Pedaling for Peace and Justice by Carolyn Norr

Vehicles for social change: Bike-Aid riders pedaled from San Francisco to the Mexican border. Photo by Kien Chou.
This summer, eight of us set out by bike to meet with grassroots organizations working for social, economic, and environmental justice from here in San Francisco to the border with Mexico. We were the first group to ride as Bike-Aid California, a project of Global Exchange, designed to be an educational opportunity, a fundraiser, and a vehicle for social change. What the ride became for me was a way to link, pace by pace, the parts of California and the border that you miss whizzing by on a highway, or that don't show up on the evening news.

On the ride we got a different perspective on the physical landscape: riding down Highway 1, noticing the ocean by smelling it and seeing it, with no glass windows to keep you in a separate world. Sometimes we could feel hot exhaust on our legs, or we'd dodge road kill along the side of the road, and we'd realize how unnecessarily violent our transportation system can be to the earth and to other people. Crossing on narrow bridges over beautiful gorges, it was clear how much the system favored going by car, and how revolutionary it could be to go by bike.

We got to see the human side of California and the border in a different light as well. At each stop we met with people who are fighting injustice and building alternatives: we stayed with union organizers in Salinas who are helping lettuce workers fight for their basic labor rights, talked with activists at Vandenburg Air Force Base about the militarization of native land, visited the L.A. Bus Riders Union, which has won major improvements in public transit in Los Angeles, and met with community groups fighting for environmental justice in areas of San Diego drenched in military toxics. After ten days of riding we parked our bikes in San Diego and crossed into Tijuana, where we met Mexican workers, artists, and organizers who all drew out a message we had heard over and over, echoed all along our ride: it's all connected.

The struggle for sustainable transportation and a culture that's not entrapped by cars depends on communities having autonomy and self-determination of their layout and organization. The beautiful landscapes we passed through require that corporations can't simply move their plants to Mexico, where toxic emissions jeopardize people and eco-systems. The same ways of thinking and governing that push aside the needs of bicyclists in San Francisco push aside the needs of farm workers in Salinas and factory workers in Baja. Biking can be a way of stepping outside the assumptions of our society: that we need to travel by car, that the things we need are made in some far away, anonymous place, that it's up to big businesses and governments to structure our communities.

The connections exist, but it's up to us to be conscious of them, to integrate them into the work we do and the way we live, and to actively seek those opportunities to exchange and connect with people all around us, living different, but connected lives.

For more information on Bike-Aid programs, to get involved, or make a donation, call Kien Chou at Global Exchange, (415) 575-5545.