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.

Please help kill ACTA on Saturday

You may remember that a few weeks ago there a big outcry because Wikipedia blacked out for the day because of a proposed American law called SOPA which, due to the US’s federal influence on the internet, would have had a chilling effect on websites you use everyday – Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube would have had to close down, move operations abroad or effectively remove most of their functionality. After the worldwide protests against the proposed act, it was withdrawn.

SOPA was billed as an anti-piracy law and yet did nothing to address the negative aspects of commercial copyright infringement whilst curbing free speech and killing the space that many technology companies (think Facebook, Google), are allowed to operate in.

Some non-techie friends on facebook
Some non-techie friends on facebook

ACTA – The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – is another similar piece of legislation except that, as this is a trade agreement, it applies to a group of countries. Like SOPA it has been developed on behalf of rights holders collectives such as the MPAA with no thought for the best interests of the citizens of the countries concerned.

One of the most deplorable thing about ACTA has been the secrecy around the agreement right from the get go. It wasn’t until drafts of the agreement started to be leaked onto the internet (ironically, this being one of the kinds of things the agreement will be used to tackle), that we started to get an idea of the scope of the proposed agreement.

ACTA will have sweeping and wide ranging effects, Wired UK Magazine explains things in great detail in a FAQ style article.

Given the secretive manner in which the agreement has been conducted and the completely disproportionate aspects of it regarding the internet and new technology, there has been a good deal of controversy surrounding it.

The European parliament’s rapporteur for ACTA, resigned on 26 January 2012 denouncing the treaty

“in the strongest possible manner”

for having

“no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,”

concluding with his intent to

“send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

In Poland there have been mass protests and in Parliament, a group of politicians held up Guy Fawkes masks in support of the protests against the act and as a result, ratification of ACTA has been suspended.

The Slovenian ambassador to Japan, Helena Drnovšek-Zorko, said in a statement issued on 31 January 2012:

I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention. Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children.

What can I do to stop it?

There are protests around the Britain this Saturday  11th February – the BBC even has an article about them.

If you’ve never been to anything like this, go!

It’ll be fun and you’ll make a difference.

It was protests that finished SOPA and it will be protests from people like you that kill ACTA.

You can also write to your MEP about ACTA and tell them why you don’t like it. Even better, invite them along to a protest! as well as signing a petition.

“In Defence of Politics” – Political cynicism – is it justified?

When you go to a someone on the street and ask them what their first thoughts on politicians?

What answers would you expect to get?

I just listened to a thought provoking radio program – initially I assumed I’d immediately form a firm opinion, having listened to it… but I’m still undecided.

Have a listen to it – it’s only 30 minutes and I found it really engaging.

What do you think? Is the current level of political cynicism justified?