I often keep saying “play the ball” and I feel I could perhaps expand on what I mean by this. By playing the ball I mean keeping your eyes on the horizon (the campaign goal, the target, the longterm message). This is vital, the existence of a unifying longterm message translates into definitive direction and productive things to reach it; we can take steps towards our goal.
Often I see campaigners ripping themselves and others apart – I hear “splitter” and even “cheer up” a lot, and “that will never happen”. I seem to often be pushed in the apparent splintering group that needs to not be too negative and get a “grip of the real world”. It means that I should keep “on message”, and hence I should religiously recite the failed advertising slogans of the past that so successfully gets everyone magically cycling, apparently. This is such a baffling situation to me. Here are two things about that phenomenon.
Of course a critical look is always important and people handing out advice (if done for the right reasons, naturally) is a good thing – and I usually do stop for a short moment and look at the content of these (attempted normative) accusations and often conclude that they are not made from a collective or healthy place: they are often self-motivated and even solely egotistical (“I want…”, “I do…” rather than “The future would be better if…”). Secondly, and I am coming full circle already, playing the ball is very important in that context too. If you are critical because you want to improve chances to get to the horizon (by playing the ball towards it), it’s productive in the long run. Yes, it might mean uncomfortable situations in the meantime, but “no pain, no gain” as it’s said, the reward albeit in the future will be plentiful as it will be collective. And exactly because of the uncomfortable shortterm situations (challenging the socio-technical complex of automobility!) we need to stick together – much easier done with a clear message, a common umbrella that keeps us all dry and travelling in the right direction with that far horizon as a finish line.
And so, yes, part of playing the ball may well be to get sorted internally, in our campaigning scene.
Campaigning is not an exercise in ego or for our ego boosting – although this could easily be positive side-effect of productive campaigning of course.
My current position is that we can still improve on the common goal; some of us even still need to be convinced that protected cycleways are the future of mass cycling and that this is a longterm effort worth fighting. We have to identify the peeps who are just kicking the can down the road. It’s particularly important to make the distinction: if these folks are in places where they can influence decision makers and are held in some historical-sentimental (involved for a long time) regard somewhere, as that puts them into a position where they can derail a brighter cycling future. I am not saying that these peeps do this on purpose, but rather that they have (as yet) failed to catch up with wider spheres than their own. If we fail to confront our internal demons and fail to smarten up to the overwhelming external realities enveloping us, we would be eternally condemned to getting into all sorts of internal and external battles without recognising that it often just is about our differing horizon (some too near, some too far) and how to step towards it.
I can only conclude by suggesting (again, sorry) that the people who do not believe change can (ever) come, to reconsider their position, especially giving the latest reports from the US on the success of protected cycleways. And doing some succession planning in our tiny campaigning world… we need to nurture and amplify a newer, a more energetic, more idealistic perhaps, certainly more constructively looking-into-the-future, maybe younger and hopefully more diverse group take a shot at the ball.