Riding 50 miles a day in all weather, sleeping in tents, sharing meals with strangers along the way, two women undertake an arduous journey as tribute to those who died or suffered loss on 9/11 and to all who have died or suffered loss on account of 9/11.
On July 25th, Rena Patty and her friend Pam Senzee set out from Washington State on their 4000-mile journeys. In Fargo, North Dakota, Patty took a rural route toward New York and Senzee took a more urban route toward Washington DC. They will arrive at their respective destinations at the end of October, but in some sense they have already achieved their goals. They have distributed information to police and fire stations, churches and to hundreds people they have met during their trips. They have started conversations in small towns. They have made friends. Most importantly, they have renewed their hope in America’s future by taking part in its recovery.
Their message is a difficult one to deliver. They are informing people that the U.S. government did not conduct a proper scientific, criminal investigation into the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11 and that independent scientists, engineers and architects have discovered evidence that indicates explosives and incendiaries were placed inside the buildings. The implications of this on current foreign and domestic policy—which largely serve a bloody, costly War on Terror—are profound.
I interviewed Rena Patty by phone as she rode through Rochester, New York. She has a vibrant youthful voice that is friendly and engaging. It’s easy to understand how she is able to get people to talk with her about this difficult subject. Patty, who has a background in environmental science, has spent the last several years volunteering as a nonviolent communications trainer. She is sensitive to people’s emotions and mindful of their needs. She reports that most people she has met in her travels are unaware of any controversy surrounding the destruction of the buildings. She is concerned about the ways in which the tragedy has been used as a pretext to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars and make changes to our laws that violate our civil liberties.
911 Journey for Truth
Rena Patty with teenage sons
“The bike ride” says Patty,
is really a gesture of respect for people. That’s where my heart is. People have not had access to this information. I care about their wellbeing. I care that they have the information they need to make good choices in their lives. The bike ride is a symbolic way of saying, I care about you and you matter to me. I think this information is important, and I respect you enough to ride across the country to give it to you.
Patty hands out free DVD copies of a documentary called Explosive Evidence: Experts Speak Out, which was produced by the non-profit group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. (The documentary was reviewed on Digital Journal earlier this year, and has been a 'most watched' and/or 'most shared' video on PBS online since early September.) Often when she visits police chiefs or fire chiefs in small rural towns, they are impressed that she has ridden such long distances to deliver news to their doors. She says that they are very courteous and professional, some times inviting her in saying, Sit down and tell me what you have to say.
How do people react when you start a conversation about 9/11?
A common comment is, "You know, that never looked right to me. It looked strange the way the buildings came down like that, so fast." Then I say, here’s some information that might help explain it. They say, "Really? Okay I’m interested in that."
People are open to discussion?
Yes, people have been consistently respectful and considerate. People also tell me, "Be safe out there." And they offer help. They know that I’m giving out DVDs and they say, "My brother is a police officer, I’ll give a DVD to him" or "Let me have a DVD to give to my pastor." They want to contribute to the project.
I see people contributing to one another's wellbeing every day and in more ways than anybody can count. People are working hard for each other. There are people who are cooking meals and cleaning floors and taking care of kids. The firefighters are available to help people out. The police are there helping install car seats for new moms. That’s what I see in every community across this country, people who want to contribute to each other's wellbeing. It’s a constant.
Did you expect this kind of response?
This is a funny little pattern that I’ve seen. People laugh when I tell them this. In western Washington people said, "You know people are pretty nice here, but I don’t know what you’re going to find over there in eastern Washington. They might not be as open to what you have to say." When I got to eastern Washington they said, "Well, we want to know about this, but people in Idaho or Montana might not be as open." I got to Montana and people there had this grounded common sense, "Yeah. I didn’t like the way those buildings came down. You got some information for me? I’d like to take a look at it. We’re pretty open here, but once you get to North Dakota…." I got to North Dakota and people said, "You know, this is God’s country. We’re surprised by what you’re telling us, but we’ll take a look at it. People here are nice, but once you get to the east…." I had a little trepidation coming into New York State, and what I found is that people here are as respectful and thoughtful and considerate as everyone else I’ve met all along the way.
So your expectation that you’re going to encounter resistance is constantly disappointed. That’s nice. Do you run into people who try to debate you?
Not once. I have not had anybody try to debate me. There was one police investigator who, once he heard what I was talking about, wanted nothing to do with it. He got up and walked out of the room, but that was just one incident, extremely rare. I’ve had people look a little nervous. Sometimes people ask, "Are you one of those conspiracy theorists?" at which point I say no. The architects and engineers don’t speculate about anything. They only discuss the scientific forensic evidence and call for a proper investigation based on that evidence.
The biggest obstacle you have, it seems to me, is dealing with the “conspiracy theorist” label, which is very negative and associated with unscientific reasoning. According to the explosive demolition theory, whoever flew those planes into the buildings had help on the inside. So the experts are saying that, according to the physical evidence, at least a handful of people on the ground helped bring the buildings down.
I've noticed that when people hear about the evidence, they start pondering and playing with ideas in their minds about what could have happened. They ask, "Does that mean there were explosives on the planes?" or "These buildings were bombed in the past. Perhaps someone snuck bombs into the basement again?" They attempt to explain for themselves what happened. When I see people getting to that place and making guesses, I say that’s why I want to see a proper investigation, so that questions like this can be answered.
Have you had any doubts along the way?
Of course. I have doubts.
After pausing for several seconds Patty continues,
One of the patterns that I see in the country is despair. "Nothing can be done." I also find that there is a pattern of distrust of the government. When you actually sit down and talk with people—not the firefighters and the police officers who are very professional and typically careful not to make public statements—but people who are in cafés, on the street, people I talk to by chance, who invite me out to lunch, they express distrust of the government. There’s a certain feeling that we’re not being told the truth—about a whole range of things. They say, "It’s such a big problem. It’s never going to change." I’m also part of the same group of people, and so that’s where my doubt is. But I can’t focus on that right now because I’m out dispelling my own worry that nothing can be done. I’m in that same pattern of despair, except that I’m too busy trying to do something about it!
Keep busy. That's great!
What about Islamophobia? Have you encountered much of that?
I’ve seen some indications that it exists. I met one pastor who was very concerned about what she was seeing in other people, but I haven’t really seen it.
I guess that's encouraging. I worry about that a lot.
What do you feel you have accomplished with your journey?
I’ve made tangible, direct connections with people. I’ve been stopping at fire stations and police stations and churches, putting information into people’s hands and having conversations with people.
But the bicycle traces a very narrow line across the country. It’s a symbolic line. The tangible outreach is symbolic of opening up a conversation that we all need to be having. I’ve offered that gesture. Putting myself out on the road—doing something that is physically challenging—sparks people’s curiosity. It is a conversation starter.
Starting a conversation about 9/11 may be a challenge, but Patty seems up to it. I can attest to the fact that she is good at making her interlocutor feel comfortable. Both Patty and Senzee are recording their experiences on their blog called, "911 Journey for Truth." They focus on day-to-day trials and triumphs and only mention 9/11 evidence occasionally as part of the background of their lives. Their blogs are adorned mostly with beautiful photos of American landscapes, towns and cities—rather than exploding buildings, destruction or tragedy. Their message, difficult as it is, is ultimately positive and forwarding-looking. Outside of Cleveland, OH Patty writes,
The temps dropped to 34 by morning. My cold weather gear is working okay. I was cold but not miserable. I was able to fall asleep and sleep through the night. In the morning I had a good breakfast at a café. The waitress and one of the customers were very interested in what I was doing – some of the many people I meet who say, “It didn’t look right, the way the buildings came down like that.” The customer bought my breakfast.
In Erie PA she writes,
It was wet, but I had a favorable wind. Key indicators of wind direction, in addition to the American flags, are autumn leaves dancing and skittering down the road and weeping willow branches waving my direction. The ride along the lake is beautiful, and aside from an occasional steep dip into and out of creek crossings, mostly level.”
Patty’s blog reminds one of a 18th century travel log written by an explorer/natural philosopher, who describes the landscape as well as encounters with locals, while laboring toward her goal. Her descriptions of fortuitous encounters are funny and heartwarming: she bumps into an engineer on the bike path who is already well informed about 9/11, her bike needs repair and the bike shop owner donates his labor, a farmer advises her not to mind the bears so much but to go the other direction if she so much as sees a moose. Her bike ride, her journey, her pilgrimage is a great personal sacrifice, and her patriotism and concern for others are truly inspiring.
If you are interested in supporting the 911 Journey for Truth, or even joining Patty or Senzee as they ride through your town, you can find more information on their website.