By Patrick Randall, aka the Freeway Blogger
Rarely do those of us in a position to help find ourselves in the places where that help is needed. Finding those places and those people—getting out of your comfort zone—that’s where the real rewards take place.Getting out of the comfort zone is one of the biggest problems for a political activist, one I challenge myself on repeatedly and often fail. No one is this more clear than taking the initiative on simply making something happen. And I'm positive that's why ever since I heard about the Freeway Blogger, he's been my model of the direct action hero. Most famously, for things like this:
I'm too biased from editing (and still too awestruck) to do a straight book review, so let me just say this. Ladies and gentleman, I'd like to present Take to the Hills! Clothing the Sierra Madres, an account of one of the Freeway Blogger's first direct actions, a thing of beauty, simplicity and adventure: Taking discarded clothing from the relatively affluent in America and delivering it directly to isolated villages in the mountains of Mexico.
His journey had three requisite elements of sustained direct action: It worked, it was simple, it was (dare we say it?) an adventurous blast to undertake. The book is equal parts philosophical, fun and inspiring. So please head below the fold for a few small excerpts and photos that shows how good works and good times can combine ... heading into the rugged mountains of Mexico without a map and sleeping under the stars in a cranky old Volkswagen van. And loving every bloody minute of it.
When I was done I could look at a globe, put my finger down on one spot and say, “There, right there. The people who live in this place are at least slightly better off because of what I did.”
They were living in the Mexican outback dealing with poverty and cold, while I was living at the beach in San Diego, teaching English at San Diego State University. While they were fighting cholera, I was cleaning my apartment in order to avoid grading papers, standing there and holding a bunch of extra stuff, wondering what to do with it.
In a very real way it crystallized everything about life in the the first and third worlds: We spend our time dealing with our surpluses while they spend theirs coping with their lack. More than geographically, you couldn't get further from those villages than where I was standing.
I spent my first night out on a dirt road in the Arizona desert, alone under the stars. It was cold, of course, but I had something like fifty blankets to keep me warm. I went to sleep that night knowing that I was Doing It. I had about six hundred pounds of clothing and blankets and was on my way to find those villages. I was on a mission.
When I got back I traded in the van for a used four-wheel drive pickup and set up a website and a non-profit called "Take to the Hills!" My pitch was simple: "I'll take your clothes, put them in my truck and drive them up to the people who need them." Pretty much everyone I talked to thought it was a good idea, but there were a few—maybe one in ten—who really got it. A sort of fire came to their eyes as they listened and they'd say, "No, I mean it: that's a really, really good idea." And it was: take from the rich and give to the poor. Hard to argue with that.
Here are some other things I learned:ORDERING INFO:
- Used clothing, at least in the first world, is free. Just about as much as you want. Also, there are five or six pieces of women's clothing to every one of men's.
- The most valuable clothing to poor communities is children's clothes, particularly for adolescent boys. Coats and blankets are great, but kids clothes are like gold.
- One of the easiest things you can do to alleviate human misery is collect warm clothing, put it in your car, and then go find people who are cold.
- If you find yourself changing a tire in a lightning storm, stop.