Guest blog entry by Amy J. Wong
Last weekend, a BikeSGV delegation- 9 of our BikeSGV board members, staff and volunteers- attended the 2015 California Bicycle Summit in San Diego, a 3-day conference hosted by California Bike Coalition that brought together bicycle advocates from across the state. With the theme, “Equity in Motion”, the summit’s program included 40 sessions on the topics of bicycling, equity and the intersection of the two.
Highlights included the ability to network and learn from other advocacy groups. David Diaz presented our SGV Regional Bike Master Plan and we attended Open Streets workshops, learning from CicLAvia and San Jose Open Streets, gaining valuable insight for our open streets events in 2016 (save the date: 6/26/16!).
Most importantly, we had conversations about equity, dissecting concepts like institutional racism, oppression, white privilege, to name a few- and how we all play different roles in advancing or preventing equity. Looking around the room, most attendees were white and male, and were not comfortable addressing the elephant in the room- equity and all its subcomponents: racism, sexism, diversity, inclusion, etc.
The issue of equity in the bicycle advocacy world has been the awkward elephant in the room for quite a while. At the national level, the League of American Bicyclists serves as the oldest and most widely respected bike advocacy organization in the United States. During a plenary, Hazmat Sani, the Equity Initiative Director for the League of American Bicyclists, mentioned that the League placed a color ban from 1894-1999. For 105 years, based on skin color alone, one was not allowed into a meeting for the League of American Wheelmen (what the League was called back then). Considering that it has only been 16 years since the ban was lifted, its effects are still being felt to this day.
The League recently hired a new Executive Director, Alex Doty, a decision which has caused tension amongst bicycling advocacy leaders. On October 28th, the 3rd day of the conference, a coalition of such leaders, including many folks at the CalBike Summit, published an open letter to the League, expressing concern over the decision:
“We in no way aim to minimize the challenges faced by the League’s Board of Directors nor to criticize the selection of Mr. Doty, who we believe to be a fine candidate for the position. But we must express our concern as diverse leaders — women, advocates of color and equity allies — within our collective active transportation movements that the organization “appointed” a successor to this critical leadership position rather than conducting a formal nationwide search. We believe that the League’s decision to bypass a national search is a recurring example of an organizational practice that systematically undermines equity, diversity and inclusion within our growing bike/walk movement.”
2 days later, the League’s published a seemingly vague response to their open letter, “ask[ing] every signatory to the letter, every member of the League, and each person who cares about the organization to join Alex and the Board in the exciting work ahead.”
Tamika Butler, Executive Director of Los Angeles County Bike Coalition (LACBC), spoke about how difficult it is to be a queer Black woman doing bicycle advocacy work. On the daily, she must deal with microaggressions that accumulate and harm her- physically, emotionally, mentally. And as a woman of color, I can empathize entirely. In my experience leading Women on Wheels, whose goal is to empower more women in the SGV to bike, many women become “accidental advocates” because there aren’t enough women speaking up about bicycling issues. There aren’t as many women, especially queer women of color, who are included and represented at the bicycling advocacy table. Thus, the ones who do speak up feel an extra layer of responsibility representing marginalized voices at the table.
Tamika is the epitome of intersectionality. Just 3 days before the CalBike Summit, I heard her speak at the 5th Annual Health Education Conference in LA, where she discussed public health work as anti-oppression work. Like Hazmat Sani, Tamika believes in bicycling as not just a simple infrastructure issue but as a social justice issue that intersects with many other realms, including race, health, environment, etc. When we isolate bicycling as a singular issue, we remove the historical, political, cultural significance of what it means to bike in our communities. Who designed our streets in the first place and who were they designed for?
Funnily enough, the second day of the CalBike Summit, while scrolling through my Facebook notifications, I learned that I was pictured, along with Maria Sipin and Eve Sanford, on the cover of the League’s magazine, Summer/Fall 2015 edition. It was a photo taken on one of the “Women Bike, Women Lead” rides, a women-led series of bike rides and workshops funded by a small mini-grant given by the League. On one hand, I was grateful to have been featured on a national magazine, but at the same time, a part of me felt used. I couldn’t help but think: am I being tokenized? How do we ensure that programs like “Woman Bike, Woman Lead” are funded not as a one-time magazine-cover gig but also as a long-term, institutionalized program?
Attending the CalBike Summit gave me context to how we as BikeSGV serve the San Gabriel Valley and empower low-income communities of color through our bicycle advocacy work. As an El Monte resident, born and raised, everyday when I drive to work, I see so many people on their bikes. Immigrant communities like ours have always depended on bikes, not as a recreational activity but as a way of surviving here in America. With the grand opening of our Bicycle Education Center, we can directly help communities by providing low-cost/free bike education, repair and maintenance, and hosting youth programs.
Institutional issues demand institutional solutions. In the bicycling advocacy world, only when we centralize equity as our core framework, only when we elevate and amplify community-led initiatives, can we succeed in creating healthier, safer streets for all. We must ask ourselves how we are proactively including equity into the conversation. Who is at the table making decisions about our streets/ bike lanes? How do we ensure we are prioritizing low-income communities of color? Let’s not be afraid of talking about the elephant in the room.
A major thanks to the California Bike Coalition for awarding a scholarship to our BikeSGV delegation. Without the scholarship, we would not have been able to attend the summit- tickets cost $425 per person- a financial barrier that most likely prevented representatives from disadvantaged communities from attending.