Gloria Steinem doesn’t fancy herself as a leader. She doesn’t seek the spotlight of politics or celebrity. She is an organiser. She organises momentum and logistics around movements and campaigns that align with her values. And she has done so from Kennedy to Clinton 2.0.
The life of an organiser is a life on the road.
Steinem lives and loves the road. One year, she spent eight consecutive days at home, her longest stretch all year. “My Life on the Road” is a diary of Steinem’s wanderings.
Steinem borrows from one of my favourite quotes about travel. T.S. Eliot once said, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and to know the place for the first time”. Steinem says, “Part of travelling over years means coming back to the same place and knowing it for the first time”. Of this she means that travel gives us perspective.
In her college years, Steinem took a geology field trip out to the Connecticut River Valley. Walking around, she found a giant mud turtle hovering on the muddy embankment beside an asphalt road. Fearing the turtle was lost and would find itself in harm’s way, Steinem carried the turtle back to the river from which it came. Steinem’s professor saw this play out. “You know”, he said quietly, “that turtle has probably spent a month crawling up the dirt path to lay its eggs in the mud on the side of the road – you have just put it back in the river”. Later, Steinem would look back on this moment as the best political lesson she’d ever received. The first rule of organising – always ask the turtle.
From her college years on the river to her 20s, 40s and 60s on the road, Steinem continued to learn. She writes about her preference for public transport over private cars. When travelling in women-only carts on trains in India, Steinem learned volumes. Have you ever been in a confined space with a whole lot of women and not learnt something new? From this she realised that when we travel by car and in private, we miss the world. When we walk the streets and subways, life begins the moment we step outside. The moment we join the world.
As a homebody living in a driving city, I can go days where I move from home to car to work to car to home, with little world in between. When I do venture out, I find I can be over-sensitive to the world. I prickle at city crowds and smells, while my city-dwelling, city-wandering friends breeze on. Perhaps I need a little more of the road.
Steinem says that she didn’t decide on not driving, not driving decided on her. Why? Because adventure starts the moment she leaves her door.
I suspect it’s the same with life on the road.
Thought leader(s): Gloria Steinem
Book(s): Steinem, G (2015), My Life on the Road, Nero.