Ride for Human Rights: Joey Goes to Nashville


1100 Miles (1780 km) by Bicycle from NYC

Joey, Dressed for Tennessee

Hello! Joey here – the Australia-inspired, Korea-made, all-American “kangaroo court” puppet.

I’ve been in the U.S. since 1991, when I starred in a video for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now called Human Rights First).  My sidekick, Jeffrey Heller, had a guest appearance.  Here’s a still from our video.  I’m the one with a flag in the pouch, thinking legal thoughts.

L to R: Jeffrey, Joey (1991)

In April-May 2011, Jeffrey and I bicycled from New York City to Postville, Iowa, to see how immigration affects the American heartland.  We were encouraged by kind and open-minded people who gave us blessings and cash along the way.  Over 130 people donated a total of over $14,000 to support the work of Human Rights First.  And each donor was mailed a souvenir postcard, signed by me.  You can read about our adventure from the beginning at https://rideforhumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/joey-goes-to-postville/ .

We had such fun in 2011, we’re hitting the road again in 2012.


Even as unauthorized immigration to the U.S. falls, the temperature of anti-immigrant rhetoric is rising.  In a race to the bottom, Arizona enacted laws in 2010 targeting people who are in the U.S. without government leave, making criminals of the Americans who show them human kindness.  Other states are jumping on the bandwagon.  In 2011, Alabama outdid Arizona, as shown in the January 27, 2012, episode of WBEZ radio’s This American Life, Reap What You Sow:  “Immigrants are fleeing Alabama…but not just the undocumented ones.”

Tennessee is poised to follow Alabama.  And similar to Alabama, less than 2% of Tennessee residents are not authorized by federal law to be in the United States.  If Tennessee matches national norms, half those immigrants support families including U.S. citizens and people with green cards; all directly or indirectly pay federal, state and local taxes; and the unauthorized immigrants’ rates of illness and crime are lower, their consumption of public services is lower, and their participation in the labor force is higher, than that of U.S. citizens.  We suspect that Tennessee’s Draconian legislation is a solution in search of a problem.  Maybe a visit to Tennessee will help us understand.


We also are interested in the effect of Americans’ religious beliefs — which are getting prominent (and inappropriate) play in the 2012 presidential campaign — on immigration policy.  As we, Joey & Jeffrey, travel into what H. L. Mencken dubbed the Bible Belt, join us in considering WWJ&J&JD.  Because when it comes to how to treat strangers, each of us must decide WWID: What Will I Do.


We plan to bicycle from New York – a city that owes its wealth and culture to its millions of foreign-born residents – through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia.  We’ll join up with supporters in Knoxville, and conclude our ride in Nashville, capital of Tennessee, headquarters of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, home of Vanderbilt University, and nicknamed The Protestant Vatican for the city’s 700 churches and other Christian institutions.


Jeffrey (2011)

A graduate of Duke (public policy), UChicago Law, Union County College and Excelsior College (nursing), Jeffrey grew up in a rural border area and has lived in the North, South, East and Midwest, in cities big and small.  He can find common ground with our hosts as we cycle through states that, 150 years ago, seceded over the issue of American slavery, and are wrestling again with the issue of neighbors who live outside the full protection of our laws.

Last year, we rode a 1998 BikeE AT to Postville.  This year, we’ll ride a 2011 Lightning Phantom II, again with a Zzip Designs fairing, flying the flag that followed us to Iowa last year.

Lightning Phantom II, next to the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge

As before, Jeffrey’s accomplished Duke classmate and delightful spouse, Nancy Freund Heller, will pay our expenses.

And you have a part to play!


Some just talk. Human Rights First talks – and acts:

Human Rights First builds respect for human rights and the rule of law to help ensure the dignity to which everyone is entitled and to stem intolerance, tyranny, and violence.  A non-profit, nonpartisan, independent international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C., HRF accepts no government funding.

HRF finds and trains volunteer lawyers to defend refugees who seek asylum in the United States.  At the same time, HRF works abroad to end the conditions that force good people to flee in the first place.

And HRF does not lose sight of terror’s menace to the free world’s core values, such as the rule of law within a framework of respect for human rights.  We need Human Rights First — whose admirers include movie stars like Susan Sarandon and military figures like Rear Admiral (Ret.) John D. Hutson and General David Petraeus — to remind us that when “homeland security” trumps our Constitution, terror has won.

Jeffrey and I support Human Rights First. You can too. Here’s how:

Join the adventure!  If you can’t bike with us, please follow us here — we will post some thought-provoking essays, and beginning April 22, a daily travelogue — and donate even a few cents per mile to support Human Rights First.