29 June 2013

Pedaling In Protest

Last night,  I stayed out late, but with good reason.

I volunteered to help the Anti-Violence Project with its outreach.  That meant handing out cards with safety tips and "survival" packets (consisting of male and female condoms and cards with emergency phone numbers) in the Village.  I worked with two other volunteers--one male, the other female, but both named Dan--until about 10 pm.

At the end of our "shift", we came to the Stonewall Inn just in time for a commemoration of the historic event that made the bar famous.  On the night of 28 June 1969, cops showed  up to raid the place.  Such raids of gay bars, most of which were operated by the Mafia, were common in those days.  But on that particular night, bar patrons defied the police.  Several nights of rioting ensued.

In all of the photos I've seen from those demonstrations, I haven't seen anyone on a bicycle.  Admittedly, few adults cycled in New York--or just about anywhere in the US--in those days.  

Now, of course, it's common to see cyclists involved in public protests:  The Occupy demonstrations come to mind. I don't know when bicycles first became a regular feature of  street protests, but I suspect that moment may have come (at least in New York) in 1980.  Then, cyclists rallied to prevent then-Mayor Ed Koch from removing the bike lanes the city had only recently installed:

Hal Ruzal, the longtime mechanic of Bicycle Habitat (and the person who turned me on to Mercians) took this photo.  He and CHarlie McCorkle, the owner and founder of Habitat,  helped to organize those demonstrations.  In those days, the cycling community was smaller and, in many ways, tighter-knit than it is today.  

I wonder whether Charlie, Hal or any of those other cyclists (who comprised much of the early membership of a fledling organization called Transportation Alternatives) had any idea that they were changing the face of public gatherings.


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