by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC
Along with several others, I have this sticker on my bicycle…I picked it up at my local cycle shop – I liked it since I had recently decided to drive a lot less and start getting to work and around town by bicycle and yes, I thought of it as a responsible action.
Yet, It wasn’t until the other day that I realized the history behind this specific design. Look again at the drawing – a hand on the heart – this is a “pledge of allegiance” to a nation – a direct reference to a time in our country when citizens were asked to give and make changes – to sacrifice convenience and luxury for patriotism and a common good. These days, with the exception of some displaced flag waving, does the average citizen really feel a sense of duty to home and country, let alone the planet?
I learned a lot more about this time in history when reading an issue of Sierra Magazine and came upon an interesting and moving article by Mike Davis, Home-Front Ecology, siting historical evidence from the 1940’s WWII era, that citizens can and did work together and make sacrifices in the name of duty and an “economy of conservation”.Gasoline rationing didn’t bring rioting, but voluntary car-sharing and less driving and a return to commuting and recreating by bicycle, celebrations and advertisement of the patriotic advantages of traveling on two wheels. It truly was “My duty to ride.” The auto, by comparison, lost it’s luster with slogans like, “When you ride ALONE, you ride with Hitler!” Nothing like the naked truth to get people moving.
During this time, at the government’s urging, children participated in urban gardens while parents borrowed their bicycles to get to work. These Victory Gardens produced 30 – 40% of the nation’s vegetables, while the farmers fed soldiers. The Office of Civilian Defense, sponsored the “rational consumption” movement, encouraging a new mindset by any standard, “buy only for need”. There were size limits on new home construction and existing large homes and mansions were even used for communal living. The message sound familiar, but the response, very different at this point.
Although campaigns are today being waged at a grassroots level, governing bodies are strangely mute and participation is nothing to write home about. All of these efforts would go a long way in protecting our country, helping to end the war and save planet. What has changed so drastically 50 or so years later? After all, our country is, once again, at war. There are huge deficits accumulating of money, resources – and of hope. Even mainstream media no longer keeps secrets in regards to our dying environment.
Where now is the sacrifice, the willingness to do the work? Where are the leaders who can assist us in mobilizing for a common good, patriotic or otherwise? When will government learn to actually govern with conviction and reason instead of catering to industry and money-driven prospects?
The time is ripe. Despite evidence to the contrary – I believe most Americans are ready and even waiting for a way to fill a void of meaning and purpose in our lives as well as a way to face our fears of the future head on – to answer a call to duty. While we can keep pushing the iceberg towards change with our individual efforts and commitments, it will take leadership to motivate the masses and conscious governing to turn back the wheels of industrial nihilism and unsustainable consumerism. Bring it on.