Rick Steves' Travel as a Political Act Blog
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Of course, the outlook today is more sober. We've been humbled by the consequences of our isolation, the limits of our military power, the collapse of the housing and stock markets, the costly specter of global warming, and the meteoric rise of India and China as economic giants.
In this Global Age, the world's problems are our problems. It'll be all hands on deck. We need to address these challenges honestly and wisely. Lessons learned from our travels can better equip us to address and help resolve the challenges facing our world. We travelers are both America's ambassadors to the world...and the world's ambassadors to America.
Whether you're a mom, a schoolteacher, a celebrity, a realtor, or a travel writer, it's wrong to stop paying attention and let others (generally with a vested interest in the situation) make the political decisions for us. Our founding fathers didn't envision career politicians and professional talking heads doing our political thinking for us. All are welcome in the political discourse that guides this nation.
Thoughtful travelers know that we're all citizens of the world and members of a global family. Spinning from Scotland to Sri Lanka, from Tacoma to Tehran, travelers experience the world like whirling dervishes: We keep one foot planted in our homeland, while acknowledging the diversity of our vast world. We celebrate the abundant and good life we've been given and work to help those blessings shower equitably upon all.
Thanks to all of my readers for their interest in my Travel as a Political Act blog. I hope you've enjoyed pondering the ideas I've broached here. From now on, you can find my thoughts about travel topics — both political and apolitical — on my regular blog.
Posted by Rick Steves on May 10, 2010
Seek out balanced journalism. Assume commercial news is entertainment — it thrives on making storms (whether political, military, terrorist-related, or actual bad weather) as exciting as they can get away with in order to increase their audience so they can charge more for advertising. Money propels virtually all media. Realize any information that comes to you has an agenda. If already consuming lots of TV news, read a progressive alternative source that's not so corporation-friendly (such as The Nation magazine, www.thenation.com).
Read books that explain the economic and political basis of issues you've stumbled onto in your travels. A basic understanding of the economics of poverty, the politics of empire, and the power of corporations are life skills that give you a foundation to better understand what you experience in your travels. Information that mainstream media considers “subversive” won't come to you. You need to reach out for it. The following are a few of the books (listed in chronological order) that have shaped and inspired my thinking over the years: Bread for the World (Arthur Simon), Food First (Frances Moore Lappe), The Origins of Totalitarianism (Hannah Arendt), Future in our Hands (Erik Dammann), Manufacturing Consent (Noam Chomsky), War Against the Poor: Low-Intensity Conflict and Christian Faith (Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer), Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (Robert McAfee Brown), The United States of Europe (T.R. Reid), The European Dream (Jeremy Rifkin), and The End of Poverty (Jeffrey Sachs).
Contribute to the Travel as a Political Act Readers' Forum. It's designed so that we travelers can share ideas and encourage and inspire each other. Please join the discussion there, share thoughts generated by this blog, and contribute ways you've enjoyed incorporating your world view into your local activism.
Posted by Rick Steves on May 07, 2010
Consider an “educational tour” for your next trip (see, for example, Augsburg College's Center for Global Education, www.augsburg.edu/global). Even if you normally wouldn't take a tour, visiting trouble zones with a well-connected organization is safe, makes you an insider, and greatly increases your opportunities for learning. I've taken three such tours, and each has been powerfully educational and inspirational. Educational tourism is a small yet thriving part of the tourism industry, and offers a world of options.
Find ways to translate your new global passions to local needs. Like the bumper sticker says: Think globally…act locally. Travel has taught me the reality of homelessness. After talking with a proud and noble woman like Beatriz in El Salvador — which does more to humanize the reality of poverty than reading a library of great books on the subject — inspires you to action once back home. Thinking creatively, my wife and I took our retirement savings and purchased a small apartment complex that we loaned to the YWCA to use to house local homeless mothers. Now, rather than collect taxable interest, we climb into our warm and secure bed each night knowing that 25 struggling moms and their kids do as well. When you can learn to vicariously enjoy someone else's consumption who's dealing with more basic needs than you are], you are richer for it. With this outlook, helping to provide housing to people in need is simply smarter, more practical, and more gratifying than owning a big yacht. (This can be done on a smaller scale with much less equity, too. For more on this, see www.ricksteves.com/politicalact.)
Find creative ways to humanize our planet while comfortably nestled into your workaday home life. Sweat with the tropics, see developing-world debt as the slavery of the 21st century, and feel the pain of “enemy losses” along with the pain of American losses. Do things — even if only symbolic — in solidarity with people on the front lines of struggles you care about.
Put your money where your ideals are. Know your options for local consumption and personal responsibility. Don't be bullied by non-sustainable cultural norms. You can pay more for your bread to buy it from the person who baked it. You can buy seasonal produce in a way that supports family farms. You can, as a matter of principle, shun things you don't want to support (bottled water, disposable goods, sweatshop imports, and so on). You can use public transit or drive a greener car. Consume as if your patronage helps shapes our future. It does.
Posted by Rick Steves on May 05, 2010
Promote the wisdom and importance of talking to your “enemies,” even in everyday life. Confront problems — at home, at work, in your community — with calm, rational, and respectful communication. Support politicians who do the same with foreign policy. France and Germany still mix like wine and sauerkraut, but they've learned that an eternity of agreeing to disagree beats an eternity of violent conflict.
Reach and preach beyond the choir. Don't hold back in places where progressive thinking may seem unwelcome. I was tempted to move to a church downtown that welcomed progressive thinkers, but chose instead to keep sharing a pew with a more conservative gang at my suburban church. Rather than change churches, I stayed and contributed — teaching poverty awareness workshops, sharing my travels at special events, and — after learning that many in our congregation are homophobic — even inviting the Seattle's Men's Chorus (America's largest gay chorus) to provide music one Sunday. While conservatives and liberals may see things differently, they care equally. I've found that, deep down, any thinking person wants to be challenged respectfully and thoughtfully. (That's why, rather than a new air-conditioning system for our chapel, we built a well in a thirsty Nicaraguan village instead.)
Take your broader outlook to work. Until we have "cost accounting" that honestly considers all costs, there is no real financial incentive for corporations to consider the environment, the fabric of our communities, the poor at home or abroad, or our future in their decisions. Executives are legally required to maximize profits, but with leadership and encouragement coming from their workforce, they are more likely to be good citizens as well as good businessmen. I encourage my employees to guard my travel company's ethics and stand up to me if I stray. And they do.
Posted by Rick Steves on May 03, 2010