It wasn’t the 2016 election that helped me find my voice.
Six years ago, I walked 500 miles across northern Spain as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago. It was a life-changing experience. In fact, my work today advocating for democracy and decency is possible only because of it.
I assumed wrongly.
Initially, I set out to walk the Camino alone, assuming solo was the best way to do it. But the richest, most profound moments were shared with fellow pilgrims from all over the world.
When I tripped and fell onto a cobbled street, pilgrim friends lifted me up. When I got sick, a kind pharmacist diagnosed my illness and helped me heal. When we got lost, the Spanish people called out from second-story windows and pointed us back on the path. I was wrong in thinking that alone was best. Being part of a community was a gift, and it changed everything.
Claim your path.
I learned about bravery three years later, when I returned to walk the same path in reverse. One Spanish man jokingly called it el camino del salmón. I was the sole pilgrim going east past hundreds of people going west. For some, I was a curiosity, a source confusion or delight, but others were angry because walking to Santiago was the right-and-only way. (Have you ever met people like that?) It was jarring.
After a week of defending myself, I stopped giving so much weight to others’ opinions or caring about their approval. Deep inside, this was the right path for me. Claiming it gave me a new sense of strength and courage. I became brave in a new way.
What walking 1,000 miles taught me.
The experiences of learning about community and bravery on the Camino has been what allowed me to start the Americans of Conscience Checklist and persevere when it’s been hard. Before the 2016 election, I was timid and hated discussing politics. No longer.
At first, I thought I was alone in my fear of and objection to this administration’s plans. Now I know we’re a community—you and all 75,000 subscribers, our allies, and the incredible 51-person volunteer team that helps produce and distribute the Checklist every week—not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people we reach every month on social media. We’re a community, and we’re braver together.
Our community is taking a big leap together.
Right after the Checklist went viral (Feb 2017), I felt called to return to the Camino one final time. As the Checklist has continued to grow, I have wondered about canceling this soul-filling experience to stay stateside. But then a friend asked me: “Do you want to give the president that kind of power over your life?” I do not.
Then the community magic started to happen. I bought the tickets in January of this year, and our team and I began planning how to run the Checklist in my absence. We’ve been working overtime to train everyone on their roles and set up systems for communication and full continuity.
It is so moving to witness these incredible volunteers stepping up and affirming their dedication to be a light in these times. They have created the last two Checklists almost completely on their own. They will be doing several more before I leave the country. They are incredible, smart, thoughtful people. I could not be more proud of us and the work we’re doing to ensure that kindness, welcome, and justice prevail.
What comes next
Keep using the Checklist. Please. 🙂 When I return, I will be making a couple of big, exciting announcements about creating in-person community in 2020. You will be invited. I can’t wait!
In the meantime, I ask you to consider these three requests:
- First, I ask that you offer grace and support to the AoC Checklist team as they take on this immense responsibility. We are all human, and we get the best results when we offer each other both honesty and kindness. If you want to give the AoCC team a cheer of encouragement, please comment below.
- Second, while I’m away, I will be compensating several key team members for their administrative, technological, and editorial support of the Checklist. If you’re a long-time subscriber, you know we don’t ask this often. If you are in a position to make a contribution, now would be an opportune time. You can donate here.
- Finally, as a form of self-care, I invite you to pause often and remember that we are community—all of us on this big, blue, vulnerable marble called Earth. Let us not focus on the naysayers, but instead lift each other up, heal what is unwell, and point the way for one another.
Let’s go be brave together.
Thank you for all you ALL do – we are all better for it!
Thank you for the good work you and all the other volunteers do. And, best wishes for your walk.
Travel well Jen…Vaya con Dios…Thank you and your staff for all you do❤️
Go AOC team–you’ve got this. We’re all out here cheering you on.
You do wonderful work and are very inspirational in these trying times!
Buen Camino, Jen — my soul has been revived every time I’ve set foot on the Camino (in 2018 on the lovely Camino Portugués). Much courage to your AOC colleagues! I’d love to donate via credit card rather than PayPal – how can I do that?
Hola, fellow peregrina! One workaround is to sign up through Patreon and then cancel after it charges on the 1st. All the options are here: https://americansofconscience.com/donate/ Thank you for being willing!
Kudos to you, Jen and have a safe, sane and salubrious journey.
HOORAY to the volunteer staff! You are the BES!! Jen…enjoy the Camino and pray for this country as I know you will. Come home refreshed and raring to go and continue the good fight!!
Yay team!! Go! You rock!
I’m a now-disabled lover of backpacking facing the joys and challenges of doing small trips with my beloved instead of extended hikes alone. Your story means a lot. Cheers for you doing your pilgrimage and the team for seamlessly crafting the list 🌹⭐️💕
Dear Jen and the AoC team,
You have been a light in the darkness of these times. Too often I forget about the ethical and kind people who make up this country, because all I hear from the politicians and media is doom and division. Thank you for giving me an alternative of thinking and action. I will think of you, Jen, on your walk and hope it gives you inspiration to continue the amazing work you’ve begun. We all need you. I have no doubt that your team will carry on as you have taught them and as their gifts dictate. I thank them, and will be sending a donation to help carry on the task you all have chosen.
Take good care of yourselves. I’ll look forward to the next newsletter.
Way to go, team. Keep up the good work. Have a fabulous time, Jen.
These weekly newsletters are such an inspiration to me in these trying times. A breath of fresh air, a feeling of “we’ve got this” when so often it’s easy to get discouraged. Much love and light to you and the AoC team during your pilgrimage. I look forward to being part of the community and working together! Thank you so much to you and your team for all that you do!!!!
Thank you, Jen–for your inspiring story, and all that you do to keep us moving forward together.
Thank you Jen and thank you interim team! I just joined this community and have never, in my entire email life, looked FORWARD to receiving an activist related email before. I have been thinking about it since two weeks ago when I got my first one. I’m grateful for what you’re doing, and whatever you do will be enough.
Thank you AOC team! We all want to make the world and our country better, happier and healthier. You make it so much easier to take action in these dark times. Thank you.
Ever since a friend introduced me to your email network, I have felt sustained by the positive energy that you share with all of us. Much gratitude to you, Jen, and to all the many folks who support your mission. May your spirit continue to be nourished. We all owe you deep thanks.
I’m so grateful to the team that puts this list together. Thank you, each one of you, for the work you contribute to this project.
Thank you, Jen, for your leadership, and for sharing that leadership. Best wishes on your travels.
This community inspires me more than you can know. Thanks for every big and little thing you do!
Cheers, applause and good wishes to the AoC Checklist Team! The Checklist brings the hope of effective participation with a community of hopeful participants. Thank you!!
Travel with ease and adventure, Jen
Yay for you, Jen; and to all your wonderful team. Lucy (from Peanuts) famously said “I love humanity – it’s people I can’t stand!”. The modern social ecosystem allows waaaaay too much weight to fall on the latter perspective – and the AoC team really helps me connect the “loving humanity” part with recognizing that we’re all people, in this together. Thanks again for all you do; have a safe and positive trip; and we’ll look forward to continuing the good work!
Thanks so very much for providing us with the AOC Checklist! Your efforts and those of your team make it possible for many to accomplish a lot without having to do all the research involved. I look forward each week to receiving your email and feel inspired to continue on and not feel overwhelmed. Best wishes for safe travels – and, for those who continue to create these checklists.
“ El camino del salmón.” I love that humor-and it does so often feel like we’re swimming upstream. Buen camino y que Dios te acompañe.
I’m so happy for you Jen! Good for you deciding to go and for being able to let go and let others. Safe travels & Go Team!!!
Que vaya, bien! To all of you!!
And THANK YOU for being there.
Thank you all for your wonderful and compassionate work! You’ve got this, and keep on keepin’ on. <3
Jen, wishing you a marvelous sojourn!
THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO!!! This helps me to focus my postcard writing, and am so happy for the “thanks” section.
Jen, very best wishes and many blessing for your trek!
Thank you for your continuing inspiration and incredible work.
You really make a difference. Have a wonderful trip and come back to us. 🙂
Great job, kiddos! I, too, did the Camino in college, the early 00s. 🙂 It’s amazing to have the support of folks back home. (I too long to return to Spain’s Camino de Santiago!)
Brava! Brava! Brava!