Like many of the messages at Monday’s TEDxOilSpill conference, John Francis’s was one of hope. Francis, who hasn’t used a motorized vehicle since the 1970s and undertook a 17-year vow of silence, gave one of the funniest and most moving talks of the day, underscoring the crucial role that listening plays in activism.
In the early 1970s, Francis stopped riding in vehicles after witnessing an oil spill in San Francisco Bay. He later decided to take a vow of silence, initially for just one day, “because,” he said, “I was talking too much.” It was more than 6,000 days later before he spoke again. During that time he went on a pilgrimage by foot across America on behalf of the environment and world peace.
Francis finally spoke at the Washington, DC celebration of the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990 to “speak for the environment” and to thank the audience for their participation at the event.
At Monday’s conference, he urged the audience to not just listen, but act. “We’re going to have to do something,” he said. “This is our moment. We are going to have to change our lives. I’m inviting us to change our lifestyle. We have such responsibility and such power that we can really make a big difference.”
Here’s a short video I took of Francis (he played banjo briefly before he spoke), and to learn more, you can watch his full TED talk from 2008.