Activation – beyond identity towards an inclusive cycling future

I have been involved in cycle-infrastructure campaigning since 2009/2010. In 2010 Claire Prospert and I eventually founded the Newcastle Cycling Campaign (as ‘instructed’ by Christian Wolmar) to advance the just cause of a better healthier happier fairer city through inclusion of cycling in urban design. It’s been an informative few years! Claire talks about some of the clearly-focussed stuff we (now running a membership of 1,600 local people) have been up to since our formation.

On Tyneside, we have seen whole campaigns and swathes of campaigners come and go. A campaign is of course a concerted effort by a number of individuals. It only functions well (has influence and impact) if the campaign message is clear, easy and simple and its running is well-organised and resolute. This includes the many times we had to say No as some things did not fit our focus (example: getting involved in road safety initiatives). On other occasions, folks come to us with a great (but perhaps not essential) campaigning idea, we would reply: “Great! Why don’t you do it, with our help?”

Getting people into cycle-infrastructure campaigning is a task to behold! People really do come and go. Generally speaking, I have observed these stages to be part of developing into a fully-fledged campaigner:

Activation stages

  1. Cycling / take up cycling
  2. Remaining cycling (some give up at this stage*)
  3. Niggling feeling of injustice (but no action yet)
  4. But… I cycle, others can too! >> telling everyone they should cycle too
  5. Why don’t others cycle? (start of extrospection)
  6. I cycle despite the condition, others could too when conditions are better
  7. Campaign for better spatial/legal conditions

* these ‘drop-outs’ can sadly be lost to cycle-infrastructure campaigning forever when they would make great asset and advocates (interested-but-concerned)!

Campaigning activism is not for everyone.  Some personalities do not support working through adversity or dealing positively/constructively with confrontation (to find solutions). In other words, some do not make it through to the ‘final stages’. And naturally that is fine in many ways, as advocacy can come in various guises, at various levels and with different tactics and ambitions. It is also a place where it can get pretty hairy. It’s the juncture between short-term incremental initiatives versus long-term goal campaigning.

At a very personal level problem-conceptualisation takes place too.  The process runs from self-centered, identity-forming, group-seeking and activation to help the common good. As a personal process that people go through, I have seen this sequence to be quite true:

Personal process

  • Cycling is great
  • Something isn’t right
  • This isn’t right – it’s unfair
  • Someone ought to do something about this
  • Let’s do something about it
  • I will do something about this

I will be speaking about Getting low-cycling countries moving – the pivotal roles of advocacy and academia at VeloCity 2016. I will argue, using the sequencing above, that cycle organisations run a risk of stopping at Stage 4, forgetting to campaign for conditions outside their own narrow identity as cyclists. Critical extrospection is needed to go beyond yourself and your own identification. Allies must be sought, and connection made – and openly and confidently pronounced. The ESRC-funded debate day in Newcastle problematised this and calls for an inclusive discourse (in words and language, in infrastructure and design). The day ended on looking out, reaching outside the cycling community by bursting the cycling/cyclist (identity) bubble. We must change the current (dis)course by creating an inclusive narrative and a shared-and-imagined experience that everyone interested-but-concerned can understand and follow.

This post is written bearing in mind and totally notwithstanding Aldred, R. (2012). The role of advocacy and activism. In J. Parkin (Ed.), Cycling and Society Volume 1 (Vol. 1): Emerald.

What does the dictionary say about suitable terminology? Here’s a list:


Advocate a person who upholds or defends a cause; supporter; a person who intercedes on behalf of another, source Collins 

Advocacy active support, esp of a cause, source Collins 

Campaign a series of coordinated activities, such as public speaking and demonstrating, designed to achieve a social, political, or commercial goal, source Collins 

Activism a policy of taking direct and often militant action to achieve an end, esp a political or social one, source Collins

One thought on “Activation – beyond identity towards an inclusive cycling future

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s