September 24th, 2008 by ziggy
This most recent weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting about two dozen different superheroes. These weren’t your typical eye beam-blasting, web-slinging, high-flying superheroes, though. Instead, they were bicycle-riding, service-providing, and compassion-inspiring superheroes with names like CompashMan (short for compassionate man), Believe-Oh, Love Ninja, Queen Bee, Atomic Calm, and Super OK With Himself Guy. They were all part of The Haul of Justice, an extraordinary event in which regular folks dress up as superheroes and hit the roads on their bicycles for a month-long journey, providing service to the public with no agenda, and no pre-established course or plans .
Once or twice a year since 2000, the Superheroes have assembled to bike through a specific location (usually a particular state – 23 states and five other countries have been ridden through thus far). On their journey, which is totally unplanned, these Superheroes stop in random towns and cities, and provide service to people in need. Usually, it’s a simple matter of asking people if they need help with anything. As you might expect, people are often surprised by the appearance of twenty-some-odd bikers dressed up in capes and costumes.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ethan Hughes (a.k.a. The Zing), a friend and fellow communitarian based out of The Possibility Alliance of La Plata, Missouri, who helped to inspire and start the biannual movement. Speaking with him during the Superheroes’ first stop at the tri-communities area (Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Sandhill Farm, and Red Earth Farms) of northeastern Missouri , I learned a great deal about the history and inspiration for The Haul of Justice, Ethan’s thoughts on activism and public service, inspiring change, and ultimately, helping to create a healthier, more compassionate world.
Inspiration for the Superheroes bike ride
Brian Liloia: How would you summarize the overall mission of the Superheroes bike ride?
Ethan Hughes: There are a couple of guiding principles. The first mission is to be totally open, with no agenda, to just show up in downtown Seattle [for example], and see who needs help. Someone who’s homeless, all the way to a community garden. The second mission is to do that service as mindfully as we can, without preaching. I think the third part is to make service enjoyable, with things like the costumes. Can we go out on the road, with no plan, try to be mindful of the earth and communities, and have fun? And on a good day, we do all of those.
BL: Where did the inspiration for doing this come from? When was the idea formulated?
EH: It grew over time. I read comic books when I was little. I think the myth of the hero is in all cultures. As I aged, I saw that I have heroes like Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. Without blowing people up with eye beams, these people were heroes. So the idea started with a few people dressing up as superheroes for different campaigns. At some point, being an avid comic book reader, I said, well, you know, Daredevil swings around randomly looking for people to help. That’s the element missing. We were picking our campaign. But, hey, let’s get on our bikes in Seattle and bike to Boston, dressed as superheroes, looking for any service to provide to people. So that’s how it evolved.
BL: How do people respond to your presence? How are they affected?
EH: It’s a huge spectrum. I’d say most of it falls into the “very positive” range. We’ve been in totally conservative towns, in Mississippi, in Montana [for example], and we pull in, and big trucks pull up and ask what we’re about. And we say, what do you need? And it’s a message that very few people can get angry at, if you are authentically asking them “what do you need?” For one example, I went into a bar, and I walked in with my superhero outfit, and there were truckers, and I asked “hey, what do you guys need? Does anyone need any help in this town?” And they all turned, and it was very hostile in the beginning. But I explained that we were people from all over who come together to give help once a year, and within five minutes, people were inviting me back to their homes for dinner, etc.
The final part that helps us is that we actually celebrate local superheroes, so instead of coming in and saying we’re the superheroes, we come in and say we’re here to help you who are full-time superheroes, and then that changes that dynamic. They feel really seen. It’s not, well, we’re the cool superheroes, you’re the losers, it’s we’re here for a day, in costume, and you’re the hero, day by day, you’re running this women’s shelter, day by day you’re running this community garden, etc. That really helps people to receive us.
BL: Why do you think people occasionally respond in a negative way? Is it just because of your appearance, and how you are presenting yourself?
EH: I think that one, it’s appearance. And two, so few mainstream Americans believe someone would actually go out for free, not part of a paid job, and serve, with no ulterior motive. No, “hey, and join this religion”, or “hey, and sign this petition for this politician”. I think we’re in a cynical society that doesn’t just trust someone who comes in, and says hey, I want to help.
A community on wheels: organization of the Superheroes bike rides
BL: How would you describe how the rides are organized? It appears to me to be almost like an intentional community on wheels. How are decisions made?
EH: That has evolved. The first ride was meant to be the only ride. We weren’t planning to carry on for years. During the first ride, the first few weeks were very chaotic. Over time, we have built systems, and there is now a superhero community. There’s over 500 Superheroes now. It is an intentional community on wheels. Some of us have spent over 13 months together doing this. We use consensus. Everyone has an equal voice. There’s wisdom handed over to riders who have been on multiple rides. The group will definitely defer to people who have been in more situations, but in the end, no one has a higher voice. It’s total consensus. What looks chaotic really has a deep intention to function well. If they can create an army for war and be so disciplined, the Superheroes’ goal is to be that disciplined for love and peace. Get up at 6:30 a.m., eat by 7:00, and we’re ready to go out and serve.
BL: It seems like biking is at the heart of the Superheroes movement. Can you tell me about the significance of biking to the movement?
EH: On a bike, you’re the most efficient living thing in the known universe. It’s three times as efficient as walking. You actually become more efficient, which is amazing in nature: that a tool can allow us to become more efficient. It’s a perfect balance. People have argued for us walking. Human power is definitely the maximum. But, the bike allows us to go fifty miles in one day. Bikes enable a great amount of distance and human power without the environmental cost. We believe superheroes would ride bikes. If you can’t fly like Superman or cruise on water like Aquaman, the next best thing is the bicycle. The majority of superheroes are human-powered. Extraordinarily human-powered. We’re kind of embodying that. The bike just fits in so perfectly. We love the bike because we can go 100 miles in a day, and it’s easy to fix. Who could fix the Batmobile? Bikes are a technology that can spread to the masses.
Spreading the message of the Superheroes
BL: It seems like there are many things that can be said about this Superheroes ride. There’s the biking element, the service element, the community element. But is there any way to summarize, into one message, the thing that you would want people to take away from the Superheroes bike ride?
EH: The wonderful thing about this is that every Superhero would probably say something different. One would say it’s the connection, another would say it’s the service, for another it’s the biking. It’s exciting when you can have this kind of unity with diversity. For me, the biggest message is, start living what’s in your heart now. A few of us had this vision, and we didn’t wait to be a nonprofit, we didn’t wait for any big budgets, we made capes for nothing, and this was our expression of being alive. Imagine if everyone in the world started doing it now. We just jumped in. For me, that’s the biggest message, if we all live what’s in our heart, everything would be covered. It’s crazy, it’s imperfect, but we’re trying. You can do the same.
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If you’re located in Missouri, keep an eye peeled for a group of bicycle-powered Superheroes now through mid-October!
In my next entry, I will look more in depth at The Possibility Alliance, a newly formed intentional community based on the ideals of the Superheroes, founded by Ethan Hughes, partner Sarah Wilcox-Hughes, and other Superheroes. The Possiblitiy Alliance is located in La Plata, Missouri, and is completely petroleum-free, car-free, and electricity-free. The community also serves as the headquarters for the Superheroes bike rides.
To learn more about the Superheroes, contact The Possibility Alliance at:
28408 Frontier Lane
La Plata, MO 63549
Also, you can read more about the Superheroes and goings-on at the Possibility Alliance in the current issue of Communities Magazine. And to follow along with the Superheroes’ journey through Missouri and other bicycling events, check out the biking revolution news toolbar.
(Image credit: CompashMan and Gratidude)
Read More about Activism and Culture
- Senator Jeff Klein to Cyclist: Get out of my F***ing Way
- Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Baaad: Atlanta’s Sopo Bicycle Co-op
- Ecological Sustainability Requires a Cultural Revolution, Too
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