After talking about it loads, notably here (slide 6) and even adjusting my PhD focus, I have tentatively started looking at campaigning efforts outside our small but beautiful cycling arena. In particular at the moment I have feminism in mind, its (theoretical) stance and its campaigning styles and strategies. This post is more than a bit unfinished as I am near-simultaneously reading and writing (and perhaps thinking a little bit at the same time too). But I felt an early chucking-it-all-out-there-as-is is in order.
Feminism could be of great interest to cycle campaigning as it faces similar problems. It can hence provide examples and learning points.
We are campaigning against a dominant system.
We are asking how we can change that system.
We question from what position we should attack the system, from within or without, or perhaps from a spot moderating both.
Cycle campaigning and especially with its more recent (and long overdue and very welcome) focus on the environment and urban design, positions itself clearly against automobility together with its inherent professional and political practices. Automobility also is a culturally grown system which has pervaded the whole of society on almost all of its levels. Hence the constant problem with viewpoints: a lot that is done and said is done and said through the goggles of automobility. It should be our focus to remove those goggles and shine some light onto society’s retina.
Many cyclists will find it hard to campaign for better cycling conditions. Some women find it hard to stand up for feminism. Naturally, it may well be easier to align with the dominant system, than taking up a critical view. Or remain in a state of unawareness from the start and just live and act, unquestioning, in the given environment. Some awaken to only wish they hadn’t. Red pill. Blue pill.
What automobility is to cycle campaigning, is patriarchy to feminism. Feminists have grappled, and still are grappling, with the themes of patriarchy and masculinity – how to grasp and shake this predicated power system? Feminist researcher agree on femininity and masculinity being predominantly culturally constructed concepts ie not qualities present at birth. The concepts become a lived experience through processes of socialisation, starting from childhood experiences and continue with observing and copying realities.
Feminist research is full of different sub groupings. Its diversity is almost too staggering to behold. There are permanent and constant debates about the angles. Which position to invade or attack. And what standpoint to take. Ultimately though feminism accepts that it has a political mission of societal betterment and justice too. And that is in contrast to many other academic professions.
Tactics employed and mobilised in feminism vary, owing to its diversity; and these tactics change throughout its sizeable history. However I would say it’s fair to direct some attention to successful feminist campaigns. I am still working on uncovering these, but recent examples could be named as the gender pay gap and the political and board-room representation of women. Long story short, these campaigns tend to be built on data and analysis to highlight inadequacies in the system. They were campaigns that would be rationally digestible by the wider public – boiling it down to a point. This is important as campaigning from outside the system has to find a way of communicating with the system without getting compromised. As we all only know too well these campaigns are far from finished. Pay gap and representation remain issues, but these are now agenda items that an individual in the public, so willing, can grasp and run with it.
What does that mean for cycle campaigning? One message perhaps could be the notion that mind change precedes physical change. Hearts and minds have to be won; an object needs to be made into a subject, so to speak. Putting meat on the bone by using data, rationality and analysis is one thing. Persistently going about your business and getting the message out there and heard is another. And putting the heart and mind into the meated-up skeleton is yet a third.
I believe cycle campaigning is getting there, slowly. Cycle campaigning campaigns for physical changes to our streets. But we should realise that the actual campaigning happens long before that. It is often invisible. We should put more effort into learning how to talk about these early interventions and efforts, exchange and share our experiences more. Making sense of and valuing this early work is so important – it would construct a more resilient campaigning platform stocked with motivated campaigners. We must learn to tell stories about our struggles and create identities beyond the one of “being a cyclist” (the perennial). What we do must ring true with the wider public. Scripting more coherent storylines can help that.