Hail to the Chiefs!

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


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.


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!


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


. . . 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.


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.


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

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


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.


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


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


Grazing bovine.


Wallowing pig.


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


A reconstructed slave cabin.


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.


Mt. Vernon has colorful, musical birds.


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


Slaves spun thread six days per week.


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).


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


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.

In The City That Doesn’t Listen To What The People Say

This morning we rode the rails to the SW end of the Northeast Corridor line:  Washington, DC.


A kind gentleman in the Union Station taxi line took our photo.

Here I am in front of the White House.


Secret Service agents looked the other way to allow Jeffrey to put me on the fence.  Jeffrey remembers when the sidewalk wasn’t off limits, when Americans could approach, even enter, the White House.

We contemplated the (George) Washington Monument.


Somehow it doesn’t evoke Washington’s renowned character.

We pedaled to the Capitol.  In Jeffrey’s youth, the People’s House wasn’t closed and barricaded.


That’s the Washington Monument at the other end of the Mall.


Everywhere we went, people talked to us, asked about the Ride, and expressed support for providing counsel and giving a humane reception to refugees and asylum applicants.  A family from India, now living in Connecticut.  A woman who said her first readings in law school were about refugees who were returned by the U.S. to face the persecution they had fled; she personally has helped resettle Syrian refugees, and said it is getting harder and harder to help them.  People from the world over who photographed our sign.

Here are some of our many new friends.


L to R:  Riley, Joey, Keena.  They’re from Tupelo, Mississippi—we were there a few days ago!  Riley is a fine gentleman who believes in being kind to others.  That means that if people fleeing persecution aren’t equipped to apply for asylum without a lawyer’s help, a lawyer should be provided.  Keena agrees.  Like other Mississippians we met on our Ride, they get it!

Pedaling away from the Mall, Jeffrey spotted the Mayflower Hotel.  When he was 18, he won a scholarship and stayed there for a week as the guest of the W. R. Hearst Foundation.  He stopped for a souvenir photo.


L to R:  Joey, Jeffrey

Asmamaw took our photo, and let us take his.


Asmamaw grew up in Ethiopia.  He misses the Old Country, yet is grateful to be here.  He says it’s only fair for asylum applicants to have lawyers.

Our travels show that DC locals, and tourists, get it.  People from Maine to California, from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico, get it.

The get what it takes to be fair to foreigners, to the fearful, to the oppressed.

We saw the White House.  We saw the Capitol.  We thought of the people who work in those buildings on our behalf.  Why don’t they get it?

Americans want to be kind.  They tell us so.  Yet our leaders talk trash and act mean in our names.

Tomorrow we’ll link DC to the rest of our Rides by tagging up in a neighboring state.  And inspired by George Washington, we’ll think more about character.