NASW-Rhode Island Executive Director Rick Harris will bike from Cranston, R.I. to Richmond, Va., and back this summer on the bicycle pictured above. He said he will cover about 75 to 80 miles a day between July 14 and Aug. 2, and will post updates on his Facebook page. Harris’ new sign, showing the states that now have marriage equality, is pictured (right).
Rick Harris has made advocacy bike trek since 2002
As the U.S Supreme Court prepared to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act late last month, Rick Harris was gearing up for a 1,350-mile bicycle trek across eight states in support of marriage equality.
Harris, executive director of the NASW Rhode Island Chapter, said marriage equality has come a long way since he started the rides in 2002. In fact, 13 states now have equal rights for same-sex marriages, when none had it back then. Harris will ride through five of those 13 states this summer, but said his message to support marriage equality will be the same.
“It’s a national issue,” he said. “I probably won’t stop at the statehouses in the states that have already passed it. Even if states have it, though, the U.S. doesn’t.”
Harris started the rides as a way to combine two passions: biking and marriage equality. His trips have all been self-funded, and they are a vacation for him as well as a chance to advocate.
“I’ve been committed, basically, to this issue since I was a kid,” he said, explaining that there were same-sex couples in his hometown in Iowa who were kind to him, doing things like paying him extra to mow their lawn. Harris said he always saw them as equal to opposite-sex couples and felt they should have the same rights.
He also enjoyed the freedom of riding his bike when he was growing up.
“When I was young I used to take cross-country bike rides,” he said. “Bicycling has been a part of me forever, basically.”
Over the years, Harris has ridden about 12,500 miles and collected more than 10,000 signatures on a traveling marriage equality proclamation. He also has received state, national and international press coverage.
The signatures Harris collects are not publicized, he said, adding that the proclamation is more of a conversation starter.
“When somebody signs something, it’s like a commitment,” he said. “It expands the network. When someone signs, I ask them to talk to others, spread the word.”
As it is with any controversial issue, Harris has found people who feel strongly for and against marriage equality, with some in between.
“But the conversations are great,” he said. “I’ve found a way to discuss almost anybody’s point of view.”
Being a social worker with 25 years of work with at-risk individuals and a lot of training in de-escalating conflicts definitely helps, he said.
This year’s trip will be from July 14 to Aug. 2, and Harris said he is adding several new things: He has a second advocacy effort and is incorporating social media.
In addition to his focus on marriage equality, Harris will be raising funds for the NASW Foundation to help support the social work profession.
Harris will not collect donations during his ride, but donations can be made through his Facebook page. Also, email Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org to become part of his social network and receive updates. He said he also will post photos and updates on Facebook during his trip.
“This is the first time I’ve tried to link into anything larger than (conversations with) the people I meet,” he said.
Harris said he plans to stop at NASW chapter offices in each state, and will visit statehouses in the states that do not have marriage equality. In other states, he will likely hit major tourist areas, hoping to gain signatures and plant seeds that tourists can take back to their own states.
“The only way that my effort would change in regard to marriage equality is if the Supreme Court ruled that all states have to allow marriage equality,” Harris said. “This is highly, highly unlikely. … My guess is that the court will still allow states to decide to allow marriage equality or not.”
Aside from being hit by vehicles on several occasions and receiving a few threats, Harris said his trips have been enjoyable and he looks forward to them on a personal level each year.
“This is a fun thing for me. It generates energy,” he said. “I like to ride my bicycle. … I like the adventure and I like being outside. It’s very Zen-like. That’s the only way I can describe it.”
Plus, Harris said he really enjoys talking with the people he meets along the way.
“I appreciate humanity, and this gives me one-on-one with that humanity,” he said.
Even though Harris said his trips are a small part of a much larger movement, he will continue to ride and advocate as long as he can.
“I’ll ride till I can’t ride anymore,” he said. “And there’s always going to be a social cause. It’ll be marriage equality until we get it across the country. I can’t take on the world, but I’m an American and I can take that on.”
The Supreme Court had not issued rulings on DOMA or California’s Proposition 8 at press time.
- Cranston, R.I.
- Hartford, Conn.
- Bridgeport, Conn.
- Ferry to Port Jefferson on Long Island
- Queens/Brooklyn/Manhattan, N.Y.
- Ferry to Highlands, N.J.
- Atlantic City, N.J.
- Down the coast to Cape May, N.J.
- Ferry to Burgess, Va.
- Richmond, Va.
- Washington, D.C.
- Baltimore, Md.
- Wilmington, Del.
- Philadelphia, Pa.
- Trenton, N.J.
- North Brunswick, N.J.
- Highlands, N.J.
- Ferry to Manhattan/Brooklyn/Queens
- Orient Point on Long Island
- Ferry to New London, Conn.
- Westerly, R.I.
- Cranston, R.I.