Can motorists and cyclists ever be friends?

My friend Josh recently posted on twitter:

“The weird thing is there is literally nothing bad about more people cycling yet there is a cultural war against it.”

Cyclists often feel marginalised— like everything has been setup to favour those with four wheels and an engine.

And if you get into the vehicles, and talk to the people behind the wheel —  the drivers often feel marginalised — like everything is changing, and none of it is changing in their favour.

Whoever you feel has the strongest claim to being correct, understanding that both groups include some people who feel marginalised, is probably a good step to figuring out solutions.

I agree with Josh. I do think more people cycling would be a good thing. But without support from those who are driving, it will probably be difficult to make significant leaps of progress to better infrastructure. It is a chicken and egg problem.

So how can cyclists gain support from other road users? How can cyclists get motorists to say “well, y’know, I’m probably going to keep driving, but still, cycling is something we should see more of”?


In 2014, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson gave a 10 minute speech at to the UN. Perhaps take a moment to (re)watch it. I like the content, but instead of listening to the content, perhaps think about how she is presenting her issue.
In her speech, she’s representing a marginalised group who sometimes have had difficulty communicating their perspective to another group. One reason the second group sometimes struggle to be receptive, is that they feel marginalised and targeted. And usually vicious cycle ensues where no-one listens to each other.

This is how Emma gets around the vicious cycle:

“How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited to participate in the conversation? Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too.”

“I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from illness, unable to ask for help for fear it will make them less of a man …. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are.”

Emma diffuses the situation by acknowledging the difficulties of those in the “other” group who feel marginalised, and brings the challenges they face together with the challenges the original group bring. She goes on to suggest by combining forces, they can work on all the challenges together.

She’s not appealing to lawbreakers or people who hold strongly held opposing views, she’s appealing to a silent majority apathetic and disempowered bystanders and is saying “together we can make this better”.

If you like feel-good movies, you may have seen Pride (2014) — a true story of how, in the midst of the mining strikes of the 1984/1985, a group of Lesbian & Gays formed a group to support the miners.

You see a similar thing that Emma does, repeated by the Lesbians & Gays in Pride:

  • When they go out of their way to support the mining communities, including those who ‘beat them up when they were young’.
  • When they realise they can win over the least tolerant people in the village by helping them with something that they want.

By supporting those communities who felt most marginalised, the marginalised Lesbian & Gays were able to build stronger allies — from Wikipedia:

Miners’ labour groups began to support, endorse and participate in various gay pride events throughout the UK, including leading London’s Lesbian and Gay Pride parade in 1985. Additionally, at the 1985 Labour Party conference in Bournemouth, a resolution committing the party to the support of LGBT rights passed, due to block voting support from the National Union of Mineworkers. The miners’ groups were also among the most outspoken allies of the LGBT community in the 1988 campaign against Section 28.


And when we think back to Josh’s tweet — the marginalised-feeling cyclists, and marginalised-feeling motorists makes me think…

Perhaps there’s more in common between these groups than either of them realise?

I wonder who will be the first to find a way to include both groups, and all their concerns, into a campaign that is for everyone?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts in the comments or on twitter


 I cycle and drive a white van, which has let me gain some perspective from both sides of the wheels.

Phone hacking was a big deal. Is Internet interception ok?

A private investigator hacked a schoolgirl and a few celebs’ voicemails, and it caused a public inquiry, it brought a media mogul (previously considered “untouchable”) to be summoned to parliament and forced a historic Sunday newspaper to shutdown.

Tempora: snooping anyone with an internet connection
Tempora: snooping anyone with an internet connection

All because of a few private investigators listening to a few voicemails.

We’ve learned since then, that GCHQ has, (partly sponsored by the NSA) has been intercepting any internet traffic, conversations, phone calls that leave/return the UK via submarine cables (Level3, BT, Vodafone & others have helped facilitate this) as part of a programme called Tempora.

As even a Facebook conversation with my girlfriend will probably go via Sweden, An email via Gmail will go via Irland, and a good deal of other communications will cross borders, we can assume that details of most people’s daily communications are being captured.

The response from the UK Government has been for William Hague to call for the public to have “confidence” in GCHQ and to state that “law-biding members of the public had ‘nothing to fear’“.

They also released a D-notice (effectively about Tempora) which, though voluntary, means that many UK news outlets won’t report on the Tempora. The Guardian clearly is the main exception.

Interestingly, as lots of EU traffic flows through the UK on the way to the US, a lot of European countries, Germany in particular, are less than pleased about their citizens being snooped on – Germany recently nuked a cold war era collaboration pact with the US in protest.

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection in Germany has called for the former U.S. intelligence employee Edward Snowden to be given asylum in Germany so he can assist with ongoing investigations.. Imagine if the Information Commissioner of the UK said that?!

The striking thing about the story is not the revelations, or the implications, or the speculation of what these tools could/are being used for, the striking thing about the story is how little the public seem engaged in it.

Since the phone hacking scandal caused a public inquiry, and took down a historic newspaper, why is mass interception of everyone’s email, not an issue?

The story needs to be communicated better to the public and we need to work out how we can make people relate to it.

How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?

A few of my thoughts:

  • Can the Tempora story be personified? Who has it been used to snoop on? What has it been used for?
  • What is it used for? Who has access to it? Who chooses targets?
  • Can stunts be deployed as a medium of raising the profile of the system? Can airtime and media attention be ‘bought’ by peaceful and legal activist actions?
  • Would street protests help start a movement and help people supporters meet and rally each other on?
  • Would a coalition of NGO’s signing a public letter with several demands or questions help get the media try to answer those questions?
  • How can we make people feel like something can and must be done to stop this?
How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?
How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?

 

Netroots: a look back

A few weeks ago, I went along to Netroots UK – North West, a gathering of progressive types with a focus on grassroots online activism.

It was a lot more interesting that I expected. I didn’t have any idea what to expect and it turned out to be a mix of workshops and talks from people who’d run massive online campaign sites and what they’d learnt from them and engaging with their communities.

In many ways, one of the most interesting sessions was hanging out with someone from Pat’s Petition and working with them to suggest ways they could improve their campaign. This wasn’t a subject or audience I usually spend a lot of time thinking about. To give a bit of background, Pat’s Petition is a blind lady who cares for very poorly husband who is asking the government to reconsider its plans on carer cuts.

My first reaction on hearing this was to type it into google and see what came up, which I did there and there in the session and I quickly noticed a few areas for possible improvement of their presence – there seemed to be very little background to it online (even though I could hear from the lady there was a lot involved) so I suggested a video of this lady could be valuable.

Another thought was that a lot of these campaigns seem to promote negative emotions – “STOP the cuts”, “Tax David Cameron/Nick Clegg/the bankers”, but the message here needs to be a lot more focused. A lot of the people who wouldn’t usually sign this petition because they’re unhappy about “benefit scroungers” and cheats sometimes unfairly bundle this group of carers into the same group. Why does that happen? Is it because all carers are bad people? Of course not – it’s probably because most people don’t know someone in Pat’s situation and don’t know about all the good work people like her do.

By placing and emphasis on the good things and hard work she does, and “oh wait, also, she’s blind”, the “and what if this was taken away?” question, will hit home with a greater number of people and more people will sign the petition.

I felt I got a lot out of that session in terms of thinking in ways and about things I usually don’t have to.

I also went to a talk with Loz Kaye and Jim Killock talking about digital rights:

Loz holds up a Polish Newspaper
Loz holds up a Polish Newspaper

Followed by a question and answer session where it quickly became obvious there were several firm Pirate Party and Open Rights Group supporters.

Loz Kaye and Jim Killock
Loz Kaye and Jim Killock

In the evening, I had an amusing moment when I was introduced to a friend of a friend’s friend, “Tim” – some kind of progressive activist who had recently written a book. He had a copy of his book to hand and I had a glance though it. “Tim Gee” – that rang a bell. It turns out that Tim, his dad and my parents had all played music together a lot when I was little.  The last he remembered of me was a curly haired 8 year old standing on a home made raft I’d built on a river in south Manchester. Small world!

I think netroots was a worthwhile event to go if you care about online activism and want to get better at it – I think if there were more events in Manchester I’d go to them.