Jeffrey and I have biked 255 miles on our Pandemic Virtual Ride. Out west, that would have taken us to Creston, Washington.
While we wait for the Real Thing, let’s take a ride along the Hudson River!
History is a river that never ends. Today is history, and I am here at the fountainhead. • Wilbur Smith (Britain, 1933 – )
Manhattan’s Algonquin Lenape (First Nation) inhabitants called the Hudson River, Muhheakunnuk, The River That Flows Two Ways.
Let’s explore whither flows the River of History.
We rode downtown on the east side of the Hudson, on the 1998 bikeE that carried us to Iowa in 2011.
At “B” on the map: Jeffrey’s “Department of Docks Building, Pier A, Manhattan”, May 19, 2020; and Berenice Abbott’s photo of the same name, May 5, 1936.
We stopped at the somber Merchant Marine memorial.
We couldn’t find sculptor Wopo Holup’s work. But we found an inscription for it.
The lower Hudson River is tidal. The flow changes according to the tides, which is good for wildlife and navigation. It’s one reason NYC became a world capital.
From nearby, we could see the statue called “Liberty Enlightening the World”—symbol of the world’s hope for a just and welcoming America—and Ellis Island, where some of Jeffrey’s ancestors (and maybe yours) began their American adventure.
After World War 2 ended 75 years ago, Americans relearned the principles of the Statue and of Ellis Island that we had forgotten in the 1920s.
In fits and starts, with significant new laws in 1951, 1965, and 1980, our country began to create a more welcoming and inclusive society, providing protection for the vulnerable and persecuted, whether native or foreign-born. With ripples and eddies, the river of History flowed in a humane direction.
The River of History now flows the other way. Our county brutalizes people seeking refuge, bans them, jails them, denies them a hearing, expels them into danger, all in violation of our own laws.
We turned toward the Irish Hunger Memorial, at “D” on the NYC map above.
The Memorial is an abandoned Irish house rebuilt atop descriptions of the 1845-49 failure of Ireland’s potato crop; Irish starvation while rich British landowners exported huge crops of grain; and the world’s response.
British government indifference let a million Irish people starve to death, and drove a million more abroad.
Despite the persecution of Irish immigrants in America, Americans sent help to Ireland. The Memorial records donations by individuals, fraternal and labor organizations, churches and synagogues, the Choctaw Nation, and New York prisoners, among others.
The River of History now flows the other way. American government indifference to Choctaw suffering in the 2020 pandemic has led the Irish to aid the Choctaw Nation. Citizens of the richest country on earth need help from a poorer foreign land where the people know that government can be the solution, while in America our leaders excuse inaction by saying that “government is the problem”.
We returned home, started north on our Lightning Phantom bicycle, and went down the west side of the Hudson to Staten Island.
Along the way, people saw our Ride signs and called out to us. “Keep safe!” “Nice bike!” “Thank you, God bless!” (One—only one—young Staten Islander pulled his SUV alongside and cursed us for biking on “his” road.)
We crossed the George Washington Bridge to Ft. Lee, New Jersey. (Ft. Lee was named for a patriot of the American Revolution, not for “Confederate” traitor R. E. Lee.)
We saw our NYC home, outlined in red, from a mile away in West New York, NJ.
We passed through several small towns, past the beautiful 175’ (53 meter) 1883 Weehawken Water Tower that we see from our home in Manhattan . . .
. . . to where Aaron Burr shot political rival Alexander Hamilton in 1804.
In Hamilton’s day and after, assassination of character and physical brutality were part of politics. Over many years, American political culture became less violent. We remember the 1980s when President Reagan and House Speaker O’Neil were dedicated political enemies who’d denounce one another’s politics (nothing personal), then meet to share whiskey and stories.
The River of History now flows the other way. It starts at the top. Our president spends hours each week sending messages of hate and contempt, making baseless accusations of treason and murder, about people who disagree with him.
After Jersey City, we reached Bayonne and the bridge to NYC’s Staten Island.
We biked along the Staten Island coast to the ferry terminal, took the free ferry to Manhattan . . .
. . . and biked home on the east side of the Hudson.
As we rode, we thought about rivers and how they flow.
Liberty and human rights for all. Government relief of human suffering. Political disagreements without physical or character assassination. During our professional careers—Jeffrey’s since 1981, mine since 1991—until a few years ago, under both major political parties, our national river flowed one way.
Now, in ways that matter to us and to Human Rights First, the river flows the other way.
Faster and faster.
I’m a puppet so I have no heart.
If I had a heart, it would be broken.