Fresh Steps – Endangered Activism

A year and a half ago my daughter, Devon and I were sitting in our local coffee shop in Breckenridge. I was considering the violence and corruption in Afghanistan and considering my work there after a brain injury sidelined me and made me re-assess my situation.  It had been nearly a decade of work in the country and on top of the brain recovery, I was burnt out and frustrated.  Devon was begging me to stop traveling there in the wake of increased violence and her increased awareness.  She was very aware of my work, she was part of my memoir and even part of a short film that had been made about me, MoveShake. She had attended talks and lectures. She was aware of what I did, and why, and what the work of an activist was.

I was becoming more and more interested in what had initially excited me about my first projects in Afghanistan, youth voice and creative expression. I wanted to immerse myself in something creative again, having been pulled into a longterm project that had sapped my energy and my spirit. Recent conversations with Devon had expressed her desire to have her voice heard in the realm of endangered species and conservation, but she didn’t think adults listened to kids much when it came to activism.

When we are young, we are all activists.  We believe that we can change the world, that we have no limits, and we see the world through hopeful eyes.  We care, we want to help where we see someone or something in need, and believe we, even as an individual child, can make a difference. We believe in superheroes defeating the villains in every comic book episode.  Somewhere along the way we lose that sense of hope and catalyzing energy to charge forth and make things right.  As adults, we become apathetic, or cynical, or simply too busy with our ‘real work’ to be involved with being an activist.

The irony is at the same time we become old enough to have our voices heard in the public space, and have the education and the knowledge to organize effectively, we lose our desire to activate.  When we are too young to be heard, we have nothing but energy and hope and boundless imagination to think outside the box for solutions.  Somewhere there is a middle ground.

Devon fell in love with a snow leopard when she was four years old.  Seeing her passion, I adopted a snow leopard in her name for her birthday from the Snow Leopard Trust.  In return she got a stuffed snow leopard that she named Himalaya, Himmy for short.  That snow leopard has never left her side.  She ran a bake sale at her elementary school to raise money to support another snow leopard at the Snow Leopard Trust, and has done numerous other community fundraisers in support of endangered wildlife, but as she got older her understanding of the issue and realities of conservation expanded and deepened.

Like expanding circles, Devon went from wanting to save snow leopards, to recognizing that it was about educating humans.  Then it was about conservation and land use.  Climate change.

As we sat at the coffeeshop I had a plan, “What if I stopped working in Afghanistan for a while and we created a project together?”  Over some excited conversations and some sketches on napkins, Endangered Activism was born in the back of Cuppa Joe and has evolved since in many coffeeshops around the world.

The idea is to revive youth activism for Devon’s generation and the generation to come after her through a journey into wildlife conservation.  How do we save endangered species, and our planet, from extinction if we don’t empower our children with tools now? Interviews with scientists, conservations, filmmakers, photographers, researchers, activists on the front line of wildlife conservation to learn best practices to save endangered species, protect wildlife, and how to protect our wild spaces.  At the same time how to empower youth voice and develop new ways to communicate and storytell through film, writing, social media, and art.

We flew out to Ventura, California to meet up with friends at Patagonia HQ.  Their environmental team had recently released an activist handbook on best practices in environmental conservation from front line activists, and a dear friend and the head of global marketing, Whitney Connor Clapper, had been to Afghanistan with me and was willing to make some introductions for Devon to meet a few legends in exploration and conservation that work at Patagonia like, Rick Ridgeway.  He shared a ton of wisdom with Devon and offered to make some introductions when we got to that point with organizations that were doing great work in the field.  Inspiring Devon and opening her worldview to who and what is out there.

As luck would have it, Devon’s father and his partner were willing to discuss taking Devon out of 7th grade to homeschool her and travel abroad for 14 months at the same time we were diving into our first projects.  This opened up the possibilities and the stars aligned.  Literally in a matter of months, we aligned an itinerary that had both our households paralleling each other around the world and exchanging Devon every other month.  Allowing for an incredible amount of time to work in the field with wildlife partners.

We packed up our small apartment and put everything we owned into a storage unit and committed ourselves to living on the road for 14 months with two bags each starting the day school ended.  We’ll return August 2018 in time for Devon to get settled in for school to start for 8th grade, but 7th grade will be spent in over 15 countries, plus change.  Endangered Activism will develop with a film crew joining us a specific intervals to document specific projects, while we learn about wildlife conservation, research, and develop our own media, film, and communications skills in between.

The best way that you can follow the journey is on instagram @endangered_activism  and on my own site at @sgalpin74  we post often here and will be sharing the growing journey as it develops both in film, story, and art.

You can also follow on Facebook @EndangeredActivism

The website is at although it’s very rudimentary right now and still being constructed.  Devon’s blog directly links to the site though so its a great way to follow along.


Finding Tr♀be

postcard-1I am beyond thrilled to announce the newest program under Mountain2Mountain, Tr♀be. Tr♀be is launching as a series of yoga/surf camps targeting middle school aged girls of different cultures and backgrounds.  The camps are about connecting young women together and empowering and inspiring young girls to find their voice and discuss social justice issues that affect them and their communities as a means of finding unique and sustainable solutions.

Tr♀be will be located in several countries with two phases of programming.  The initial camps launching in 2017 will be based out of Maui, Hawaii with the established local yoga and SUP/surf community, led by Sarah Callaham and focusing on local Hawaiian girls alongside local legends like native Hawaiian and pro surfer, Mariko Strickland Lum.  Additional camps in unique communities that tie back to our decade of work in Central Asia with girls will focus on Iran, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nicaragua, and Palestine and each camps will connect the girls with local women breaking barriers in their sport, adventure, and activism.  Mountain2Mountain sponsored Iran’s first surfer and snowboarder, Mona Seraji in the upcoming European FreeRide World Tour and she will be assisting with the camp in Iran next year.  In each case we would be establishing the initial camps with local girls as a means of connecting them into a community network of like-minded girls interested in social justice issues.

The second phase would involve camps that integrate the girls from various countries with each other for an exchange of culture and conversation that will plug them into global issues affecting women and girls.  These diverse girls will engage in a mutual social justice project together of their choosing and will meet with mentors to discuss application and logistics.



Why surf and yoga?  The idea is to engage within a new environment in a unique way through sports to bond and build confidence. Yoga and meditation to integrate mindfulness, self-reflection, and focus on creative energy.  Each camp will include guest filmmakers, photographers, activists, and adventurers from diverse backgrounds to inspire and spark new ways of thinking.

This new program aims to tap into the power of young women at a key time in their development and show them they are not alone, they have a tribe of other girls and adult mentors.  Discussions around gender violence, diversity, racism, and sexism will introduce the girls to ways to recognize and identify these issues when faced with them as individuals, while knowing they have a tribe of other girls to lean into if needed.

This is part of my pivot out of Afghanistan.  I am not turning my back on the Afghan girls and programs I have started, but I am not expanding them further due to the security and corruption issues that I have written about extensively both on this blog and on Mountain2Mountain’s.  I will continue to support the Afghan girls that are riding bikes and hope to return there and to find ways to support the girls.

This holiday season your donations to Mountain2Mountain will help build the foundation of Tr♀be and you can watch the first generation of surfer yogis flourish as young activists and strong voices in their communities.  Believe in the power of voice and in the power of girls.

Two Terms of Hope and Change Comes to an End

Exactly eight years ago today, November 9th, I arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan.  It was the first day of my first trip to a country where I have worked as an activist and ‘humanitarian’ ever since.  Exactly eight years today.  I flew to Afghanistan the day of the elections in 2008, and  I watched anxiously as some of the early results came in during my layover in Dubai.  I arrived in Kabul, bleary eyed and jet lagged, to hear the words, “Hello, Shannon. Welcome to Kabul.  Barack Obama is your new President.”

I nearly hugged the slight, bespectacled, Afghan man who spoke those words.  Najibullah was holding a sign that read “Shanon Galpin” in the meeting area of the old Kabul terminal.  A hug, of course, would have been the worst possible thing I could have done in a crowd of Afghan men for Najibullah’s reputation, and my own.  I restrained myself, instead looked over at my friend and photographer, Tony Di Zinno, and grinned.  I couldn’t hug him in public either.  He grinned back and said something about ‘auspicious signs’.   This was everything.  I had arrived in Afghanistan to start my work at the same time that Americans historically voted for our first black President.  A man whose campaign was based on ‘Hope and Change’.  A man, who over the next eight years would exemplify the best of humanity in the highest political office. But for now, in this moment, I simply agreed with Tony’s assessment of an auspicious omen in which to begin my journey down a path that was also firmly rooted in the belief that hope leads to change,  if backed up with a boatload of grit and determination.

Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  I am NOT comparing myself to President Obama.  I am simply reflecting that the time period that bookends his two terms of office is now also bookending my own work in Afghanistan.  Because after eight years, multiple humanitarian projects and collaboration, soul-crushing fundraising and outreach, a groundbreaking street art installation, two books, a shit ton of corruption, two recent brain injuries, and a historic series of mountain bike rides, I am ready to ‘leave office’.  I cannot envision a third term, even though I am free to take one and desperately wish Obama could too.

I have been struggling with this for the past year.  I was admitted to the ICU in 2015 with a blood clot in my brain.  I worked through recovery, supported my ongoing work with the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team from my home in Colorado until I was allowed to go back there in May.  Yet while I was there, everything I had been working towards for the past three and a half years with the team was crumbling.  Corruption, dysfunction, and increased security risks were overwhelming and disheartening.  Amidst several suicide bombings in the capital, increased control by the Taliban, and the emergence of ISIS in two provinces, I saw a country reeling with an exodus of NGO’s, media, aid workers, and Afghan citizens and a dysfunction stemming from the power sharing agreement that has led to effectively two heads of state; Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.  This has rippled down the food chain in bizarre but not unexpected ways.  I met colleagues that talked about meeting with two governors in a province, two Ministers for the same office.  There were two official Afghan Olympic Committees operating (not legal by IOC standards).  There were also two Afghan Cycling Federations (also not legal by UCI standards).  There was corruption so blatant and vile that I spoke openly about it with the New York Times for a piece about the women’s sports federations and corruption.  This increased the risk against me personally, calling people out for illegal and corrupt behavior rarely wins you friends.  All this while I was emerging from eight months of brain recovery.  I came home and wanted nothing more than a lobotomy.

Six days later, my mother passed away.  Two months later and I was back in the ICU with a second brain injury.

I am now nine weeks out of the ICU and freshly back from unplanned trips to Denver and NYC to organize two Pussy Grabs Back Protests in the wake of Trump’s continued brush aside of rape culture in our public discourse.  I wrote blogs about rape culture and locker room talk, and engaged on a soulless social media experiment on trolling. I’m tired. I don’t have a third term in me.  I have reflected on what I have accomplished in eight years ‘of office’.  I see what Obama has accomplished in his. He wins. No question.

But eight years is an unusual timeframe to reflect upon my work in Afghanistan and what’s ahead. Because after eight hard, dangerous, corruption filled years in Afghanistan, I still believe hope and change are possible.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen it over shared meals with female members of Parliament discussing their role in the future of their country.  I’ve seen it on the streets when women marched against street harassment and gender violence, despite the rocks that were thrown at them.  I’ve seen it with the emergence of Afghanistan’s street art scene, giving voice to the youth that believe their have a voice.  I’ve witnessed it when the first girls to ever ride bikes in Afghanistan conquered the last taboo and inspired other girls to grab their freedom.

Here in the US, I’ve witnessed it with President Obama supporting gay marriage and repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ putting LGBT rights front and center with our nation’s idea of equality. His stimulus plan prevented a second great depression and turned our economy around. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Passed universal health care reform. He ended the war in Iraq and drew down in Afghanistan. He expanded wilderness protection, and supported the Paris Agreements on climate change.  I could go on, but you can google his long list of progressive accomplishments.  He did this despite an intransigent and obstructionist GOP and amidst constant attacks on his legitimacy as President, most of it coming from our now President Elect Trump.

More than that what he accomplished… he inspired our country.  He showed that this country is indeed open for all who dare to dream, that America was no longer a country solely controlled by white men.  He showed that while racism still exists, a black man with a Muslim sounding name could become President.  That he could weather the continuous onslaught of racial slurs and birther conspiracies with dignity.  He and Michelle have brought grace, humor, joy, and some killer dance moves into the office.

He did all this with hope and change.  Not because hoping for something gets shit down, but because if you dare to believe that hope is stronger than fear, that equality and justice is possible, and then you fight for it with your actions, change will occur.  The fight is worth fighting and that fight doesn’t happen without hope.  Hope that we can address the wrongs of those that came before us. Hope that the future can be remade in the image of our diversity.  Hope that equality and social justice will prevail and build a foundation for future generations over a history of racism and sexism.   I believe in hope, and I believe in Obama.

Today I woke to the news that the nightmare we all watched unfold last night was indeed our new reality; Donald Trump is our new President Elect.  Eight years of progressive policy and a scandal free Presidency by our first black President ends with our country electing a racist, sexist, bigot with no governing or military experience?  How the fuck did this happen?

I listened to Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and then Obama’s speech 30 minutes later on NPR as I drove to the airport this morning. Both were dignified, respectful, and called on us all to take the high ground and peacefully begin the transition of power to the democratically elected President Elect.  Yet there is a subtle call to action underneath the peacemaking; justice and equality must not be pushed aside, no matter who is the leader of our country.  We must unite in keen opposition, activism, and protest to ensure that the fight for  e quality and justice does not get sidelined.  That women’s rights, LGBT rights, civil rights, indigenous rights, and environmental rights do not get trampled or ignored.  This is still a fight worth fighting, we cannot abandon hope.

For the past eight years, I’ve fought for women’s rights and girls’ empowerment in a war zone.  I’ve fought to build awareness of gender violence at home and abroad.  The more I work in Afghanistan, the more I see the work we need to do back home.  We are more similar than we care to admit.  Our country was founded on the words of equality and justice.  Many of us would argue that words do not make it so.  Women, particularly women of color, black men, native americans, hispanics, and specifically targeted in this election cycle as our latest ‘demon’, Muslims, are all too aware that equality and justice are not evenly dispensed, despite what the words on our Bill of Rights may state as our founding ideals.  My work was in a country repeatedly ranked the worst country in the world to be a woman.  What does it say about our country when I realize that I need to work here more than ‘over there’.

White men, and far too many white women, voted for white supremacy, sexual assault, ignorance, and racism yesterday.  I heard family members talk about a return to the ‘way things were’ when they were growing up.  Yes, for many white middle class American men and women, the 1950’s were probably idyllic.  You were born in a period of prosperity and white privilege.  Congratulations white men in America, you won the human lottery.  White men wrote the rules that this country was founded on, they oppressed and subjugated other men to build this country while maintaining a status quo that kept women and people of color as second class citizens, and they have proven that they won’t give that power up easily.  Not to a black man, no matter how good a leader he proves himself to be.  Not to a woman, no matter how qualified she is.  Instead…we elect a man whose best known for beauty pageants, dodgy real estate deals, bankruptcies, and a reality tv show.  But he’s white, and he’ll protect you from the bogeyman that he, himself, along with the media circus, created.

Two terms. Eight years.  I’m exhausted.  I’m sure everyone is.  The progress made in Afghanistan is at risk of a corrupt government and increased violence.  The progress made here in the United States is at risk under a Trump presidency and Republican led Senate.  He has campaigned on the platform of rolling back much of Obama’s key legislation. He is a serial liar. He has threatened to jail his opponent.  The future of the Supreme Court is on the line.  The future of my daughter is on the line.  My 11-year-old went to bed truly fearful of a Trump win.  She has watched the debates.  She understands at age eleven that debate is about respect and discourse; interrupting is rude and bullying is wrong.  She has heard him in his own words talk about grabbing women by the pussy, and she understands that the principals of consent are key to women’s rights and to her safety.   She went to bed after she wrote a list of all the uncounted states left and their electoral votes, believing there was still a chance of a Clinton win.  I dreaded waking her up this morning for school. As I climbed into bed with her to give her a cuddle, she immediately asked me sleepily, “who won?”  To which I replied, “Trump did, but it’s going to be okay.”  Because I want to believe it will be.  Over breakfast we talked about democratic process and the words we use going forward.  We can be disappointed, sad, and even angry, but we must follow Obama’s lead and take the high road.  We talked about bullying, sexism, and racism.  But how do you explain to a sixth grader that a bully, a man that demeans women, that calls Mexicans rapists (she goes to a bi-lingual school with 50% hispanics) can be elected to lead our country?  You can’t.  You just have to hug it out and continue to talk through it, openly and honestly.

Many of us have said publicly that no matter who wins we have exposed the sexism and racism fault lines that exist in this country.  We knew they were there, but they are deeper than many of us realized.  So no matter who won, we knew that today, November 9th, we had to continue to work for social justice.  Women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, and indigenous rights.  The work is right here in our backyard.

So today, as I sit on the airplane, insulated from my twitter feed and the media’s breakdown of this election result, I allow myself to be sad. I allow myself to feel depressed.  I need the quiet and the dark.  I need to be cut off from my phone.  I need to mourn the fact that the country I thought I had a voice in, the country that sets itself up as the standard bearer for equality, is much further behind than I thought.  Eight years of an Obama presidency made me believe that we were on the right path, occasionally stumbling, but generally headed forward in the right direction as a nation.  It was something we could continue to build on.

Now I feel different.  Racial inequity, sexism, misogyny, gender violence, rampant homophobia, and religious intolerance are our country’s reality.  Unless we all get back to work, building coalitions, and fighting the good fight together, arm in arm.  So let’s hug it out.  Let’s take a moment, or two, or maybe even three, to hibernate and grieve the state of our nation.  Then let’s dig deep, and unite together to continue the fight.  Because sexism and racism are not measured by election cycles.  We have work to do.  We have to protect Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood, and women’s right to choose.  We have to fight DAPL.  We have to make sure the Paris Agreement on climate change isn’t ignored.  We have to continue the civil rights movement that didn’t end with Martin Luther King Jr. or with Barack Obama, and so we must support Black Lives Matter.  We must protest.  We must organize.  We must believe in hope and work for change.  Our voices need to be louder than ever before, because our voices need to drown out the dying gasp of white male privilege.

So yeah, fuck these guys.  Let’s get back to work.  See you on the front line.  Midterms are in two years.  Let’s make some noise.



Pussy Grabs Back

Ladies, its time to wear your words.


Donald Trump and his supporters think that words don’t matter.  That words are just words and can be easily forgotten.  That bragging sex talk is the same as sexual assault talk.  That women can just be ‘grabbed by their pussies’.

It’s time to fight back.  I am choosing to write about it, tweet, and engage my family members that support Trump.  But words do matter and so do actions. Trumps are appalling,  but when we talk action Pence is a quiet offender which is even worse, than Trump.  Because me and my pussy need Planned Parenthood, and birth control, and the Constitution ensures my right to choose what to do with my own body. Pence has been on a one-man crusade to defund Planned Parenthood, roll back access to abortions, and has even said he would consider jail for women that have had abortions.  The 2nd amendment is untouchable for the gun owners petrified Clinton is coming for their guns, but the 14th isn’t?  So says Pence every time he lobbies, votes, and legislates against women.

My pussy also deserves equal pay for equal work by men.  Pence has voted AGAINST equal pay measures THREE times.

Now we see Trump supporters calling for a recall of the 19th amendment that gives women equality and the right to vote?  This is beyond incredible.  What country am I living in?  What country is my daughter going to inherit?  I guess its 1920 and I have to march in the streets to fight for my equality?

So Pussy is fighting back.  I just ordered this t-shirt from the incredible team at Female Collective and plan to wear it every goddamn day till Nov. 9th.

So ladies, words matter.  No one is grabbing my pussy without my consent.  I’m fighting back every day in little ways.  I ordered the tshirt, so can you. Wear it every goddamn day. And on November 8th, I’m voting with my pussy. Vote with yours.



Sexual Assault Isn’t Locker Room Talk

Enough already.

My heart hurts.  My soul hurts.

Several weeks have gone by now, and I’ve been listening to the media and even close family members excuse away Trump’s behavior on a number of issues that blow my mind. But now we have a new phrase; the ‘locker room’ excuse, in response to his words on a leaked tape. Grabbing pussy and forcing himself on women? Classy, just the sort of talk I know I want to hear from the future leader of my country.

This is just one more excuse in a long line of a very public and systemic attack against women that goes back decades.  Whether it’s judging women’s appearance either by insisting that we aren’t beautiful enough for his high standards, or we have gotten too fat, or by simply lying about non existent sex tapes to humiliate a woman he’s previously insulted via an uncontrollable 3am twitter rant.  Trump has a nasty habit of publicly calling women “pigs, slobs, and dogs”.  He insulted and bullied journalist Megyn Kelly after the debate she moderated for having the audacity to ask him to defend his own words.  His lowest low, he used menstruation as an insult to a woman that was doing her job.

This isn’t new.  He has spent his life, much of it public and on record, objectifying and debasing women, including one my favorite lines, “Women, you have to treat ‘em like shit.” Yeah, we love that.

Here’s the thing though, this isn’t ‘locker room’ talk.  This isn’t dirty talk between guys and this isn’t talking about sex. This isn’t the way normal guys talk about women, or dating, or sex. Just look at the number of professional athletes who hang out in locker rooms fairly regularly who have bashed the media calling this locker room talk.  Men are appalled by Trump’s words.  Appalled that their daughters would be talked to like that.  This kind of talk that Trump is shrugging off, and the media and many of you are letting him shrug off, is talk about sexual assault.  Forcing yourself upon women unasked.  This is lack of consent.



When you explain this away as a non-issue in the media and public discourse, you need to remember that our sons and daughters are watching.  At a time where college and high school sexual assault is off the chart, nearing an epidemic on our campus.  In a country where one in three women are sexually assaulted.  This isn’t something we can be making excuses for ever.  Those of us who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed are fighting tooth and nail to discuss consent in real ways with young men BEFORE they assault women.  1 in 3 women – that means you know at least one woman who has endured the crime of sexual assault.  Who has not given consent.  Who has lain there wondering, “why me?” as your life is ripped apart by a man who felt it was his right to take what he wanted.  If you’re in my family you know at least two.  Probably more.

You cannot excuse this away.  His entire campaign, his entire life, he has shown his true colors.  You just don’t seem to care.  Why? As Maya Angelou said so succinctly, “When someone shows you who they really are, believe them.

Why don’t we believe him when he says what he says over and over and over again, in public, on tape, on tv, in debates, on twitter?  Is it the same reason that when over thirty women accused Bill Cosby of rape that you didn’t believe them. Because Bill Cosby was on our tv and we thought we knew him like a real family member? The only difference is, Bill Cosby hid his predatory history.  Trump’s is front and center and bragging on tape.

And he still has your vote?

Abusive language, predatory talk, do not automatically make a man a rapist.  Just a misogynist that has no right to hold public office of any kind.

This is a man whose own wife accused him of rape under oath.  There are multiple cases filed against him for sexual assault harassment.  MULTIPLE. Google it, its all there, recently reported on and fact checked.  I’m not going to waste my time delving into it all, you can easily find out all you need to.  It pains me to tell you to dig into other victim’s lives in order to prove to you that Trump is a predator, a misogynist, and wholly unqualified to be a leader.  I shouldn’t have to.  His own words should be enough prove.

No woman should be talked about the way Trump talks about women.  It’s vile, grotesque, and cannot be allowed to go unchecked.  It’s misogyny. It’s rape culture.
Thank you for the men that speak out against him and other men like him.  Thank you for the women that are coming forward to give a face and a story to show Americans what the ramifications of rape culture actually are.  Thank you for shows like The Daily Show that don’t allow ‘locker room talk’ to be an excuse for predatory behavior.

Edge of Seven Annual Event

H&M Boycott Takes Aim at Fast Fashion

I have been lucky to know the badass in the photo above and call her a friend and fellow activist.  We are staunchly feminist and outspoken and fight the good fight on opposite sides of the country. Amy DuFault, aka @amytropolis, has been a fashion writer for the past decade and more recently has been waging a war against our culture of fast fashion.  Where we intersect is where fashion meets human rights.
A few days ago, Amy along with Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, staged a protest outside H&M in New York City.
hm protest 4
hm protest 5
         Photos by: John Gamache
I asked Amy to give me her words about the protest and why she and Elizabeth took to the streets to amplify this issue and the voices of garment factory workers around the world that make our $5 tshirts and $20 blue jeans.  Just saying that makes me wonder how we could think that clothes could be sustainably and humanely made that cheaply.  Are we so insulated from reality that we don’t consider that the clothes we wear require actual people to make them, and that they, like all humans, deserve a living wage for the work we do?  Are cheap clothes really worth more than slave labor?  Or do we leave our morality compass at home when we go shopping?  What are your bluejeans worth?
“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that we’ve gone way far away from being a humane people able to consider things happening far away. We see atrocities in the news through graphic images and the media, but it never seems to happen to us Americans. It’s just not in our backyard enough.

When the Rana Plaza collapse happened three years ago, many people, for the first time, got a view of what the fashion industry had become. That 1200+ people could be killed making fast fashion and 2500 more injured, was pretty deplorable. And yet, it’s still happening, it’s just not a news story that’s big enough to reach us on the daily.

When I heard about the International Labor Rights Forum staging a global day of action against H&M who is one of the largest manufacturers in Bangladesh (where Rana Plaza once was) I felt compelled to be part and created a protest with my good friend and author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline.  

As a sustainable fashion writer for the past 10 years, a story like Rana Plaza altered me forever. It made me a certified activist.

The ILRF writes: “H&M is still not indicating acceptance of real responsibility, and continues to provide its customers with misleading information and, according to the company’s own data, 61% of the company’s supplier factories still do not have all required fire doors installed – this means that hundreds of thousands of workers in these factories are at risk of injury or death should a major fire occur.”

Our protest was very specific, to cause noise around the fact that they signed a legally binding agreement three years ago that has still not been fulfilled. And all of these people did it on the day of H&M’s annual shareholder’s meeting. So all around the world, people protested and H&M did provide more information because of the pressure. Yet it’s so hard to wrap my brain around the logic of us even having to do this. That a company that makes 50 billion yearly can’t install fire doors in their factories so that people don’t die as they have time and time again.

It goes against every moral fiber in my body to not freak out and to keep challenging H&M on policy, safety, environment, ethics. As consumers, we’ve let large companies like H&M get too irresponsible and now we bear the burden of having to continually make noise so they know we exist, so that they know they can’t just rest on their laurels, and you know, until the next battle we need to wage against them.

Peace out!” 
So next time you go shopping, consider, who made your clothes?  Is cheap fashion sustainable?  Is it humane?  Its time we start paying attention to the supply chain that supports slave labor.  How can you learn your clothing’s supply chain?  One great place to start learning more is at Project Just.  They just launched a denim index you can check out.  But don’t stop there… educate yourself and use your wallet to vote for change.

Reflections Forward

photo by Deni Bechard

                                                                                                                                                            photo by Deni Bechard

7 years ago I first mountain biked in Afghanistan.  It was on a dry riverbed in the Panjshir Valley, and it was a first attempt in a series of rides to challenge and explore the gender barrier that prevents Afghan girls from riding bikes.  It was four years, and multiple trips in multiple provinces, before I met an Afghan girl that rode.  That meeting changed my work dramatically, in Afghanistan and back home, and as I get ready for another major shift in this work I found myself looking back at photo archives and reflecting on the past 8 years of work and adventure in Afghanistan.

The irony was that my memoir, Mountain to Mountain, was in its final stages of editing with my publisher in New York City when I met these girls.  So it ends, right where everything came full circle.  I’d spent several years working on various women’s rights and ’empowerment’ projects in Afghanistan, and the theme I had evolved my overall focus around was ‘voice’.  I spoke specifically about the power of voice and how it validates, informs, and empowers and why it matters when we look at the effectiveness of international aid in my first TED talk in 2012. Since then I have focused on projects that amplify the voice of those at the forefront of changing perceptions of women’s rights and their role in society.  Graffiti artists, photographers, activists, and athletes in particular.

Each trip, twenty in total so far, I took time to ride and explore a different part of the country on my bike. Always on a singlespeed mountain bike, always exploring the ‘whys’ that make Afghanistan such a conundrum for everyone that lives and works there.  Specifically, ‘Why can’t girls ride bikes?”

Fast forward a few short years, and today there are Afghan girls riding bikes in various parts of the country for the first time in their country’s history, and while the numbers are still incredibly small, the effect is rippling out in unique and overlapping ways.  I’ve spoken often about the Afghan National Women’s Cycling team and my work with them for the past 3 years. Fatima Hadairi started a bike club in Kabul as a Girl Up project, it only lasted one summer, but one girl, Naheed, went on to join the the national team, and another, Halima co-founded Afghanistan’s newest bike club the BorderFree Cycling Club.  Zahra Hosseini started teaching girls to ride in Bamiyan, and organized three races and public events to spotlight the right of girls to ride, involving the community at all levels to gain traction for social acceptance of girls riding.  Last year she formally registered a cycling team with the sports federation to give her a more legitimate platform to continue to develop from.  There are young women like Kabul-based musician, Ramika, who cycles often and encourages younger girls in her neighborhood to join her.

The girls aren’t operating in a bubble, they are inspiring people around the world through the extensive press and media attention that gives them voice beyond their community. The Afghan Women’s National Team were chosen as National Geographic Adventurers of the Year and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize which only amplify their voices and their story of a two wheeled revolution further.

As I look ahead to my next trip and a major change with my work and Mountain2Mountain, I am overwhelmed and proud of the the progress these girls have made.  At the same time, I am also saddened by the increased violence in Afghanistan that threatens the progress that has occurred throughout the country for women and girls in all sectors of life.

On a project level,  I’m deeply frustrated and disgusted by the continued corruption that has played a large role as a roadblock for the national cycling team in particular.  I wrote about it in detail on the Mountain2Mountain Field Notes blog.  As I continue to work in support of these girls and others like them, its amazes me that the same men and institutions that are put in place to support and encourage these girls are also the very same ones that lie and cheat these girls out of the opportunities ahead of them.  While I slammed the door shut on the corrupt cycling federation, another door opened with a solution.  I am working hard to make it a reality so that I can continue to support these girls so they can in turn have a bigger say in shaping their own destiny, on or off a bike.

Stay tuned and pedal onwards….. You’re going to love what’s a little bit further down the road.


photo by Jenny Nichols

Women on Wheels

Join Shannon at this year’s Women on Wheels event, a celebration of women and bikes, and is the largest of its kind.  Shannon will sign copies of Mountain to Mountain after her presentation.  This is public and open to all.

The Girls of Afghan Cycles

8 years.  20 trips.

Deaf school, computer labs, women’s prisons, street art, and remote school supply drops in the mountains. Meetings with activists, educators, politicians, prisoners, jailers, soldiers, artists, musicians, and athletes.   A variety of projects and conversations that challenged me, inspired me, and allowed me to understand Afghanistan from a variety of perspectives.

But it’s the young Afghan women that dare to ride that keep me coming back now.  Its the young women that believe that change doesn’t happen by staying home and waiting  Change comes by action, and voices need to be heard.

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For three years I’ve been working to support the first generation of women that dare to ride their bikes, I’ve been lucky to train with them, ride with them, sweat with them, fight for them, and try to fund them.

For almost the same amount of time, I have been working with an incredible group of women that came together to tell their story through the power of film.  Afghan Cycles is a feature length film that has evolved from telling the story of the first ever Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, to telling the ground breaking story of young women using bikes as vehicles for change. Fighting for their rights one pedal stroke at a time.

In conjunction with the launch of the new trailer for the film, we took a risk and launched a Kickstarter Campaign to fund the final production trip to Afghanistan so that we can deepen this story in all its complexities for a 2016 premier in conjunction with the Summer Olympics in Rio.  While these girls will not be competing, I am working hard to get them there as observers as a first step to a potential bid for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

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But for now – what matters is voice.  Film is a powerful way to amplify voice and change the narrative that has surrounded Afghan women and girls for decades.  Oppression, victimization, poverty, rape, abuse, subjugation.  How about we focus on something else for a change? How about hope?  How about catalysts for change?  How about believing in the power of the young women living their lives everyday in this country inspiring men and women around the world by their actions?  By sharing this story – we can challenge the narrative that women are victims, and show that through their everyday actions, they are heroes in their own narrative.

Change doesn’t happen by playing it safe.  Change happens through action.  We need YOUR action now.  We are taking the risk that the community that has shouted their support for these girls, will do more than ride in solidarity, or share a link, or ‘like’ a post.  We believe that the cycling and human rights community needs to come together, en masse to help tell this story.  We’ve leveraged our credit cards, sent out emails, and wrote endless grants to get this film fully funded.  The time is for all of us to put our money where our mouth is.  Do we believe that hope is stronger than fear?  Do we believe that voice matters?  Do we believe that film can inspire change?

If the answer is YES, please donate today, we have 11 days left, and be part of this two wheeled revolution.  Help tell this story and help show the world the strength of Afghan women is the strength of all of us!  You can spread the word after you donate by tagging @AfghanCycles on Twitter and Instagram and helps pedal a revolution!

photos by Jenny Nichols

Video by Let Media

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