A Message For White Bicyclists

Sara Kiesler

Sara Kiesler


As we mourn the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and here in our backyard, Manuel Ellis from Tacoma, many white people in the Cascade bicycling community are asking what they can do to make a difference right now. Others are questioning why Cascade is involved at all. We hope to share some questions to ponder, a call to action, and provide some clarity on what our next steps are as an organization.


How are bikes involved in the fight for racial justice?

At Cascade, we work daily toward Safe Streets and Bicycling for All. But we must also confront the reality that our streets are not truly safe for everyone and we have not done enough to protect the lives of Black and brown people who are on our streets, bicycling or otherwise. The bike lane painted on the street where  George Floyd was murdered  did nothing to protect him. Ahmaud Arbery was killed on a street that was safe and accessible for many white users. Manuel Ellis was killed walking home from buying a snack, an activity we teach 3rd through 6th graders how to do safely. 

By acknowledging these injustices we also acknowledge that infrastructure alone will not protect the lives of our neighbors. Rather, deep systems changes are needed to make our streets safe for everyone. Undoing racist harms must happen in every aspect of our lives, including bicycle advocacy. Educating ourselves and our members is an important first step. We believe we must actively fight systems of oppression and inequality if we hope to meaningfully contribute to the movement for Black lives. To do anything less would perpetuate these same systems and further harm Black and brown people.


Can you all just go back to being a bicycle club and stay out of politics?

We’ve heard this a lot lately. The short answer is that politics permeates our lives. Every choice we make daily, from the food we eat (organic? local? GMO?) to the clothes we wear is political. Plus, to say that the bicycle is not political is to ignore its long history, from its use by white feminists to travel and leave the house in the late 19th century to the bike brigade and “mirroring” of bicycles used to manage traffic and provide safety during the recent Black Lives Matter protests. (You can read more about this from BIPOC leaders like Tamika Butler and Destiny Thomas.)

The nuanced answer is that the Black Lives Matter movement is not about political parties. It is a call for basic human rights and dignity, as well as a movement for long-lasting culture change to address systemic racism beyond the tenure of our current elected leaders. It is a most fundamental plea for justice and equality in the face of police brutality, discrimination, and racial injustice. We stand with the movement because there is no other side of the movement; there is no staying neutral. As Desmond Tutu so famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 


But we’re all Americans first! We’re all human; all of our lives matter!

After the Boston Marathon bombing, when the whole country came together to say “We are Boston Strong” no one went on to say “but all cities matter” because they recognized that the country needed to rally behind Boston at that moment. 

This is why we say Black Lives Matter. No one is saying people of other races or ethnicities do not matter. Instead, these words amplify the fact that Black lives are being systemically discriminated against in this country and have been for hundreds of years, and that the time is now to end police brutality, racial violence, and discrimination against Black people in America. We must support and stand for Black lives in order to end injustice for everyone. 


We’ve never heard you speak up for Black lives before. Why now, Cascade?

You’re right. We have been silent. We have been wrong. And we have a lot of work to do, and we are committed to doing that work. Our antiracism journey is not starting now, but our steps have been halting. The Black Lives Matter movement is accelerating our racial equity plan and commitment to dismantling white supremacy in our work. Racial equity must become central to our mission because otherwise, “improving lives through bicycling” leaves underserved communities behind. We’re committed to listening, educating ourselves, and being held accountable. 


OK. What now?

In the immediate term, we are working to amplify voices around the Black Lives Matter movement and support protestors at events such as the Charleena Lyles protest in Magnuson Park and the Cycle for Justice. As part of our efforts going forward, we will seek to learn from, uplift, and partner with those in the communities who wish to partner with us regarding our programs, and use needs assessments to help identify key priorities. As the founder of Seattle to Portland and other major rides, we will continue to work to make our events inclusive and safe for all.

This spring, the Cascade and Washington Bikes Board of Directors approved a new set of values as well as a racial equity plan to achieve racial equity outcomes. This plan targets outcomes both inside the workplace of Cascade and Washington Bikes, and in our programmatic external work. 

These are the values and the racial equity plan outcomes we seek to uphold: 


Values (Approved by the Board of Directors as of April 2020): 

Equity:  We lead with a racial equity lens to eliminate inequities in community health outcomes and in mobility and transportation access. Bicycles are a tool for liberation.

Climate Justice:  Bicycles are a clean, healthy, and affordable solution to help solve the climate crisis, reduce transportation pollution, and create sustainable communities.

Community:  We create opportunities for people to come together by removing barriers and fostering a sense of belonging. Bicycles are an integral part of creating connected, equitable and thriving communities.

Safety:  Safety is a right; we champion spaces that foster physical and emotional wellbeing.

Collaboration:  We share power, resources, and knowledge as a means to enrich lives and form mutually beneficial partnerships. We celebrate the existing strengths of our partners and participants and seek to be an accessible asset for others.


Long-term Racial Equity Outcomes (approved by the Cascade Board of Directors as of April 2020):

1. Contribute to the shifting narrative around race and racism by sharing the stories of the communities of color whom we serve, in order to achieve racial equity.

2. Create racial equity in bicycle ridership in the state of Washington in order to achieve racial equity in community health, mobility, and access to transportation.

3. Reconstruct Cascade’s policies, practices, and processes to transform patterns of racial inequity and achieve racial equity.

4. Achieve racial equity by centering communities of color impacted by racism in our mission to improve lives through bicycling.

5. Educate our staff and board to create a culture of racial equity that can be integrated into our work with our volunteers, members, donors, contractors and partners.

You can support this work by continuing to amplify the voices of Black and brown bicyclists, learning from experts and donating to the list of organizations we mentioned here, and holding us accountable when we get it wrong or when we miss something. 

The conversation about bicycling and race is ongoing and must not end, even if the protests end tomorrow. 


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