While hiking from Maine to California, author makes pit stop at Rutgers
In a time when the nation seems to be at its most divided, one man is on a journey to extinguish social and political fears and promote unity.
A little over a month ago, Liam Burnell, the author of Take Courage America, embarked on foot from Maine down the East Coast, aiming to meet and talk to as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible to promote his book. His final destination is Los Angeles.
On his pit stop in New Brunswick, The Daily Targum was able to catch him for an interview.
“I am worried that Americans are overwhelmed by fear these days and that they’re letting fear guide their behavior and their important decisions, and that’s actually creating more danger,” he said. “I want to try to reassure people that the world is not that dangerous, not that scary. You know, even things that are scary are going to be less dangerous if we confront them with a courageous attitude.”
To lead by example, Burnell is walking through even the most dangerous of areas.
“Even if I am afraid I’m still going to face it and walk through liberal cities, urban ghettos, rural conservative areas all alike and go meet all those people and find out what they’re like instead of letting the media tell me what they’re like,” he said.
In his book, Burnell advocates for a more sustainable culture, which ties into his decision to walk the country rather than drive, he said.
He said that for the past 15 years he has been living in off-grid cabins and working on farms, not following current trends in technology.
Take Courage America is aimed at a young audience, Burnell said, so walking through New Brunswick has been a good way to connect with students and millennials.
“Generally, young people are more open-minded. You expect to be learning still when you’re young,” he said. “A lot of people get their college degree and then figure, ‘Well okay, I’m done. I know what I know and I believe what I believe and I’m not gonna change anymore.’ It takes a major life experience to jar people out of that.”
Burnell said that he is shooting for a full-scale cultural change.
“Not like I can pull (a full-scale cultural change) off by myself, but I know there are lots of other people working towards the same goals as me and I just have a somewhat unique angle on it,” he said.
The book is aimed at young people because while his teachings can benefit people of all ages, the youth still have a whole lifetime ahead of them to grow into these kinds of behaviors, Burnell said.
“I am trying to give people the philosophical and emotional tools that they need to build a better culture and a better future,” he said. “A culture based on equality instead of hierarchy and a culture based on ecology and nature rather than one where we fight against nature and run into all sorts of difficulties because of that. Life could be so much easier if we just work with nature and work with each other instead of fighting against each other.”
Burnell said that a major reason he chose to take this journey was the number of people that he noticed were afraid of President Donald J. Trump and his constituency.
“I’ve been trying to reassure people that he’s not that powerful and he won’t follow through with a lot of the things he claims he’s going to do,” he said.
Burnell is a strong proponent of individual community and neighborhood changes and said that there is no good that can come from pushing an agenda on other people through the government.
“I don’t recommend lobbying the government to enact your agenda on the whole society, I think that can only make it more oppressive,” he said. “I think the way to do it is in our own neighborhoods. Make friends with your neighbors, even if they’ve got a bumper sticker from some candidate that you didn’t like and didn’t vote for, meet them anyway in person and work on community sustainability and self-sufficiency.”
Burnell believes that the best way to go about starting the social changes he envisions is by institutionalizing community gardens.
“The number one thing is food and growing gardens,” he said. “A thing I talk about a lot in my book is that liberal and conservative people can have a philosophical debate and disagree about everything and get really mad at each other, but they can also work on a garden together and have a good time and produce something that everybody needs while developing a relationship as neighbors.”
For Burnell, it does not stop at gardens. He envisions people helping one another with just about anything they need.
“We should be working to learn different skills and spread them around in our communities,” he said.
Burnell said that as college students, the Rutgers community is in an advantageous spot to spread and embody these ideas.
“A college degree is going to probably result in privilege, you know, earned privilege, and so you might have the opportunity to make more money than people who don’t have a college degree,” he said. “I guess I would just urge people to think of that as a resource for good people and not just for yourself to get a bigger house or fancier car, you know."
Burnell said that at first, his marketing plan for the book was simply to call newspapers, but he realized that this has not generated a significant number of sales by doing solely that. In turn, he resorted to documenting his journey on social media and gaining a following that way.
He can be found on Facebook and on his website, Takecourageamerica.wordpress.com.
“The world is full of people who will contribute and work really hard,” he said. “So if we can build relationships with those people, then we can all share resources.”
Stephen Weiss is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in philosophy. He is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum.