patriotism is inspiring; he has so much confidence in the drive and ingenuity of Americans. It isn’t a political ideology that drives him. It isn’t even bipartisanship. It is anti-partisanship - or, rather, it transcends partisanship. He seems to truly believe that partisanship will become a thing of the past, an eventually antiquated concept, a political science cautionary tale. He believes that Americans from all walks of life can and must find a common ground in order to solve our energy crisis. The common ground? Love: A desire to sustain the prosperity and stability of the country we love, because we all love our children.
Thanks, Tom, for reminding me to Imagine.
Tom Weis is the president of Climate Crisis Solutions of Boulder, CO. You can follow his trip at http://www.rideforrenewables.com.
I caught Tom’s electric, rocket-shaped recumbent tricycle in the neighbor’s driveway last night. It’s basically an aerodynamic cockpit with a pack on the back. He says he can ride about 80 miles each day. The bike has a cover that allows him to ride through rain, but he chose to avoid the major wind storm zipping through the Midwest today. I confirmed that he keeps his sanity on the ride with a well provisioned iPhone4 for music and other conveniences.
He believes it is a reasonable goal for the United States to derive all its electrical power from renewable sources by 2020. His caveat is that a successful conversion of our automobiles to plug-in electrics (i.e. Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt) could require electrical energy beyond current estimates.