How and Why to Advocate (Baby-steps!)

You are a shining example of a cyclist.  You care about your health, your safety on the road, and you care about your bike.  Doesn’t riding your bike feel great?  Do you ever feel the urge to get other people to realize how awesome it is?  Do you want to get more infrastructure in place because you believe it benefits us all?

How the heck do you go about doing all that?

Sam, over at Brown Girl in the Lane, wrote a great guide about being an advocate that does a great job of explaining the how and why she is speaking up and taking action.


1. To not feel powerless – I see things and read things and it just completely depresses me. It upsets my sense of balance and justice. Global poverty, international warfare, national political corruption is a bit too much for my simple, tiny mind to grasp. But I can grasp other things. Small tiny things. Like that there is trash on the sidewalk in front of my house. I can grasp that the street light outside my house isn’t working any more. That the road in front of my street is filled with potholes.

2. Because I’m human – it just seems cruel to not do something about all the injustice I hear and read about.

3. Maybe get an ego boost? I’d be lying if I stated that I didn’t like getting praised on occasion. Every time I get a compliment, I get a happy dose of endorphins dancing around happily all over my brain. It helps with boosting my confidence as well. Of course when the heartfelt praise turns into constant fawning of attention and obsequiousness it can get extremely annoying and off putting. But in the grand scheme of things, if my biggest worry is getting praise from random people – then I think I have a pretty good life. But be warned, this is a danger you will face if you are effective.


1. Start small. Very small. Teeny, tiny small.There was a streetlight on my street that was out. I was angry that it wasn’t fixed. So I sent an angry email to the City (probably the Mayor’s office since I didn’t know about things like “departments”) who then forwarded it to the right department who then contacted me and then got more details and came over and fixed it. That was my first high. Wow. I got that fixed! All the people who walk under it from now until the light bulb conks out again will have light because of me. Woo!

2. Then I got bold. I decided to do *something* once a month. Oh I know! I’ll report a pothole every month. I figured that would keep me busy until I died. So that was what I did. One pothole a month. And the city has a nice handy dandy reporting sytem – I fill out a little form, pick my complaint from a drop down menu. Total time, under 1 minute.

Potholes got fixed! Sometimes really shoddily, but hey! They got fixed. So sometimes I filed a report again for the same location until I was happy with the fix.

3. Then this was inspiring me so I decided to do something once a week and something beyond reporting potholes which I decided was sort of…lame. So then I started crafting emails. Very low energy and commitment. So if the Mayor sent out some pronouncement that the city was going to do something in favor of cars, I’d write in, “what about the bikes?”. Then my letter writing got a little more involved. I’d write in explaining a bit more – about the downsides to ignoring bicycles as a transportation mode. Or something. I actually started complaining about everything under the sun. When the bus buzzed me, I emailed the transit agency and learned to take note of the bus number, description of driver who buzzed me and report it and ask that the agency reprimand the driver. When drivers harassed me, I calmly stopped and called the nearest police station and reported driver harassment. I didn’t expect anything to come of these complaints, but I do know that complaints are often noted *somewhere* and I wanted there to be a track record of bad behavior for these mean people. Bad people don’t come out of thin air. Their bad behavior is supported and encouraged. I wanted to nip all rudeness in the bud.

4. Then I got a little more involved. I started attending meetings. City was going to put in bike lanes on some street? I was going to attend the meeting and speak up in favor of it. I didn’t want to be an invisible cyclist. I wanted the decision makes to realize that their decisions were impacting me, a real person.

Please visit Sam’s blog and read the rest of her thoughts on this topic.  She has a  positive outlook on how baby steps can really make a difference, even if that difference is simply learning to ask for what you want.


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