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.

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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.

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Pussy Grabs Back Protests – NYC and Denver

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Ladies,

It’s time we said ‘Enough’.  Rape culture, gender violence, and sexual assault and harassment are taking over the headlines, but instead of inciting action, its being dismissed as a political move.  Victims are coming forward only to be shamed or shut down as per usual.  On Twitter #WhyWomenDontReport has been a powerful hashtag illustrating the very heart of rape culture and why we as victims often don’t come forward.

My recent post about rape culture, got so much trolling that I turned the trolling into a social experiment and turned the trolling commentary into proof of the rape culture they were denying.  Mostly I just tried to find a silver lining out of so much hate and misogyny.  Throughout the responses I see from women on social media sharing stories and speaking out, many openly adding their voice to the conversation for the first time, I see old wounds being ripped open and a bizarre collective PTSD emerging. It feels less about the old wounds than about the new hate.

Enter the Pussy Grabs Back Protests.  It’s time to raise our voices and collectively push back against the misogyny, racism, and hate talk that insists that there is no rape culture, that we are too sensitive, that we need to shut the hell up, that we are lying.  It’s time to reclaim Pussy as a derogatory word meaning coward, or as a way to dehumanize us down to a body part. It’s time to fight back with our voices and our spirits.

I’ve created two protests, both scheduled before the election.  It’s not about politics, although politics is what has brought this conversation to the streets in protest, it’s about voicing our stories and showing that rape culture exists and we will not accept it any longer.  It’s about seeing survivors in the thousands opening the door and welcoming the nation in to see what we, as women, have been putting up with for far too long.  Activists like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan the feminist movement of the 1970’s should have kicked this in the balls a long time ago but apparently we have not come as far as we thought since the suffragette movement ensured us the right to vote almost a century ago.  The open racism and misogyny that is fueling this election cycle, but is seemingly brushed aside is staggering in its roots of ignorance and hate.  Calls from Trump supporters to roll back women’s rights to vote, to roll back civil rights?  The only option is fight the ignorance with protest and to combat the apathy of those unaffected with our voice.

My own small, yet diverse community of men and women in New York City are coming together to protest on Saturday, October 29th at 10am. We want you to join us.  The location details will be announced on social media  through Twitter at @sgalpin Instagram at @sgalpin74 and my public Facebook page next week.  The fabulous women at WorldMuse and CTZNWELL are supporting these protests with outreach and support and for that we are grateful to them.

We need your help mobilizing the NYC community to join us; college students, artists and musicians, the yoga community, women’s groups, anti-violence and anti-human trafficking groups, activists, writers, journalists, business leaders, and media to join the protest and be aware of it.  Please reach out to your community, share this post, invite your friends, and get involved.  If you can help with signs, media, social media outreach, or anything else please email me through my website at www.shannongalpin.com

The second protest is in Denver, Colorado on Wednesday, October 26th the state which I call home.  We were approved for a permit today so that we can protest on the steps of the state capitol building.  Please join us at 8am on the west steps of the capitol.  Same thing as NYC, rallying your community, showing up to the protest, encouraging others to join you is our biggest need.

Get creative, make signs or wear tshirts in protest that focus on the issue not the political candidates.  Pussy Grabs Back, Combat Apathy, Enough, Feminist as Fuck, Rape Culture Exists, VAG (very articulate girls), Vote Your Vagina are a few of my personal favorites.  Let’s make this protest the first step in a broader discussion and specific actions to combat rape culture and gender violence beyond Nov. 8th.  Our work is just beginning, no matter who wins this election, the work we have ahead of us to combat gender violence and rape culture is just beginning.

#CombatApathy

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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.

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photo by Jenny Nichols

Nat Geo Live at National Geographic HQ – Washington, DC

Shannon will be presenting as part of the Nat Geo Live ‘s ongoing Adventure Series at National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, DC.  After the presentation, she will be signing copies of her memoir, book sales on site will be provided by Prose and Politics.   Tickets available on National Geographic’s website.

Share Her Voice – Empow’Her Conference

Shannon will be presenting at the Empow’her Conference and Forum for Women’s Empowerment.  After her presentation she will be signing copies of her memoir, Mountain to Mountain, which will be for sale at the event.

April 16th, 2015|Categories: |Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

CU Conference of World Affairs

Shannon will be moderating a panel on campus rape and sexual violence in the US.  Time of panel TBD.

BookWoman Mountain to Mountain Book Signing – Austin, TX

Shannon will be speaking and signing copies of her memoir, Mountain2Mountain, at BookWoman bookstore in Austin, TX.

University Books Mountain to Mountain Book Signing – Seattle

Shannon will be presenting and signing copies of her memoir, Mountain to Mountain, at University Book Store in Seattle.

6 Years, 2 Wheels, and A Kabul Biker Gang

This fall I realized I’d been working in Afghanistan for six years.  I have been reflecting on that a lot.  Accomplishments, disappointments, failures, progress, successes and next steps.  Then today I got this photo from Jenny Nichols, one of the filmmakers working on the Afghan Cycles documentary who was there last month.

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                                                                      photo credit Jenny Nichols

Girls riding bikes on the streets of Kabul. The picture of freedom and independence. Riding bikes we had bought them to keep at home.

I started mountain biking in Afghanistan in 2009 in the mountains of Panjshir.  In 2010 I became the first person to cross the Panjshir Valley on a mountain bike.

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                                                            photo credit Hamid Shahimy

I continued to ride every visit to Afghanistan, three times a year, in different areas of the country to challenge the gender barrier that prevents young women from riding bikes.  It opened up conversations about girls on bikes, girls in sports, my work in Afghanistan, and my own culture.  The bike became an incredible icebreaker.  But still I never met a girl that rode, or a family who would let her.

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