Friends General Conference provided the opportunity for an unconventional form of peace witness at the Gathering this year by allowing me to bring a pedal cab (bicycle rickshaw) to assist with the daily transport of Friends about the campus at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
We often don’t think of our transportation choices and energy use as being related to our Peace Testimony, but there are strong links. The most obvious is our country’s profligate use of oil, which has led our government to engage in armed hostilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Colombia, just to name a few instances. Less apparent are the seeds of war that are being sown as fossil fuel use changes the global climate.
The unprecedented warming of the planet, as a result of human activities, will likely cause the oceans to rise to levels that will cause massive shifts in populations. It will also redistribute rainfall and disrupt food production and water supplies. We are already witnessing the spread of tropical diseases to areas where they were previously unknown. We can expect that these climate-connected events will upset social order, stress governments, and provide the occasion of war.
Friends should be aware that, as we work for peace, integrity requires us carefully to consider our individual choices about energy use in the home and as we travel. This pedal cab peace witness was an effort to raise such awareness.
It took almost a year of Friendly persuasion to convince the Gathering planners that a pedal cab was a safe alternative to the fossil-fueled golf carts. I certainly understood their reluctance. This was a new, untested, unusual proposal—some might have thought, a hare-brained scheme. And since FGC is responsible for the needs and safety of some 2,000 diverse Friends for an entire week, it is quite justified in being cautious. Anything new must be considered carefully. But in the end, the Spirit allowed for a trial balloon—one pedal cab, one driver.
Over the course of the year leading up to this year’s Gathering, I had tested my leading for this witness with Friends close to me, with my monthly meeting, with the Ecological Concerns Network of my yearly meeting (SAYMA), and finally, with the executive committee of Friends Committee on Unity with Nature. The standard response was, "We heartily approve."
I had also done the necessary research about the vehicle and found a company in Columbus, Ohio, that would rent a pedal cab—a two-passenger canopied carriage with a 21-speed drive train and a seat belt for safety—for the week. I trained for the physical demands by bicycling the mountain roads near home in western North Carolina.
Arriving on campus, I went to work acclimating to the vehicle, the terrain, and the transport routes between buildings. Then for the first time I began to have doubts about the project and my ability to haul people across campus in safety. What if someone got hurt? What if the equipment failed? What if I wasn’t strong enough to power the heavy vehicle with its human cargo? What if this, after all, was a hare-brained scheme?
That night I went to bed with a great burden on my mind—and I prayed.
I sought guidance from the Spirit. This quiet time helped reassure me. I remembered that I had the spiritual support of many Friends; I wasn’t in this alone. It wasn’t about me; it was about a witness for peace and a raising of awareness. Friends had heartily approved. How could this peace witness possibly fail?
In the morning I awoke feeling both spiritually fortified and physically strong. Nonetheless, I was quite cautious with my first few passengers, and I remained safety-conscious throughout the week.
My sense is that Friends at the Gathering also heartily approved of this alternative-energy peace witness. Aside from the sea of smiles that greeted the pedal cab on each trip, there were scores of thumbs up, and the common verbal reaction was, "Very cool!" Friends also engaged me in conversation, often relating their overseas experience with similar vehicles, sometimes offering to help as drivers, always affirming the sense of this witness for peace.
One morning I drove a young woman to her drumming workshop, which was held on a covered patio adjacent to a building. As we arrived, many of the workshop members rose to greet us with appreciation. They said that when the golf carts came close, the fumes hung in the air for a long time, so they were grateful for the clean air.
Another morning I reluctantly gave a ride to a woman carrying a full cup of coffee. I asked her to be very careful and hold it away from her. I warned her as we approached the slightest bump. When we arrived at her destination, she said that not a drop was spilled.
A Junior Gathering coordinator asked me if I would gives rides to three- and four-year-old children one evening. I agreed and found it to be a mutually delightful experience—the youngsters were thrilled by the rides (several took multiple tours) and I enjoyed telling them that the vehicle was fueled by cookies.
One afternoon during the slow period after the transport "rush hour," I gave a ride to a young woman, a golf cart driver. Toward the end of our trip, she surprised me by suggesting that I must hate her for driving a fossil-fueled golf cart. I responded by saying that Friends don’t "hate," besides, I greatly respect the necessary volunteer efforts of the golf cart drivers. I couldn’t help but add, "Drive that golf cart as long as you can!"
After Gathering I received an e-mail from a Friend: "I just want to thank you personally for your two rides—up and down hill—with my heavy guitar. I am grateful for your presence and energy—putting your beliefs on the line and serving others. I am challenged to use my car less. Blessings."
The response at Gathering to the pedal cab was overwhelmingly positive. I believe that most Friends made the connection about peace and energy use. I’m hopeful that Friends will respond with some reflection on their personal use of energy. I am also hopeful that FGC will be open to alternative energy transportation in the future.