Four Freedoms, Distilled

Jeffrey here, back in NYC.  Joey yields the floor for a summing-up.

It’s Memorial Day.  We mourn the uniformed victims of America’s wars—a few wars for survival, mostly wars of political choice.  But that’s too big a topic for this essay of summing-up.

Regarding our 1000 mile goal, Nancy relented a little.  To finish the 2018 Ride, Joey and I will do the remaining 187 miles in NYC and environs, displaying our signs and talking to people.

Maybe we’ll post a coda.  Or maybe we’ll save our local stories for when we gear up next winter for the 2019 Ride.

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We enjoyed our stay in DC.  When I was young, it was a dump.  Now it glitters.

It’s not all glitter.  Beggars—some evidently ill, others likely displaced by gentrification—are legion in this imperial capital.

The fountain outside the Library of Congress reminded me of road turtles.

A74E727C-F9FA-4F02-8B63-0F37FB1C6969And the National Portrait Gallery of prominent people, reminded me of the millions who do the real work of making a nation, and who live and die largely unknown.

Never mind glitter or turtles.  America isn’t sights or animals.  America is People.

What does America look like?  America looks like this . . .

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Shimomura Crossing the Delaware, by Roger Shimomura, an ethnic Japanese who as an American citizen was imprisoned with his family in a U.S. concentration camp. (National Portrait Gallery, Washington)

. . . because America is the country of its inhabitants.  Whoever they happen to be.

(Yes, it was a concentration camp.  See the New Oxford American Dictionary.)

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And America looks like this.

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“Golden Rule” (Norman Rockwell, 1961)

Concerning Norman Rockwell:

Human Rights First’s Washington office displays prints of Rockwell’s 1943 paintings, “The Four Freedoms”.  They were inspired by the 1941 State of the Union address in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt listed the Freedoms—of speech, of worship, from want, from fear—11 months before the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor.

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Note the headline of the newspaper.

Four Freedoms.  But why at Human Rights First?

Executive Director Elisa Massimino suggested that I read FDR’s speech to the end.  And there it was (emphasis added):

Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.  Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them.  Our strength is our unity of purpose.  To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

Imagine a president who doesn’t say that foreigners are diseased criminals; who doesn’t apply vulgar words to foreign lands; who doesn’t bully; who doesn’t praise murderers; who doesn’t worship money; who defines freedom as the supremacy of human rights.

I have been asked why I help persercuted foreigners in America, when so many Americans suffer from injustice.

My answer:  Citizens’ problems can be addressed while they enjoy their undisputed right to be here.

Our laws, though imperfect, promise protection to citizen and immigrant alike.  But when our country is indifferent to human rights abroad, and when it does not let the persecuted exercise their right to ask for refuge in America—when it turns them away without a hearing, or denies them a voice by denying them counsel—refugees have no protection.

As Yakov Bok says of the persecuted in Bernard Malamud’s 1966 novel The Fixer, “God counts in astronomy but where [people] are concerned all I know is one plus one.”

Alone, helping one plus one, we do so little, defend so few.  Alone, my voice and your voice are drowned out.

Yet when we join our voices with Human Rights First’s, we help the millions in God’s astronomy.  We are strong, we are loud, we force the slanderers, the bullies, to reach for their earplugs.

Thank you for following the 8th annual Ride for Human Rights.  Thank you for supporting Human Rights First.

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Every Ride is a plunge into the unknown.  This year, I worried that the nasty political atmosphere would poison my reception in parts of the Heartland.

But everywhere I went, people were kind and thoughtful.  Many were surprised to learn that asylum applicants are “legal”.  They were appalled that refugees, even unaccompanied children, are sent to court without a lawyer’s help.

My anecdotal encounters in 37 states convince me that Americans overwhelmingly have good hearts.  I think that religious and political leaders who address immigration issues calmly and simply, with truth and facts, would find that Americans support a return to American values.

We too can talk to family, friends, neighbors.  We can explain who refugees are and what they fled.  Gently, we can remind people of our moral (e.g., the Bible) and legal (e.g., the Refugee Act of 1980) duty to welcome and protect the stranger.

Then we Americans can make America humane again.

And when the few haters spew hate, we can answer with Rockwell’s “Golden Rule“.

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I’m grateful to the people I encountered on this year’s multipart Ride.  They welcomed me, spoke with me, gave me discounts, offered a wave, tapped a friendly horn toot, allowed my bicycle safe space on the road.

Everyone who posted a comment, sent an email or text, whether or not I acknowledged it individually, smoothed the way.  My children, Deena and spouse David in Kentucky, Rebecca and spouse Andrew in New York, Benjamin in England, were there for me.  Friends at Human Rights First had my back.  Movie-man David, who shot hours of footage in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, enriched the Ride by leading me where I would not have gone but for David’s vision of a documentary film.

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One person deserves more thanks than I can express.

Beautiful Nancy is brilliant, meticulously organized, and a gentle laugh a minute even when she’s laser-focused on business.  She bankrolls my adventures in the Heartland.

For me, the scary bits of every Ride are tangible.  What is tangible, is limited.  From afar, Nancy suffers more than I do, imagining the worst.

Where would I be without Nancy?

Home is where the heart is.

My heart is with Nancy.

Wherever I would be without my Nancy, my love, I wouldn’t be home.

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Hail to the Chiefs!

This morning, we were invited to breakfast at Human Rights First headquarters in Washington.

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Left to right:  Jeffrey, Joey, Elisa Massimino (Executive Director, a.k.a. Chief, Human Rights First)

We were happy to meet some of the DC staff. Jeffrey told stories of our Rides—once he starts, it’s hard to get him to stop!—and Elisa, her colleagues, and Jeffrey exchanged ideas about how better to effect policy change through the Rides and through Human Rights First programs.

Meanwhile, Nancy finished her business meetings and explored the National Portrait Gallery.  More chiefs!

After dinner with a DC friend, the humans walked to the National Mall.

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Left to right:  Jeffrey, Nancy (a.k.a. THE Chief)

We have biked only 813 miles of our annual Ride thousand mile minimum. Chief Nancy says that after Jeffrey’s PE and pneumonia that suspended our San Jose to Seattle Ride, the hot humid Indiana to Louisiana Ride with adjustments for moviemaking, and a third Ride in DC and Virginia, we have worried her enough for one year. She wants us to stop until next spring.

Nancy being THE Chief, we must hasten to obey.

We’ll tie up some loose ends in the coming few days, and will post a summing-up when we’re back in New York City.

In the meantime, we thank you for showing your support by reading our words and following our adventures.  If you want to help further the goals of the Ride, consider HRF’s refugee protection efforts—

“Our Asylum Representation Program, which recruits and trains lawyers to represent refugees on a pro bono basis, is one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind in the country. Its impact could hardly be more profound: liberty instead of oppression, and sometimes life instead of death, for thousands of people. And beginning with the Refugee Act of 1980, which we helped draft, we’ve been at the forefront of all major reforms to the asylum system.”

—and if you haven’t yet done so (and earned your souvenir postcard signed by Jeffrey and me), we invite you to donate to Human Rights First.

See you next week!

 

Persons of Character

This morning, we found our way through the Washington traffic maze to the Kennedy Center.  Hamilton!

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From there, we crossed the Potomac River into Virginia, thus linking DC to our 2012 and 2013 Rides from NYC through Virginia  . . .

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. . . and bicycled to George Washington’s plantation at Mount Vernon.  The entire Virginia journey was on a paved bicycle path, except for a couple of miles on quiet Alexandria streets.

Mr. Kenneth King still works.  He has lived in the Alexandria area all his life.  After retiring from government service, he became a gardener.  He told us about his nearby home town, Gum Springs, settled by his formerly enslaved ancestors.  He said the Alexandria area is booming, and that people are coming here from all over the world.  The local adults know him.  All the children at the nearby school greet him on the street.  His popularity says much about Mr. King’s character.  He is is a lucky and happy man.

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Mr. King is 87.  He looks younger than Jeffrey.

When Jeffrey told Mr. King that we are traveling the country to listen to people and to talk about immigration and refugee rights, he said, “Bless your heart!”  He said that we project an aura of kindness, generosity, and friendship. We’re gratified that Mr. King validated our Human Rights First Ambassadorial approach.

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After 19 miles, we arrived at Washington’s home.

We locked the bicycle, and Dustin put our bag in a safe place.

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Dustin just finished his first year at William and Mary.  He approached college with exactly the right attitude: he took a broad variety of classes in sciences and humanities and is considering his options.

When Dustin heard that asylum applicants are not guaranteed a lawyer, he told Jeffrey that he is disturbed by many aspects of U.S. immigration law.  He agrees that the law does not reflect American values or common sense.  Dustin’s thoughtful empathy shows him to be a man of character.

While I waited in the bicycle bag, Jeffrey toured the Washington mansion (no indoor photos allowed) and explored some of the grounds and outbuildings.  We show only a few sights here.

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The original Mansion had 4 rooms.  At Washington’s death, it had 21.

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Washington’s lands covered 10 miles by 5 miles (16 km by 8 km).  He was a progressive, scientific farmer.

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Grazing bovine.

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Wallowing pig.

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George’s tomb.  His wife, Martha, is entombed to the left.  Behind the black screen, about 50 Washington relatives were laid to rest.

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A reconstructed slave cabin.

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This 1929 monument on the slaves’ burial ground was the first of its kind in the USA.  Another monument was erected a few feet away in 1983.  Many U.S. presidents owned slaves; George Washington was the only president to free all his slaves, albeit upon his death.

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Mt. Vernon has colorful, musical birds.

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A view of Maryland across the Potomac River from the rear terrace.

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Slaves spun thread six days per week.

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This is part of reconstructed enslaved women’s quarters.  The men lived in similarly spare surroundings, often sleeping two to a bunk.

One of the docents said that before the Revolution, Washington tried and failed to have slavery banned from British North America.  He recognized that it was immoral.  And inefficient: in Philadelphia, Washington saw a structure that would have taken his slaves a month to build, erected by free black wage-earning men in two days.

We think of all this when considering the contoversy about monuments to traitors of the so-called Confederacy.  Some defenders of the status quo say if we no longer lionize Robert Lee, the next to go will be slave-owning Founders like Washington.  Nonsense.  Washington built our country; he did not try to destroy it.  He freed his slaves; he did not start a war to keep them in chains.

And we’ll repeat a 1783 Washington quotation that we published last year:  “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”  This is the language of a decent man.

Yesterday we saw the Washington Monument (seen again today, from Virginia, behind the Jefferson Memorial).

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We said yesterday that the obelisk does not evoke Washington’s character.  Here’s something that does.

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This panel, part of a stained glass wall in the Orientation Center, tells the famous story of the cherry tree.

Of course Washington lied.  And he did other troubling things.  He kept slaves.  He had his soldiers burn First Nations villages.  Et cetera.  He was human, therefore imperfect.

But you know something of a person’s character by the stories told about him.  And by what the person says and does.

Our country’s leaders don’t even try to be like Washington anymore.