Tuesday, May 10, 2005

PlanetWalking Hobopoet

[Here's a profile of a very interesting Hobopoet, taken from Grist Magazine]

John Francis, a "planetwalker" who lived car-free and silent for 17 years, chats with Grist

By Mark Hertsgaard

10 May 2005

How long could you survive without your car? For the many Americans who think nothing of driving 10 blocks to buy a gallon of milk, the answer is obvious. But before any of you dedicated pedestrians and die-hard cyclists start feeling smug, try this question: How long could you survive without talking?

Chances are, nowhere near as long as John Francis did. After a massive oil spill polluted San Francisco Bay in 1971, Francis gave up all motorized transportation. For 22 years, he walked everywhere he went -- including treks across the entire United States and much of South America -- hoping to inspire others to drop out of the petroleum economy.

Soon after he stopped riding in cars, Francis, the son of working-class, African-American parents in Philadelphia, also stopped speaking. For 17 years, he communicated only through improvised sign language, notes, and his ever-present banjo. The environmental pilgrim says he took his vow of silence as a gift to his community "because, man, I just argued all the time." But it may have been Francis who benefited most of all. For the first time, he found he was able to truly listen to other people and the larger world around him, transforming his approach to both personal communication and environmental activism.

Francis started speaking again on Earth Day 1990. The very next day, he was struck by a car. He refused to ride in the ambulance, insisting on walking to the hospital instead. With a Ph.D. in land resources (earned during his silence), he was later recruited by the U.S. Coast Guard to write oil-spill regulations and by the United Nations Environment Program to serve as a goodwill ambassador.

Francis, the author of Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time, is now preparing for a second environmental walk across America. He spoke with writer Mark Hertsgaard about how social change happens, the decency he encountered among red-state Americans, and the importance of bridging the chasm between white and black environmentalists.

Read the interview at: Grist Magazine

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