Moving a Divided Nation Forward, Two Wheels at a Time
Woodbury, NY, July 1st 2021 – “Washington is not going to fix America; America is going to fix America,” retired colonel Christopher Holshek asserted in his National Service Ride project video. “People here have more power to change their country than they may otherwise believe,” he later added. “The sooner enough of us act upon the common-sense notion that we do better for ourselves when we do better for each other, the country can again move forward in meaningful way.”
A greater, more universal, and ground-up sense of service, he deeply believes, can do more for the country more than politics. “If politics is so much the problem, he pointed out in a Medium.com article, “then how can it really be the solution?”
Coming to that realization doesn’t come from talk shows, news programs, tweets, or social media posts. It comes through “real, human connectivity,” especially in an increasingly narcissistic and atomized society. For this Army civil affairs veteran, that epiphany began with a motorcycle ride over a decade ago.
His thirty-year career ending, Holshek took off on his Harley-Davidson for an 8,000-mile adventure across the United States. Inspired by John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, he went out to discover the country he helped defend. Pondering what it means to be an American in today’s world, he soon found himself on a mental and spiritual journey of rediscovery. “When I took a look at the country I served, I realized that the future of our nation constantly depends on each one of us, in every generation, taking our own journey to find out who we are, what we’re about, and what we’re willing to do to face the challenges of our times. So, I wrote the book.”
Far more than a motorcycle diary, Travels with Harley – Journeys in Search of Personal and National Identity is a stirring memoir that retired Marine General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis called “an antidote to pessimism and a reminder of what makes life worth living.” Only through service to others, it concludes, can all Americans find their identity by stepping up to national and global citizenship, starting right at home, to transform the nation. “Change in this country always comes from the bottom up, and then the politicians eventually catch up,” he explained in a recent interview on The Law Business Insider.
As a deeply divided nation struggles to find its way ahead at another existential crossroads, this positive and empowering message couldn’t be more timely or needed.
But writing the book wasn’t enough. The native of New York’s Lower Hudson Valley is taking its timely and broad-based message on the road. The National Service Ride leverages motorcycling’s appeal to mobility, freedom, adventure, belonging to a community, and always moving ahead to stay in balance to promote his idea. The project helps generate this empowering and unifying narrative of citizenship and service across societal and generational lines and passing the baton of generational leadership to help move America forward.
“When we become better citizens, we become a better country – because, when you serve your community, you serve your country," the project’s founder tells his audiences. “It doesn’t require a uniform.” Besides, he adds, “if civilians truly wish to honor military veterans, police, firefighters, first responders, medical and health care professionals, and others in uniform that put their lives on the line on their behalf, then they should strive to make this a country worth our sacrifices. They need not go far, for there are myriad ways to become citizens as responsible to neighbors as to nation – patriotism being something you do and not just feel.”
The project’s main platform involves events in which service veterans of all kinds ride to schools on motorcycles and conduct hour-long seminars that bring those from one generation looking to give back together with emerging citizens from all corners of society looking for ways to pay it forward. These interactive sessions help America’s youth better understand the meaning and value of service to their country, their communities, and themselves through role models from a previous generation and peer examples from their own, motivating them to sign them up for community service-learning opportunities at the "service-learning fairs" that follow the presentations.
Encouraging and empowering young people to do good work and help solve common problems, starting in their own communities, also improves their capacities for personal advancement – building leadership, teambuilding, problem-solving, and other interpersonal skills vital to economic livelihood and social viability in the 21st century. Schools, in turn, can more efficiently and effectively connect students with service-learning opportunities – enhancing civics-type educational outcomes to produce well-rounded members of society. This also helps instill a greater sense of individual empowerment, community resilience, and, ultimately, national cohesion.
At the same time, military veterans, police, firefighters, first responders, medical services, etc. can find better connection with their communities in a positive and meaningful way, improving inter-community and generational relations and reducing social tensions. The school events synergize veterans and community service organizational capacities and extend their platforms and local initiatives to improve outreach to youth and recruit younger members. The project’s mass and social media-friendly platform also helps these organizations raise public visibility and awareness, with impacts on branding, membership, volunteerism, and fundraising.
Motorcycle associations like the American Legion and VFW Riders, Harley Owners Group, and American Motorcyclists Association, as well as clubs like the Blue and Red Knights, Buffalo Riders, and others have high numbers of military, police, and other service veterans. As role models and mentors, they can roar into schools, lending their considerable social capital to kick-start conversations on what citizenship and service mean to each and all of us. Then the students take their own first steps forward in “that long journey we must all take to find out who we are and what we’re about” – after school, over the summer, or even after high school graduation.
Uniformed veterans in particular have a critical role to play. “’Our mission,” Holshek tells other veterans, “is really not complete until we have helped pass that baton [of leadership] to the next generation, giving them a chance to go forward with what we’ve learned and make their way through the future, just as we did.” Besides, commenting on the inaugural Juneteenth Underground Railroad Freedom Ride he helped organize locally, “we should not forget that our military is… in fact, the single largest, most successful multicultural institution in history, united in the defense of the cause of freedom. Our veterans have come from every walk of life and corner of our society… and if our military can come together in affirmation of that cause, so can the rest of us in its confirmation.”
A national narrative of service that transcends differences fosters a collaborative mindset to establish common ground for much-needed civil dialogue on matters inexplicable in social media memes. It also helps develop an internal moral GPS needed to navigate a complex, dynamic, interconnected, and information-overloaded world, with more courage and self-confidence, overcoming the pervasive sense of fear that has gripped many.
“America cannot long remain the land of the free if it is no longer the home of the brave,” Holshek warned.
To test and refine his concept and get the wheels rolling, he made several appearances in the years before the COVID pandemic hit. As the project re-emerged, the local American Legion in Orange County, NY has gotten behind the project. Post 1753, in Harriman, first proposed a National Service Ride at the 2021 New York Boys and Girls State, which instead took place virtually. Nevertheless, the project, now with area Legion Riders and others, is coordinating appearances at nearby high schools as they fully re-open. With the first live event taking place at the Pine Bush High School’s annual summer Leadership & Law Academy on July 5th, more are coming early this fall.
The project’s low-cost, high-yield platform fits perfectly with the Legion’s vision of “veterans strengthening America” and the pillars of Americanism, Youth, and Community. More and more local Legion members are convinced the project should become a Legion Riders program nationwide. While slowly popularizing it in New York, the ground group in the Hudson Valley intends to raise it at the national headquarters level and “franchise” its platform around the country, believing it will be a game-changer for both the Legion and the country.
Meanwhile, Legion and motorcycle club members from elsewhere in the country, seeing the posts on the project’s Facebook page, are reaching out to learn more. The project is also receiving a media boost by the The Motorcycle Channel’s recent Juneteenth Ride coverage and its interest in producing a series on the project’s progress.
Holshek thinks the initiative and its message can gain traction with most Americans, regardless of political or social following, being tired of the gridlock. His main challenge has been getting the word out, which anyone can help do.
“This is going to be as big as people want it to be,” he adds. “After all, America is in and of itself a composite of individual journeys. We’ll start off in the hundreds, perhaps the thousands – and see how big a dent we can make. And help put the Unum back into the Pluribus.”
“If Americans truly wish to honor veterans and so many others in service, in and out of uniform, who have given the last full measure of devotion, then they should strive to make this a country worth their sacrifice by walking the walk more than talking the talk. It doesn’t require a uniform or even a program; it begins with simple acts of kindness. And when you serve your community, you serve your country.”https://firstname.lastname@example.org/a-country-worth-our-sacrifices-7df7f3e998f3
Been a long time, folks, but just to let you know that neither Travels with Harley nor the National Service Ride project have gone away - in fact, its message to help a divided America move forward through a more inclusive idea of citizenship and service makes more sense than ever before!
To help reignite the flame, we’ve got a book giveaway going on at Goodreads this month - sign up, post a review, and help get the good word out! Check out our Facebook page and join our discussion group there.
Here’s the giveaway link: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/300467-travels-with-harley-journeys-in-search-of-personal-and-national-identit
Meantime, have a great holiday season and see you on the other side of the year!