Honest campaigning, it’s political

Do you remember to have heard “In whatever you do, do not ever appear anti-car!” I certainly was given that advice over and over again by well-meaning cycle campaigners. To me there was a conundrum, a dilemma. If you don’t talk about the problem, how will you solve it?

A very British thing perhaps. We think we can magically circumvent the problem, let it lie on the roadside, and move on. We haven’t seen it. So it does not exist. Head in the sand. If, however that problem is in the public imagination (as car use is) and hence part of the thing you are trying to move on, circumventing will be counterproductive.

The ineffectiveness of that campaigning tactics stems from the inability to link with the felt and lived realities. If you construct an alternative reality (as campaigns, activism, initiatives always will try to do) but this reality simply loosely floats in thin air – and is not seen by the public, bears no links to their reality – then it won’t hold. There is no hook, no grip to make it stick.

This kind of cycle campaigning is not honest with itself. The advice stems from wanting to circumvent confrontation. A very British thing. Yet campaigning is about dealing with changing the status quo, dealing with conflicts this arouses. If you do not spell out relatively head-on the problem – it also shows your honesty – it won’t be stirred. And cycle campaigners ideas and demands for a better transport future will again, be marginalised. As they have been for decades. The wishes were deliberately unpolitical. Cozy. How was that ever supposed to work? Why would they be seen?

Of course these wishes were easy to be ignored as they were nice and friendly. They did not attack the wrongs, and – here’s another necessity – they did not spell out the solutions. Once you talk about fair space, spatial efficiency and the safety for future generations you’ll get there. This is what new cycle campaigners have been doing and that is now stirring opposition. As it must. As it is predicted. As it has to be addressed. Cycling has now made political demands. Space is political.

Now we (simply) must communicate cycling’s case again. Now we are getting there.

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7 thoughts on “Honest campaigning, it’s political

  1. Why should I be anti-car when the car (or car-use) is its own worst enemy. I’ve no problem with driving a car but for most trips it makes no sense in cost terms – both financial and the use of my time. Instead of making drivers the pariah of any campaign we offer them pity for the stress and time and money wasted in making journeys by car.

    Comparing notes with another orphan – OK so I was 43 when my second parent died – we both inherited the parental cars and within weeks were planning to get rid of the things. So much hassle for this under-used drain on finances, and the stress on security, where to park etc…

    Add to that being at least £3000/year better off and life becomes pure bliss

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  2. “Space is political.” There upon we can agree.

    But no, cycle-campaigners fighting cars isn’t a problem of the British. As I see it in Germany, that’s a widespread opinion among cycle-campaigners and even more among several ‘cycling-friendly’ politicians based on a raucous mixture of (male) cyclists’ daily experiences in traffic 1:1 unthoughtfully translated in ‘politics’, of environmental issues including some kind of narcissistic moral-centered views, of VC-ideology changing cyclists to bumpers against motorists, of car-industry related politics called ‘divide et impera’ (‘othering’) and, last not least, of a manly concept of politics as fighting persons instead of politics as balance of interests.

    As David Hembrow has put it rightly in his piece ‘Three Types of Safety’:
    “There is no point in arguing with people’s decisions [driving a motor-car], or ridiculing them. The person making the decision to use a car has made it for quite logical reasons.”

    At the local election campaign in Hamburg two years ago I studied the transport concept of the Green Party of Hamburg. They pretended to build a ‘Cycling-City Hamburg’ (“Fahrradstadt”). The text was all about (anti-) motor-cars. Counting I could found the word ‘motor-car’ and related words such as HGV, MIV (Indivudual motorized transport) and so on more than thrice as words describing the so called environment-network (“Umweltverbund”) consisting of cycling, walking and public transport.
    The outcome is:
    Now they are tearing down cycle paths either without substitition (‘mixed traffic’) or substituted with paint, all for “safety reasons” (better conspicuity).

    On the other hand there is the ‘Radentscheid’ (cycling referendum) in Berlin. In their 10 demands and even in their campaign you will not found any notice of motor cars. Okay, nearly none. Instead you will read and hear a lot of the needs of cycling children, of cycling elderly people, of differences in cycling of men and women, the needs of cycling commuters and, all above, of the need of a new deal out of public space. They focuse on the needs of humans and not on cars. In only three weeks they got more than 100 000 signings, the most sucessful beginning of a referendum ever. In a representative survey of ADAC (Germany’s motor-driver association) Berlin 56% of the members agreed to give more space to cyclists and 68% voted for to establish a separate cycle-net used by cyclists only. Approval was first of all given by women.
    http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/umfrage-in-berlin-mitglieder-des-adac-setzen-aufs-rad/14487848.html

    In Germany we have a saying: Wash my fur but don’t wet it.
    In GB all cycle-campaigners will ‘go Dutch’ without following the underlying political scheme.
    In the Netherlands cycling works for all including drivers. That’s how to put it.

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    1. “But no, cycle-campaigners fighting cars isn’t a problem of the British. As I see it in Germany, that’s a widespread opinion among cycle-campaigners and even more among several ‘cycling-friendly’ politicians based on a raucous mixture of (male) cyclists’ daily experiences in traffic 1:1 unthoughtfully translated in ‘politics’, of environmental issues including some kind of narcissistic moral-centered views, of VC-ideology changing cyclists to bumpers against motorists, of car-industry related politics called ‘divide et impera’ (‘othering’) and, last not least, of a manly concept of politics as fighting persons instead of politics as balance of interests.”

      I’m sorry, I don’t understand this paragraph. You seem to be saying that German campaigners and politicians have an anti-car attitude which isn’t found in Britain, but it’s unclear how you yourself view this. And I don’t follow the connection between this attitude and “vehicular cycling”. Are you saying that “fighting cars” is an attitude stemming from the experience of “vehicular cyclists”? That seems to be what you’re saying, but if so it’s a little odd that this attitude should be more common in DE than UK, seeing as – or so we’re told – “vehicular cycling” is far more common in UK than DE (through both lack of facilities and sporting tradition).

      Also, could you explain the German idiom “Wash my fur but don’t wet it.” Thanks!

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      1. “You seem to be saying that German campaigners and politicians have an anti-car attitude which isn’t found in Britain..”
        It’s to be found in both.

        “Are you saying that “fighting cars” is an attitude stemming from the experience of “vehicular cyclists”?”
        Not only VCs. As you can read “… of (male) cyclists’ daily experiences in traffic 1:1 unthoughtfully translated in ‘politics’”
        Stress with motor-cars and drivers is daily experience of everyone who cycles in cities. Many cyclists translate this in politics.

        In Germany the biggest donators of political parties is car-industry far before finance-industry. Car industry even spread the biggest ad budget on newspapers, TV and other media. Whereever cycle-infra should be built the standard-campaign is: Car-drivers are hurt!
        Why should we do their business?

        “And they will deflect from the root causes of the problem as much as possible, by encouraging thei constituents to blame other power-centers, or, worse, some of their fellow citizens along the lines of all manner of ‘Othering’ constructs , …” (Nafeez Ahmed, We could be witnessing the death of the foosil fuel industry)

        “but if so it’s a little odd that this attitude should be more common in DE than UK, seeing as – or so we’re told – “vehicular cycling” is far more common in UK than DE (through both lack of facilities and sporting tradition).”

        VC has got several roots. One of the mightiest is car-industry’s interest to compel people to buy cars by erecting and defending an infrastructure-monopole. In DE VC is mostly car-industry driven and it is the general law since 1997. The rising of cycling at our neighbours Netherlands an Denmark who had much the same tradition in infra and cycling as DE has forced German car-industry to act by tearing down our cycle-infra and going VC by law. DE and therefore our cities too are known as world’s lead market of car-industry.

        And you really can’t understand the German saying as “”wash me but do not get me wet.”

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    2. “And you really can’t understand the German saying as “”wash me but do not get me wet.””

      No, I can’t! But I eventually found it explained as a reference to people who make a show of some action but are not fully committed to it.

      Thanks for explaining the rest though. 🙂

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  3. Interesting, cos someone who arrives from elsewhere but is deeply enmeshed into the local culture will often see more in certain habits etc than those who have grown up with them. It’s a matter of seeing and being curious about it rather than simply knowing, I would say.

    However, I am not sure what it means to be anti-car. There are so many ways in which it could be applied, from the radical car-burners and rock-throwers through those who like cars in essence but think they are overused or wrongly used to those who see salvation in the coming of electric vehicles or self-driving vehicles.

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    1. Yea, it’s true, I did not get much into detail of the anti-car thing. There might be another blogpost in there! =) In short, what I wanted to express is this: we should not be scared by pushing boundaries. We should be brave and go where (perceived) boundaries are. By openly expressing things (f.e. the common car is a blight in cities) they get purchase and become legitimated (this works both/either ways). Not being fully appreciative of the car (tending towards anti-car) is actually more common than we think. And that is in the favour of those who want transport transition and liveable cities. We should not be put off by the advice “don’t ever talk anti-car”. All depends on what questions are asked, and who asks them…

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