The Saturday Read ‘My Life on the Road’ by Gloria Steinem

The Saturday Read this week comes from an author who describes herself as “an entrepreneur of social change”.  It’s a work identity that encompasses writer. lecturer, political activist and feminist organizer. For this book, ‘My Life on the Road’, Gloria Steinem shares “the most important, longest-running, yet least visible part of my life”.

In the introduction, Ms. Steinem expresses her hope that her example of life on the road will tempt readers to explore the country – to have “an on the road state of mind and be present with all five senses.” 

“After I joined the ranks of traveling organizers – which just means being an entrepreneur of social change – I discovered the magic of people telling their own stories to groups of strangers. It’s as if attentive people create a magnetic force field for stories the tellers themselves didn’t know they had within them. Also, one of the simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.

One of these stories opens the book and involves a group of women arriving in South Dakota for a Lakota Sioux powwow, and a subsequent encounter at breakfast, with a couple attending one of the largest annual biker rallies in the country.

“I tell you this story because it’s the kind of lesson that can be learned only on the road. And also because I’ve come to believe that, inside, each of us has a purple motorcycle.

We only have to discover it and ride.”

The book is best read as a series of short stories, with each chapter offering a clue to Ms. Steinem’s own ‘purple motorcycle’ adventure.

In the chapter, ‘One Big Campus’ she describes the places where she has spent “the single largest slice of my traveling pie..”, from the early days of draft protests through through efforts to diversify curricula.

“How do I love campuses? Let me count the ways. I love the coffee shops and reading rooms where one can sit and talk or browse forever. I love the buildings with no addresses that only the initiated can find, and the idiosyncratic clothes that would never make it in the outside world. I love the flash parties that start in some odd spot and can’t be moved , and the flash seminars that any discussion can turn into. I love the bulletin boards that are an education in themselves, the friendships between people who would never have otherwise met, and the time for inventiveness that produces say, an exercise bike that powers a computer. Most of all I love graduations. They are individual and communal, an end and a beginning, more permanent than weddings, more inclusive than religions and possibly the most moving ceremonies on earth.”

She closes the chapter with an affirmation that the Internet is not enough and offers an argument for the value of college.

“…we need to keep creating the temporary world of meetings, small and large, on campuses and everywhere else. In them, we discover we are not alone, we learn from one another, and so we keep going toward shared goals.”

This is the narrative of a traveler who has discovered that home and the road are equally important.

“I can go on the road – because I can come home. I come home – because I am free to leave. Each way of being is more valued in the presence of the other. This balance between making camp and following the seasons is both very ancient and very new. We all need both.”  

And I believe she would like us all to venture beyond our address, be it physical or virtual.

“What seems to be one thing from a distance is very different close up.”  In reading ‘My Life on the Road’ what we might have perceived of Ms. Steinem in our rear view mirror, may appear a bit different, close-up.

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