Cycling for Development: My 4,200-mile ride to keep America safe

Janessa Goldbeck from the Make US Strong campaign reports on her 4,200-mile trip across the country:

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Three months ago, I set off from San Diego on what felt like the world’s heaviest bicycle with one mission: to spread the word that international development, or foreign aid, keeps America safe.

Today, after 4,200 miles of cycling coast-to-coast and then some, my journey comes to an end.

RELATED: ONE member Janessa Goldbeck cycles cross country for foreign aid

International development has been a key part of America’s national security since the Greatest Generation rebuilt Europe and Japan at the end of World War II. Since then, development has been key to taking on some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: limiting the spread of pandemic diseases, shutting down gun and drug trafficking, and making sure developing nations can stand on their own feet. With Congress considering cuts to these programs, there’s never been a more important time to get the word out about the critical role international development plays in our national security.

That’s why I took off on my bike: to spark a conversation in communities nationwide about the importance of development to keeping America safe.

Starting from San Diego in January, I pedaled for months, across New Mexico and Texas, down into Florida and up through the South. Along the way, I held events with community leaders, meetings with elected officials, gave speeches at at universities and VFWs, and did interviews with local press — at many of which I was joined and supported by ONE members from across the country.

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Today, I am riding in from Virginia to give a joint address on Capitol Hill with Paul O’Brien, Vice President for Policy & Campaigns at Oxfam America. For the rest of the month, I’ll be doing follow up meetings with members of Congress…and trying to get my quads back to a normal size.

After cycling across 11 states and holding hundreds of conversations in all kinds of political climates, I was hard-pressed to find anyone who disagreed with the message of my ride. From a staffer in the office of “the most conservative member of the House,” who told me, “You’re preaching to the choir, here,” to a bar full of cactus salesmen in the middle of West Texas, people everywhere agreed that international development is a common sense way to win friends, keep problems like disease and conflict small and far away, and build stronger economic partners for the United States.

But even with all the support I found, international development is still under attack. Why are these important programs are regularly a target of politicians? Perhaps the biggest single piece of the problem is that most Americans think we spend 10 to 20 percent of our budget on international development. In reality, the number is less than 1 percent. Once the people I talked to heard that we only spend less than 1 percent, they were supportive of funding these programs.

My bike ride is over, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. The Ryan budget, recently passed by the House, slashes funding for the very programs I biked across America to protect. The House Appropriations Committee — just last week — proposed drastic cuts once again to these same programs. We need to make sure members of Congress and their constituents understand that, along with defense, diplomacy, and democracy programs, international development is vital to keeping America safe.

I’m really proud to have been a spokesperson for this cause and the Make US Strong campaign — it’s been an incredible ride. Now is your opportunity to get involved. Sign our petition to Congress, share this video with your friends and family, and simply sign up for updates.