What the White Ribbon Ride meant to me
April 25, 2012
Some of my favourite moments of the 2011 White Ribbon Ride were experienced in the small rural towns of heartlandNew Zealand– the Te Kuiti’s, the Otaki’s, the Hawera’s. I loved the reactions of people as we rolled past them down the main street, seeing barefoot children waving, guys fist-pumping, elderly folk smiling and giving a thumbs up. It was a privilege to be welcomed into the midst of these communities where hospitality was never in short supply, nor the warm welcome or gracious thanks for standing up against violence.
One of my favourite events was organised by REAP in Taihape. The event was held at Winiata Marae on SH1 and involved a whole day of activities including stalls, an art competition and a panel discussion. The White Ribbon Riders were to lead the panel and so lined up across the front of the room on a long table. Each rider took it in turn to stand up and explain why they were on the Ride. It had the feeling of sharing testimony – every one of them had a reason and a story for being involved. They were powerful moments, eye opening, and a reminder that you can never tell a person’s history by what they look like or how they present themselves.
The floor was then opened to those gathered and two locals stood up and shared their story. One middle-aged man told how he had witnessed a murder at a young age, and shared how far-reaching the effects of that had been on his life. A woman shared her experience of being trapped in a violent relationship for many years. The two both expressed their deep thanks to the Riders for the comfort their presence had given them, and for their efforts to make it so others would never have to experience what they went through. We left Taihape reassured of our mission.
The time on the road between events is what allows the Riders to keep going day after day. It is the time to contemplate, to digest and process the conversations and emotions that are inevitably sparked by the subject matter. The camaraderie on the ride is exceptional. As one rider put it after the 2010 Ride:
Everyone has a different story, and a different reason for being involved. Within days there is that school camp feeling of being on a team where everyone takes on a role and supports each other.
It was fantastic to see a tangible increase in support for the Ride during the 2011 run. Over 60 motorbikes turned out in Levin, and in Taupo, over 70 motorbikes rolled onto the Tongariro Domain – a truly impressive sight. Thanks are due to the Waikato HOG group and independent riders for turning out in force to show their support.
Along with the increase in numbers, it was brilliant to see corporates getting behind the kaupapa. In New Plymouth, a giant White Ribbon banner was hung high above one of the town’s busiest intersections, nestled right underneath a giant yellow ‘M’. Not only this, but the New Plymouth event was held in the McDonalds carpark early the following morning. It is really satisfying to witness this development, that businesses realise they can be comfortable and proud to support initiatives to end violence in their local communities.
School visits were always a highlight. The motorbikes always brought a squeal and a grin and some excitement to go with the serious message that was being delivered. One of the Riders who was particularly great with kids started the White Ribbon chant. He would divide the group into two and get one half to yell “White!”, then the other “Ribbon!” He would egg them on and get them to a fever pitch, even the early teens at the high schools participated. This game was accompanied by the various White Ribbon messages. Depending on the age, kids were told to “be awesome to your mum”, “be nice to your teacher” and that bullying was not cool. The kids would generally hang off every word, fascinated by these large leathered-up men and women.
I can honestly say that I’ve travelled the world, but the journey throughout theNorth Islandwas one of the most rewarding I have ever experienced. To see the ride connect with people of all ages and hear stories of change, and actually see the spark of hope rekindled in world weary eyes is something I will treasure.