In 2013, having arrived in the US from the UK for a documentary project that never materialised, I hitchhiked from New York to San Francisco. In 2016 the book, Interstate, was published in the UK by Arcadia Books and told a story of politics along the roadsides of the United States.
Along the way I met people from all walks of US life, faiths and races. Some were beautifully hospitable, and although others were hostile and suspicious towards a stranger hitchhiking along interstates, I never once felt like I was in any danger. I spent a lot of my twenties travelling, and have always been conscious that the colour of my skin, especially in parts of the US, made the experience more straightforward, and often more open, than it otherwise would have been. Hitchhiking on US interstates I was repeatedly picked up or frisked by law enforcement officers; other law enforcement officers instructed me cross the county line and leave their turf, and while these encounters were not always nice, I never felt threatened and I am sure that my being white meant that those officers did not meet me with the prejudices and biases - either unintentional or active - that those with black and brown skin have to live with. I am half Turkish, and while much of my cultural upbringing has Muslim influences in it, I do not outwardly look like 'a Muslim', and so I was not required to deal with the dangerous and increasingly violent threat those of Islamic faith and appearance must confront both in the US and around the world.
In February 2017, Interstate won the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year and has been seen as a state of the nation address, from roadsides. The award earned me £5000 in prize money, and while it is a very valuable amount to me, I was not expecting it and so would like to give £2500 to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU do crucial work to combat discrimination and ensure all people, whatever faith or race, are guaranteed the same rights. These are the rights that everyone is entitled to expect, and it is these rights - and the assumptions that come with them - that eased my journey from East Coast to West. Therefore it seems only fitting that I share the prize money, confident that the ACLU will do more than I could to use it in protecting those rights for me, and extending them to others. This article is a record of the acceptance speech I gave on receiving the award, and contains some further information.
In the spirit of this donation, I ask you to support it with one of your own, so that we can double the amount to £5000. During the award ceremony, when I announced my donation to the ACLU, I looked at a room full of faces and couldn't bring myself to complicate the gesture, but now feel that I must add a further point. Civil liberties have been one of the first casualties of Trump, but there are others, and injustices often appear as networks. Aggressive administrations, in the US and beyond, often take their strength from exceptionally close ties to the fossil fuel community and their interests. For this reason, 50% of any additional donations, on top of my £2500, will be invested in renewable energy projects run by reputable platforms (Abundance is one UK example, although there are others). These investments create regular returns and all money generated through this will also go directly to the ACLU, offering them a regular income.
In this way, the ACLU will receive more donations and by investing in renewable energies, the money will simultaneously be supporting the technologies that bring society towards a cleaner future, one that is facing up to suffering and harm caused by human-made climate change, rather than hiding from its facts and from scientific reason. Across the world, but so too in the US and UK, it is disproportionately non-white communities who suffer and will continue to suffer most from the acceleration of human-made climate change. In this respect, I see the gesture as a further crucial support, although less directly, to the aims of the ACLU.
The administration of Donald Trump is one that has immediately gone about attacking the rights of non-white Americans and non-Americans, but climate change science has also been an early casualty of his regime. His government must be resisted on the streets and in the courts, but long term it must also be de-fanged by dismantling the fossil fuel industries that support and finance it. For people interested to learn more about how administrations such as Trump's draw strength from the fossil fuel industry, this article outlines perfectly the very many links between the Trump regime, the fossil fuel industry and a Secretary of State, in the form of Rex Tillerson, who has spent his working life at Exxon Mobil. Corrupt politics and heartless business models go hand-in-glove, functioning as a network. In order to successfully erode their influence, which we will, we must do likewise.
I hope that this donation to the ACLU, and to the ACLU via a renewable energy investment, can be a model for how such a network can work. I hope that you will consider donating, or sharing this page if you do not yourself feel able to donate.
Many thanks, in solidarity.