Last March I had the privilege of attending the National Bicycle Summit for this first time. This year I had the opportunity to go once again and it was just as fulfilling in a completely different way. This year there was plenty of learning and advocating going on. I was once again inspired by the drive and dedication to bicycle advocacy that everyone at the summit had. Keep in mind most of these people are spending their hard earned money to travel to the National Bicycle Summit in hopes of convincing the hot shots on Capitol Hill just how important bikes really are to our communities and country as a whole. I came to the summit this year with that same goal but left having accomplished something totally different. I left feeling that my classmates and I had taught the attendees and Capitol Hill hot shots a thing or two.
This school trip is part of the Lees-McRae Colleges cycling minor extracurricular activities. The group consisted of five cyclists ranging from hard core racers to casual once a month riders. We all came together on this trip with the same goal: to empower ourselves by taking part in the political process and ultimately advocating for our own safety when riding. We did not go to tell everyone that bikes are better and you should get rid of cars because we love our cars too. We instead went there to say that we, as citizens, wish to use the bicycle as a mode of transportation and our country’s infrastructure is not allowing us the freedom to safely pursue this lifestyle. That idea seemed to be the theme of the whole week.
The Meals were one of the highlights of the trip
The week started with some meetings and classes. These covered everything from general advocacy techniques, to what we would be doing on Capitol Hill. During this time I had plenty of opportunities to meet new people and connect with those I had met in years past. After two days of this we joined our respective delegations and took to Capitol Hill. This is by far my favorite part of the week. This is the time when you get to make a firsthand impression on your respective districts’ representatives. Plus, who doesn’t like dressing up in fancy cloths, walking around Washington D.C. and imagining they are someone important for a day. Hands down my favorite part of the day is the look on the politicians face when you tell them bikes are healthy, environmentally friendly, and way cheaper than cars. When you say this they are thinking in their head is “lower health care cost, less money on road repairs, tree hugger votes, more retail sales A.K.A more tax revenue”. The only thing stopping them is the fact that they would have to go out of the norm and do things the easy logical way.
Meeting with Barbra Boxers staffer
Following the day on the hill is the reception where everyone gathers to share their stories from the day. Surprisingly this is where I really felt like I did the most. I got to meet plenty of people and tell them about what we were there for. I was able to show that there are “young people” interested in making a difference, we also see the problems, and with the right support we can make a difference. My fellow classmates and I were able to spread this message and my hope is that people will realize that there is an entire generation that simply needs to be enabled.
This week is one of the highlights of my school year but with racing costs and tuition I would not be able to attend. Thankfully the great folks at Bikes Belong see the value in our participation and have enabled us to be a part of the summit two years in a row. They realize we all want the same thing but we need to work together to accomplish it. We would not be able to attend the National Bicycle Summit without their financial support just the same way they would not be able to connect with the “younger” generation the way we can. Let’s be honest: is a twenty year old really going to listen to someone their parents’ age who tells them they need to work for bicycle safety? They are much more likely to follow the lead of their peers who are standing up for their rights.
All in all the week was amazing I got to learn, see and experience some awesome things. I came away from the week feeling that I had not really done much advocating to non-cyclists, but had done more advocating within the cycling community than anything else. I felt that my class mates and I had represented our generation. A generation that’s saying we want a part, a seat at the table. Just give us the opportunity to help you help us, and ensure a better future for us all as cyclists.