Pedaling Towards the Presidency for the United States
On August 2nd, 2000, I was riding my bike across Wisconsin on my way back home to Alabama, when I happened to see a local newspaper for sale with something about some "average Joe" running for President of the USA on a bicycle. He and his wife Liz were traveling on bicycles, carrying their two young children on the bikes with them, pulling a trailer, and meeting with people in the local communities. They had been interviewed in Colby, just a day's ride east; however, the interview had been made the previous week.
The family getting ready to start.
I never buy a newspaper because I am environmentally conscious (and also extremely tight with money), but I made an exception in that case. Unfortunately, because he was traveling through dairy country, the article talked mainly about farm issues, so I did not get to learn anything about his bike policies. However, I was intrigued enough to write a semi-humorous article about his campaign for Bicycling Life (which is no longer there).
This fall, I was surprised when I received an email message from "average" Joe Schriner. He had discovered my interview and wanted to talk to me about bicycling-related issues. A month or so later on the day before Thanksgiving, he came through my town (Scottsboro, Alabama), on a trip with his family along the Trail of Tears, already running for the 2004 election. They weren't traveling by bicycle but in a camper, although they had their bicycles with them (in their hometown, the Schriners make about 75% of their trips by bike or on foot).
They are serious about campaigning by bicycle and intend to make a cross-country bicycling campaign trip before the 2004 election. Liz is in the beginning stages of planning such a trip and had a number of questions for me about how to go about it. I think the most useful information I gave her in that regard was about the Warm Showers List and email@example.com, to help them with local contacts and information as they travel. If they were passing through your community, wouldn't it be nice to go out and ride a few miles with them?
I learned that they have made just one bicycle tour while campaigning so far, but it was a big one, a trip of 2,000 miles through the Mid-West from Belmont, Ohio, to San Francis, Kansas, traveling through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa as well. They each carried a child on a baby seat: Sarah was four, and Joseph was two. Joe also pulled a heavy trailer, carrying campaign literature, tent, cooking gear, food, clothing, and whatever else they needed. At one point, reporters from Omaha, Nebraska, came out to interview them while they were still riding. Joe was pedaling up a hill, the sweat was pouring down his back, he was gasping for breath, and the cameras were rolling. One reporter stuck a microphone in his face and asked, "How serious are you about running for President?" Joe answered, "We've been on these bikes 1,700 miles, pulling a 250-pound trailer, and Joseph behind me is toilet training. How serious do you think we are?"
Interviewing the Presidential Candidate
As part of my interview, I asked him the following questions and was able to get his answers, word for word:
Q: What made you decide to run for President of the USA?
A: "I spent eight years on the road as a journalist researching America, sort of like Charles Kuralt, without a following. I looked at everyday Americans doing things within their community, without fanfare, to help the environment, to help the poor, to heal families, that kind of thing. The idea that sprang from that was, wouldn't it be nice to have these everyday Americans running the country?"
Q: What is unique about your method of solving problems?
A: "One, we would shift power in a tremendous fashion back to people at the local level. We would like to see the village council have more power than the federal government. Mobilize things from the grass roots up. Two, we wouldn't live in the White House. We're asking people in America to cut back tremendously on lifestyle. For example, living within the radius of a town, five or ten miles, we would suggest people need to be bicycling and walking a whole lot more. We'd get Dan Burden into the administration to inspire walkable communities nationwide. Lifestyle-wise, we're asking people to forgo the trip to the corner market in a Lexus and to consider bicycling and walking instead. We've grown too soft as Americans. Another example, we talk about house-sharing, cutting back on living space, not only to curb urban sprawl but to reverse it. We believe in voluntary simplicity. We share the bath water and then use the water to wash clothes. Not rhetoric, but our way of living."
Joe Schriner during a meeting.
"What underpins this is social justice; that is, as we cut back, we have more resources to help in the inner cities and the Third World. And also as you cut back, you don't have to work as hard, and you have more time for community and family."
Q: If you increase power at the local level and decrease it at the top, how do you solve the problem of local misuse of power?
A: "Our whole platform relies on people's inherent sense of the common good, so we've researched all these programs that in the right hands can dramatically shift the town as far as the environment and social justice goes. The wild card in this equation is that it's impossible for us to control human nature. So if you have some bad apples, locally or in the federal government . . . . What we hope is that people locally will rise up to fight for what is right."
Q: What specific things would you do that the Democrats and Republicans wouldn't do?
A: "One of the biggest problems is that there are 44 million people with no health insurance. Position papers by the Bush and Gore camps had a lot of proposals of how to remedy that. We had one: the Marrilac Clinic Model. We researched it, and it exists in Grand Junction, Colorado. It's such a simple thing. The Sisters of Charity were running a big hospital, but there were a lot of people in the county who couldn't afford the services, so they started a store-front clinic, with one small room, and one doctor volunteering some time. Incrementally, it began to mushroom. More local doctors started thinking, I can do this too, and nurses started doing the same thing. Then town people, with no medical background, started thinking, I can do some janitorial work or clerical work. This clinic went from one small room to a two-story hospital which now provides for everyone without health insurance. So, when we get to DC, we're going to drive to Grand Junction and say, Look America, here is the answer to the health insurance dilemma in America. We've lost the sense of community, and this is a way to bring the community back on a much deeper level. Incidentally, we would also push for many more prevention programs in the areas of nutrition, exercise, and stress management."
"Another thing that we would do is we would subsidize alternate energy solutions much more. The Republicans and Democrats have taken so much soft money from oil companies, car companies, etc. that they don't promote alternate energy because it would be biting the hand that feeds them."
"We're running as concerned parents. I don't want our children inheriting a world that's laced with greenhouse gases, carcinogens, and ozone holes."
Q: Isn't this some sort of fool's mission?
A: "At times, we do feel like Don Quixote, flailing at windmills, but the genius of what we're doing, at least what we believe is the genius, is by using the platform of running for president, people listen, and we're planting seeds. We don't have to be in Washington DC to inspire the Marillac clinic. Part of our deal is to inspire these things now. Also, the reaction we've seen locally to the "average Joe" phenomena, just because we're not tied to these parties, has been quite positive."
Q: Why use bicycles on some of your campaign trips?
A: "One, we're asking the American public to ride bicycles more, and we believe it, so ..."
"It's our view that bicycling makes sense, common sense. We have a friend back in our hometown of Bluffton, Ohio, who has a bicycle sticker that says, 'QUESTION INTERNAL COMBUSTION!' And we should. Motorized vehicles have led to: part of our increasingly sedentary lifestyle in America; major pollution problems; a lot of premature deaths from accidents... Our administration policies in this area of transportation whould be to promote a shift, a dramatic shift, away from fossil fuel energy to, well, 'personal power' energy."
"Another thing, when you're not enclosed in metal and glass, you're more accessible, and it's increased our camaraderie with our constituents, and currently if way more people bicycled in the communities likewise, there would be more camaraderie to increase the sense of community."
Q: How can you handle children, travel by bike, and conduct a campaign?
A: "We have seen practically every playground in the country. We stopped a lot to let the children burn off energy. These children are being raised without television, and so their sense of wonder about nature and about people is at a pretty high level because they haven't been desensitized by the media. As we travel through rural areas, we see animals, they pet them, we meet fascinating people, and the children get involved in the conversations, etc. It was a wonderful experience for them. The children were a part of everything going on."
Sarah knows who to vote for.
Thanksgiving with the Candidate and his Family
Although I wondered, before Joe arrived, if he would have enough time for me to get any useful information from him, so I was pleased when he gave me all the time that I needed and surprised when I found they intended to camp in Scottsboro for the night, so they could interview me the next day, even though the next day was Thanksgiving. Liz wanted some information about touring, and Joe wanted to interview me about what I was doing with my life for a book he's working on.
A very important part of Joe's campaign is to find out about people and what they are doing to make things better. This is not the usual kind of thing, where the candidate says, "And we want to solve the problem of dental floss found in our communities as is demonstrated by Mrs. Mary Jo Baker; please stand up for a moment, Mrs. Baker." No, this is a case of a candidate who really believes that the solution lies with the people, and who is meeting as many people who are working to solve problems as he can. He has already finished one manuscript about his experiences for his 2000 campaign, which mainly talks about the people he has met. And he's recently declared for campaign 2004.
We spent enough time with each other that I feel I got a real sense of what Joe is like as a person, and I was extremely impressed. This is not a candidate born with a gold spoon in his mouth, who is going to win because all the money is behind him, and not because of his personal qualities; no, this is a real human being who is sincerely interested in making this world a better place and who has dedicated his life to doing so. This is the kind of candidate who ought to win. He is the only candidate I have heard of who is working to solve future problems. Most think ahead only a few years, and many are only thinking of what needs to be said to win the election.
When speaking, he usually used "we" to refer to his positions, and that wasn't just rhetoric. He and Liz are a team and make their decisions together.
If his chances of winning the presidency are much smaller than those of heavily-backed candidates, his opportunities for being an advocate for change are much greater. Every day, he is meeting with local citizens to gather new ideas. The fact that he is running for President gives him an opportunities for local press coverage that are denied you and me. And each time he gets press coverage, he talks about these wonderful ideas that could transform the US. According to Joe, during Campaign 2000, the Schriners' story appeared in some 200 newspapers, numerous regional TV and radio regional network news spots, and on the bulletin board at the General Store in Loma, Montana. Joe emphasizes that it was placed in the center of the bulletin board. If nothing else, Joe is a great advocate for meaningful change.
I ate my Thanksgiving dinner with Joe, Liz, Sarah, and Joseph on a picnic table. We ate a meal which Liz prepared in the camper, a salad with grated cheese plus beans and rice. Certainly, "Average Joe" Schriner is not running for President because he wants to be treated like a king; instead, he treated me as if I were the honored guest.
For more information about Joe, visit his website at www.voteforjoe.com. His book on his campaign 2000 is in progress and will be available through his website. Joe has sent me an advanced copy, and it's full of their experiences meeting people all around the country. Joe didn't just make the above statements to get featured on my bike pages: the book is full of interviews with advocates for a greener way of life. I also found myself laughing at Joe's dry, self-depreciating humor and greatly enjoying the story.