Absolutely not. I’d had it with advocacy. As a veteran of the anti-fracking wars – a heavy lift from the beginning when nobody even knew about it – the last thing I was interested in was volunteering for another hopeless cause. Yes, it was a good one; there are lots of them. Who doesn’t want a livable city? But the anti-fracking battle – a daunting fight waged by determined little old ladies (I should include myself here) against multi-national corporations with infinite resources - had worn me down. Riding was my new-found escape from all that. Did I really want to pollute it with one more David and Goliath fight?
But then something happened.
I started to explore the 5 boroughs and the bike infrastructure for which TA had advocated – and there was a lot of it. I went to my first TA meeting. I was hooked. Unlike those early fracking meetings, a litany of one horror story after another, these meetings were actually hopeful. They were enlightened, spiritual even. And best of all, they got results; I was riding on the success of their advocacy.
Back then, TA was working on a parking-protected bike lane for 6th Avenue. They had already fought for and gotten a striped bike lane there (a miracle in itself on this commercial artery), but every time I found myself on it, the massive presence of vans, swerving taxis and semis so overwhelmed its little markings, I vowed never to repeat the experience. I was doubtful parking protection would ever happen. But if TA was for it, I was going to support them.
Based on the hope of TA’s cheery meetings, I found myself one of the “counters” along 6th Avenue, keeping tabs on the number of cars, trucks and bikes (regular, delivery and CitiBikes) for an hour a few times a week, to report bike usage. It was cringe-worthy to watch them, but our counting paid off: it turned out 10% of the traffic on 6th Avenue consisted of cyclists (brave ones if I may say so).
Now, almost 2 years to the day of my refusal to get involved with TA (ever!), I am riding a transformed 6th Avenue uptown from Summer Streets, the paint so fresh I can smell it.
I continue to engage in the anti-fracking battle and while it’s not over yet, never underestimate the power of those little old ladies. They single-handedly held off the multi-nationals (a shout-out here to Vera Scroggins*, a heroine on the front lines) getting a moratorium against fracking in New York State, something we were assured would never happen. Keystone is history, and the battle has moved to the national stage.
But what renews my spirits to go back to that fight is the thinking I am reminded of every time I ride a protected bike lane in New York. The idea that the City belongs to all of us to make use of and enjoy safely; that how it works is up to us, the only limit being our imagination. And the notion that working for change can be a joyful process.
It’s not airy-fairy. It takes work and cooperation - with the DOT, with Community Boards, with City Government and the Mayor’s office, with activist groups like the TA Activist Committee. But it’s inspiring to be a part of it. It’s a different kind of politics than the kind I’ve been used to.
I think of it as the politics of joy.
*If you want to help Vera in her heroic battle, you can go here: