Photo Credit: Becky Frank
The message? Forget about politics. Just get it done.
These elite and dedicated cyclists rode not just for Newtown (where I live) but for Connecticut and all of America. You can retrace their progress on their Facebook page, or by clicking the Team 26 tag here on Daily Kos, where a miniblogathon chronicled their progress.
Having arrived back in Newtown, we are delighted to present an interview with Team 26 leader Monte Frank. Follow us below the fold for a talk with the Newtown resident responsible for creating Team 26.
Daily Kos: How did you come up with the idea for the ride, the support staff, the web page, the rallies... All of them so well executed and in such a short planning period of time?
Monte Frank: The idea came to me in the middle of the night shortly after 12/14. The ride combined my passion for cycling with a strong desire to do something. In the morning, I called some of my cycling buddies and we were off to the races. The first task was putting together the team. It was important that our team consist of cyclists capable of doing the ride, but at the same time represent a cross section of America. For example, our riders are teachers, dads, a mom, a high school junior, a Vietnam veteran, a Newtown Police Officer, and a librarian. We represent many northeastern states. Many of the riders brought some formidable skills to the table. Stephen Badger, an IT specialist, designed the Facebook page and headed up an awesome logistics team. They went to work planning out the route, hotels, support vehicles, food, permits etc. Greg Meghani handled the sticker sales to fund our hotels, food and gas for the support vehicles. Meanwhile, I went to work planning for a 400 mile rolling rally. And, we did it. We held events in Newtown, Ridgefield, Parsippany, Morristown, Frenchtown, Baltimore, College Park and at the Capitol. Each one was perfect. The logistics were flawless.
Daily Kos: Did you see the comment from the Facebook page about the spontaneous applause from the Blue Colony Diner (in Newtown at the beginning of the trip) as the team rolled by? Did Team 26 know that support like that was following you everywhere along the route (and here on Daily Kos)?
Monte Frank: We heard about the Blue Colony Diner applause from a post, but did not see it. We expected strong support in Connecticut and at our events. What we did not expect was everything else. On Day 2, we began to sense that the word was getting out. At the beginning of the day, riders began commenting that a friend or relative from some other part of the country sent a text or an email saying we saw you on the news and great job, or we’re so proud of you. But, we were in somewhat of a news cocoon, and did not realize the extent of the momentum that was building around us and throughout the country. Peter was reading the Daily Kos blog, writing his own diary, and telling us about all of it. I did not have a free minute to read or watch anything. Peter then suggested that I start tweeting for the live blog, which was awesome.
In Frenchtown, we had a really special event with Mayor Warren Cooper and Mike Pohle whose son was killed at Virginia Tech. Then, we stopped at Wawa in Pennsylvania, and the magnitude of the ride started to hit us. While pouring my coffee, a teenager stood behind me and took a picture of the back of my green and white jacket and I watched her text it. Outside we were greeted by random people who said they saw us on the news and thanked us.
However, in our wildest dreams, we did not anticipate what would occur the next two days. On the road to Baltimore, scores of people honked their horns in support. Many others gave us the thumbs-up. As we rode through Baltimore with a full police escort, people whipped out their iPhones to photograph us or take some video. It was truly humbling.
When we arrived at City Hall, the media was everywhere. We were brought up to the Mayor’s Ceremonial Room for a press conference at which the Mayor declared March 11, 2013 “Sandy Hook Ride on Washington Day in Baltimore.” We stood with her proud to represent Newtown and to unite Baltimore and Newtown.
Daily Kos: With the ride complete, your work was only starting. There was lots to do in DC on Tuesday after you arrived. Can you tell us how your day went, with the rider escort from College Park, MD, and the Team 26 riders talking to Congress afterwards? Do you think you accomplished what you needed to? What’s next for Team 26?
Monte Frank: At College Park, we met the riders from the Virginia Tech Victims Cycling Team for the ride into DC. We were cold and wet, but the emotional uplift of the union with the VTV riders gave us the warmth we needed to get back on our bikes for the final ride to the Capitol. When we hit the DC line, we were greeted by another police escort. This one took us through DC, including right by the White House, en route to the West Front of the Capitol. The feeling of riding next to Omar Samaha, whose sister was killed in French class at Virginia Tech, through the arteries of Washington with a full police escort halting traffic, is beyond words. I cannot describe what it was like to speak from the podium with my girls at my side, my team and the Congressional delegation at my back, and all the while gazing out at the Mall. Being able to deliver and read two letters, one from 32 family members and the other from Chris and Lynn McDonnell, to Senator Blumenthal gave us an incredible feeling of pride and accomplishment. And, of course, our message was clear: “Please put politics aside, and get it done.” It was heard far and wide. Mission accomplished. More importantly, the Assault Weapons Ban bill, the Trafficking bill and the Background Check bill made it out of committee. Now that we’re back in Connecticut, Team 26 will support the Newtown grassroots groups, including the Newtown Action Alliance and the United Physicians of Newtown, and work with Coalition groups to keep the pressure on Congress to pass those bills. In other words, we will continue to grow the Connecticut Effect. We are also working on some other things which are very exciting. Please like our Facebook page to join the next stage of our tour.
Monte Frank: All but Officer Jeff Silver of the Newtown Police Department are very experience cyclists. Most of us race, and train year-round. Jeff did neither. In fact, until Jeff started training about 6 weeks ago, he had not spent much time on a bike at all. But, his determination and resolve was awesome, and the Team rallied around him. We were determined to get him up the hill and literally pushed him. At one point, I looked down at my power meter and I was generating 400+ watts while pushing Jeff, which is a lot since I weigh 135 pounds. So, as long as Jeff kept pedaling, we took turns pushing him. It was totally awesome teamwork. I wore the helmet cam during the ride. It actually gave me a little bit of a sore neck, but it was worth it. I enjoyed interviewing Vinnie of Maryland Against Gun Violence on the ride into Baltimore. If you turn up the volume, you can hear our discussion. I shot video at other portions of the ride, including the ride from College Park to the Capitol. I will post more video over time.
Daily Kos: We profiled each of the riders and support staff for our readers from your Facebook page, but could you tell us how the Newtowners on Team 26 felt about having so much rider support from outside the town, and not just Team 26 members, but folks from the Virginia Tech Victims Cycling Team, mayors from towns along the way, and well wishers (complete strangers, many of them) along the road?
Monte Frank: I have now met people from Aurora and Virginia Tech. I don’t know how to say it, so I just will. There is a certain understanding or bond between people from towns that suffered through mass shootings that people who are not from those Towns cannot understand. I am not diminishing the feelings of others, but just trust me when I say it is not the same. When we passed the White House and headed to the Capitol, all of the Newtowners and Virginia Tech cyclists rode at the front. The feeling of unity between us, and the support of the remaining team riding right behind us, was amazing. As for the various mayors, standing with them was extremely important, gun violence occurs in our cities every day. Small towns and big cities need to work together if we are going to muster the political force necessary to overcome the NRA’s stranglehold on the gun issue. I viewed the event in Baltimore as the most significant event of our ride, and worked hard on preparing meaningful comments. As for well-wishers, they were plentiful and awesome, and most were complete strangers. Following the ride, I have thought a lot about the ride and why we succeeded in striking such a strong chord with our community and Americans from coast to coast. The answer is clear. America is and has always been about what Grace McDonnell embodied: “Love, Peace and Hope.” Our ride registered because with every pedal stroke we were delivering the promise of a better tomorrow – that from the ashes of unspeakable tragedy, the American spirit rises above and endures.
Daily Kos: Are you ready to ride again or do you not want to see a bicycle seat for a month? I had to ask.
Monte Frank: I took one day off the bike. Anything more than that and I would suffer withdrawal symptoms.
Daily Kos: Thank you, Monte.