Thursday, April 05, 2007

Activism

Sometimes I can't stand how some simple activities get tied up into 'activism.' I love to ride my bike. But for me, It's pretty much about just riding my bike. There are some various side benefits involved, but generally, if I didn't enjoy riding so much, those other benefits wouldn't make much difference. I think a lot of folks are like this, and they don't like riding as much as I do, so they don't.

So, locally, there are two things which I'm having trouble signing on with. One is a local attempt to do something like a critical mass ride. I want to support bike culture. Heck, I think I am bike culture. But maybe I'm not the part of bike culture which looks like childish acting out. I've been riding a bike for probably 38 of my 44 years, much of that in traffic, with the last 12 of them in Frederick County, and I can count on one hand the number of incidents I've had where another vehicle driver has caused me trouble. Many of my friends' experience mirrors mine. Additionally, the relationship between bikers and the city police and county sheriff's departments is OK. So if there isn't a genuine issue with the traffic, why is there a need to have a critical mass? Especially one in which tickets were handed out like last month. WTF? In Frederick!?

Here is a quote from somewhere about it:

"any way the cops started giving citations to the "leaders" of the group so we now have to raise $160 for some bullshit. anyway we were about to keep riding and then the cop said my mistake it has to be single file so we were quite heated to say the least. we eventually had a meeting to see what we could do and still hold up traffic. so we had two big lines about 100 yards apart but that wasn't fun so we just played games in a park" (spelling corrected and emphasis mine)

The point wasn't to show that bikes have a role in society and on the road, it was to HOLD UP TRAFFIC! That isn't something of which I want to be a part.

Kent Peterson, a blogger whose opinion and outlook I respect immensely said it well in a post this week:

"We notice bad behavior, not good. In the classic movie Casablanca, Peter Lorre's weaselly character Ugarte says, "you despise me, don't you?" and Humphrey Bogart replies "If I gave you any thought I probably would."

As cyclists, I'm sorry to say, we are often the Ugartes of the roadway. We like to think that we are cool, or noble, preserving the planet, setting an example and sharing the road. The truth of the matter is that much of the time we are ignored. We don't even register in the consciousness of many of our fellow road users. And, unfortunately, most often the cyclists who are noticed are the ones who are behaving like jerks.

Some drivers are jerks. Some cyclists are jerks. I have very little control over anyone's behavior but there is one person I try to control.

Me.

I try not to behave like a jerk."


I believe he also coined the phrase "Not anti car, just pro bike." How refreshingly adult.

Here is an example of the negative press those jerks can get:
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/04/BAGF7P12RN23.DTL

Now its likely that both sides in that issue had a role in the blame, but who takes the brunt of the blame in the public eye? And, by extension, how does it make all cyclists look?

My other issue I feel less strongly about, but since I'm whining....

Using bikes as a prop in non-bike related activism. Step it up Frederick is part of a larger national organization and is going to have a bike parade on April 14th. Dress up as your favorite alternative energy form and parade to the rally where speakers (who will most likely arrive via SUV) are holding forth on the evils of carbon dioxide. Huh?

Maybe I can't get behind this because I'm not convinced in the claims behind the cause (that is a whole other post). However, my goals and theirs are aligned on some issues, related to bikes as transportation. So, even if it were something I strongly believe in, I'm not sure that using bikes as part of the platform to call attention to the issue is the way to go. Maybe a better goal would be for everyone taking part to ride from wherever they are coming from, and skip the parade. It least it would be an honest attempt,that wouldn't make bikers look stupid. I'd like to see a lot less of the "do as I say, not as I do" kinds of activism I see going on, and maybe more of the lead by example work that people like Kent do.

That leads me to the kinds of activism I can get involved with. Join your local bike club and/or trails organization. Work from within the system to get change, if you feel change is needed. Volunteer at your local shop to do seminars about those cycling topics in which you have an interest. Encourage others to ride, without being preachy. (Uh, unlike me in this post)

Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.

11 Comments:

Blogger The Bicycle Escape said...

Thanks for the post.

7:28 AM  
Blogger SueJ said...

It really sounds like the issue isn't activism in general, but that you don't agree with what they're active about. They're using your favorite thing to say something you don't agree with (in both cases), and you're afraid that people will start associating you riding the bike with believing in CM or StepItUp.
Don't know if it's valid or not... you might have to invest in some fender stickers to establish your views on the matter ;) You'd want really interesting or highly visible ones so you won't just be ignored/invisible.
I do sometimes feel a conflict in trying to ride "as one with' traffic, because that exacerbates the "they only remember the jerks" problem.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Hjalti said...

What are they active about? For Critical Mass This site says:
* Increase biker visibility, and hence safety!
* GET MORE PEOPLE ON BIKES!!
* Make cycling fun!
* ONE LESS CAR ONE LESS CAR ...
* Encourage community-based organizing
This site says:
Critical Mass is not led, and as a group has no goals other than to meet once every month and enjoy the security and companionship of riding, rolling and travelling through the city together.

The local, uh, organizer, said:
"and still hold up traffic. "

The first two sets of goals (or non goals in the second case) I do agree with, but perhaps my issue is with tactics. The local stated purpose is bogus, deserving of contempt, and frankly counterproductive, FOR LOCAL CONDITIONS. I can't speak to riding in SF, Chicago or NYC.

I definitely am concerned with the actions of some getting all cyclists stereotyped. Isn't this a real threat? Wingnut radio had all kinds of commentary condemning the SF CM'ers, almost all of which was really, really off base, to the point of absurdity,but some of which had the tiniest kernel of truth.

But I dont think bikes should be used as a platfrom for those non-cycling issues I DO believe in either. So its not entirely a matter of what I agree with. Maybe I'd just like to see cycling stay apolitical.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Why aren't you anti-car? I try not to be a jerk when I ride my bicycle too. But what does that have to do with tolerance for a machine that spews filth into our air? I don't think a policy of appeasement towards automobiles is particularly "adult" at all. That doesn't mean violence, and it doesn't mean smashing windows - I just don't see any particularly good reason NOT to be anti-car.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Hjalti said...

Can you appease an object? Or do you mean appeasment of drivers? Where does one draw the line? Do you refuse to eat food which has not been brought to market with horse and wagon? I'm not anti-car because it would be the height of hypocracy for me to be so. I use my car frequently and it affords me opportunites I would not otherwise enjoy. I try, not always successfully, to reduce its use, but I'm not ready to give it up. Of course, if the theories about peak oil are correct, in a few years it will be a moot point anyway, eh?

9:01 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I mean tolerance for driving. We live in a world of default hypocrisy. If you ask someone whether they want to contribute to the environmental ruin of the planet, I doubt you'll find many people answering yes. Yet we drive on. I commute by bicycle sometimes and drive other times. Even if I didn't drive at all, you're right - I'd still be going to the grocery store to buy food that had been trucked in and grown by petroleum drenched agribusiness. Not to mention continued participation in a slew of other activities inherent to my "modern" behavior that are terrible for the Earth. Anything but a primitivist lifestyle makes everyone a hypocrite, to a degree. (Assuming they answered no to the question above.) I'm trying to become less of one. But don't change your ideals just so they align with your current practices. I'm responding to what I feel is a culture of excuses. That because we don't have a similar alternative that it's somehow alright to drive the cars that exist now without feeling guilty. That defeatism could be interpreted as mature.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Dr. Logan said...

well said hjalti. mike, you're a pot calling the kettle black. lead by example if you want to affect change.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Jett said...

Mike and Hjalti, good discussion. Exploring the lines between setting a good example, advocacy, and getting people motivated to take action is interesting to me. I struggle with how much of a role to take, but a good quote that illustrates my attitude is "I am the change I want to see in the world -- I ride my bike to work."

I've also explored how we become a car-oriented society. Since my daughter recently got her license and has become a motorist, I've posted a series of short articles that take an honest look at the inertia we set in motion when we put our children behind the wheel of a car. A good starting point is Part 2 in the series.

The surprise for me is that after nearly 30 years of "setting an example" by riding a bike, I've remained unaware of many of my own actions that encourage car use.

8:34 PM  
Blogger SueJ said...

That guy epitomizes the worst of critical mass. "Oh, it's not organized, really! We were just..." [I was a middle school teacher for many years. One phrase you were not allowed to utter in my room wihtout consequences was "But I was just..."] and yes, he's out there admitting his real purpose is to *hold up traffic.*
SOmetimes it's necessary to stand against something, such as cars. Okay, then, get some nonviolent activism training and do it in a way far more likely to be effective.
If you're *truly* anti-car there are so many things that would jam up our clotted car infrastructure more sneakily and more profoundly... but destruction tends to wreak fear, and that tends to have accelerating unintended consequences. CM is the *perfect* play into the car empire. It lets the "activist" children release their frustrations, feel like they are "being bad," in a setting where they are completely at the mercy of the powers that be and gaining all kinds of sympathizers for the opposition.
Every time I'm a group ride we're actually doing what critical mass claims to do, and I make a point of only riding wiht people who behave themselves. Especially when it's our "entry level" group, I *know* we attract more people to consider actually getting out of their cars and riding themselves.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Jett said...

This may turn into a Part 5 of my series ;-).

As part of encouraging my daughter to spend time on the bike, we've planned to ride with Atlanta's Critical Mass at the end of April. I've heard it's a lot of fun and when I see the group go by -- they frequent our neighborhood -- it looks like a lot of fun.

I've noticed that she is more interested in this -- joining people closer to her age -- than she is in joining other cycling events.

Her other experience with group riding is the Bike Ride Across Georgia, so her base expectation is one of safety and politeness. I'm anxious to see how far from safety and politeness the CM ride will be.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Apertome said...

Wow ... this is a brilliant post, and one that nicely sums up some of my own feelings on the topic. I agree with you, I don't want to save the world, and even reducing my own fuel consumption is really a fringe benefit -- I ride my bike because it's fun and healthy.

I have mixed feelings about these Critical Mass events, too. They seem more divisive than anything ... the whole idea is to *share* the road, not take over it.

8:38 AM  

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