Friday, September 30, 2005

Cyclists After Katrina

Hey Dave:

Just back after a couple weeks in New England; family situation. Thanks for forwarding this to the SFBike list. This whole Katrina-Rita thing has been disgusting. The storm was a "natural" disaster (made worse by Bush-neglected global warming, for sure.) The flood and failed response were clearly policial disasters.

Tragic disasters also provide the opportunity to rebuild a community better--think of the Embarcadero and Central Freeways demolished after the 1989 earthquake. Good riddance. I hope activists in New Orleans will press for improved walkability, greater densities, improved parks, bike facilities, etc.

Despite the resistance of some to rebuilding it below sea-level, New Orleans will get rebuilt, for sure. Among other things, the Midwest Ag industry needs a deep-water port in about that location to transfer from river barges to ocean-going ships. Ports need port workers, who in turn need schools, stores, diversions, etc. If Holland can do it, why not New Orleans? (Well, they have better, more bike supportive politics for one thing....)

I'm concerned that New Orleans will get rebuilt as a casino-tourist-yuppie playground cleansed of the low-income people of color. Livable cities advocates can perhaps bridge to multicultural activists by pressing for affordable and transit-friendly housing for everyone.

See you at Critical Mass,


--- Dave Snyder wrote to SFBIKE Topica listserve:

This is a post from Audrey Warren of the (New Orleans) Metro Bicycle Coalition I thought you should read:

Sep 03, 2005

Listserv post from Audrey Warren of New Orleans Metro Bicycle Coalition regarding Hurricane Katrina:

Hello All,

Just checking in. We are pretty sure that everyone on the New Orleans Metro Bicycle Coalition board got out safely, myself included, but not without a deep sadness in our hearts. If anyone has any questions about specific people and their whereabouts, they can contact me directly at

There are a thousand different ways to look at what has happened, but since this is an organization of bike/ped advocates, I wanted to give a perspective that is relevant to this group. It's a long posting, but I hope you will indulge me. I've got a lot on my mind.

There's a tricky question on the US census longform that asks if your household has access to a car. I live by myself and haven't owned a car for years, but I can't honestly say that I don't have access to a car. I have a friends and family who I can (and do) call on anytime to borrow their car. I have money to take a taxi or rent a car whenever I need it. I have chosen to live without a car, but have access to all of the privileges that would go with ownership, just none of the hassle. It was never a question as to whether I would get out of the city. We had reservations at a hotel in Dallas by Friday night.

Perhaps the largest issue that we have struggled with in the formation of the New Orleans Metro Bicycle Coalition is connecting with the population of folks that depend on their bicycle as their only mode of transportation, people who are honestly just barely scraping by. We all know that it is notoriously difficult to get numbers on cyclists, much less get an accurate sense of the demographics, but I would say that easily more than half the bicyclists on the road in New Orleans are riding not because of some ideology or health goal, but because they are broke and even bus fare is beyond their means.

The vast majority of the people who were left behind had no way out. When you are watching these images on the television, I challenge you to see them as the unseen, marginalized faces of bicycling - the folks that ride everyday, but never find their way to our membership lists, or speak at the Bike Summit, or subscribe to The Ride. Part of the horror of this event is that we as a nation have turned our back on the poor, and that in most urban areas, poverty and race are inextricably linked.

For me, advocating for bicycle and pedestrian rights is about social justice, and the 900 lb gorilla in the corner is that the complexion of our movement is largely white, middle class. I would like to hear a conversation in the bike/aped advocacy movement that really addresses these issues so that we as a collective can work to put our own house in order.

If you would like to help out with the tragedy, please consider working in your own organizations to strengthen your ties with communities of color, and connect with people who are struggling with poverty every day. With all of the madness that is being broadcast on the television, it is difficult to know what to do, and I offer this as a meaningful way to channel your desire to help. Reaching out beyond our historic base is not trivial - or easy - but we can't claim that we're just an upstart grassroots movement anymore without enough resources to do it right. If we in New Orleans had made it a priority to address the needs of those who can't afford a car, we would never have seen the devastating images of those that were left behind.


Audrey Warren
New Orleans Metro Bicycle Coalition

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

US in Iraq? OUT NOW!

As the anti-war movement gears up for a major weekend (9/24-26) of demonstrations later this month in Washington and elsewhere, there is some confusion about what our demand should be.

I dunno where the way out is, short of a global anti-capitalist revolution. (In my former career as a Trotskyist activist, we used to say that the only successful anti-war movement in history was the Bolsheviks.) Some on both the right and left like to think the "movement" stopped Vietnam. To me that quagmire was stopped by 1) fierce and determined Vietnamese resistance; 2) collapse of the US military as a fighting machine due to drugs, fragging, mutiny, etc.; and 3) loss of political support in US. All these factors appear to be gaining during the present conflict in Iraq.

Again, I dunno how to the US evacuation of Iraq will happen. And it will happen. Sooner or later the US will leave Iraq; the only question is how many more Iraqis will they kill before they leave. All I really know is this:

1) BushCo isn't planning to leave Iraq. Ever. Hence the 14 "enduring" military bases, rebuilt detention centers, etc. For Bush and cronies, Iraq is a strategic fulcrum to leverage Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Middle East. BushCo will need to be forced out, and domestic revolt is critical.

2) BushCo doesn't care about Iraqi democracy or civil society. If they did Iraqis would have electricity by now. Chaos and death suits its purposes; i.e. weak government they can easily control. Of course, they'd prefer to have the killings out of the press (like those in Afghanistan, Haiti, and elsewhere) so the US public doesn't get riled up. But they aren't going to let Iraqi blood prevent them from controlling the oil.

3) The biggest gang of killers, rapists, torturers, kidnappers, and thieves in Iraq is the US military. Followed closely by the mercenaries--the hired killers of varying psychopathologies now being the third largest force in the US "coalition" after the US and the British. The US press gives a lot of attention to, say, a police station bombing by Iraqi resistance fighters that kills a couple dozen people. They're amateurs compared to the US gang, who do better than that with one equally indiscriminate cruise missile.

4) "Iraq" is a fiction, created by British imperialists. The Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites understand this, and are more than happy to shatter the national fiction and part ways. American media consumers may be fed the fiction a while longer. But eventually some other configuration will emerge.

5) Civil wars are usually proxy wars between great powers. The duration and intensity of a civil war depends on the supply of weaponry and support from the great powers. Removing the biggest power and keeping it out will clearly reduce the killing. Israel withdrew from Lebanon, Syria moved in, order mostly restored, leaving Lebanese nationalists with just one clear occupying foe to resist.

6) Great powers occupying a country inevitably back one side or another in a civil war. They never provide "neutral" peacekeeping; invariably they get drawn in to support one of the protaganists, enhancing the killing force of the chosen side.

7) American troops in Iraq, like their earlier counterparts from Vietnam, are likely to return transformed, challenged by demoralization, debilitating injuries, toxic exposure, difficult interpersonal relationships, mental illness, sexually transmitted disease, emotional distress, drug addiction (transporting opium from Afghanistan to Iraq is easier than from Afghanistan to the US), and other maladies. Veteran's services are already inadequate. The longer the US stays, the worse the burden to our society for the care of these broken veterans.

Anyway, these are the factors I kind of consider when I think about the slogan "OUT NOW!" Cindy Sheehan and her supporters have gotten lots of traction with that slogan, and I'm glad that seems to be the organizing call for the 9/24 antiwar rallies. Let the Democrats go to hell with their "OUT SOMETIME" slogan, a poor ploy to distract the anti-war movement while the Dems continue to serve as the second political prop for US imperialism.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ivan Vasilyevich, velorutionary

A few items discovered in a search for "bicycle" in the Trotsky archive at

Was young Lev Davidovich Bronstein's first lesson in independence learned on two wheels?

In the country I played croquet and ninepins, led in forfeits, and was insolent to the girls. It was there that I learned to ride a bicycle made entirely by Ivan Vasilyevich. Because of that, I dared later to exercise on the Odessa track.
-- Leon Trotsky, My Life

The leaders of the October Revolution recognized the utility of the bicycle.

Lenin’ s office and mine in Smolny were in opposite ends of the building. The corridor that connected us, or rather separated us, was so long that Vladimir Ilyich laughingly suggested establishing a bicycle connection. We were connected by telephone and sailors were constantly running in bringing important notices from Lenin.
-- Leon Trotsky, Lenin

Who knows? What might have happened to the course of the October Revolution if Trotsky hadn't persuaded that critical bicycle battalion in Petersburg to join the revolution?

From Leon Trotsky’s
The History of the Russian Revolution Volume Three: The Triumph of the Soviets

The uncertainty lies in a bicycle battalion. Recruited, like the cavalry, from well-to-do and rich peasants, the bicycle men, coming from the intermediate city layers, constituted a most conservative part of the army.

Brought in from the front to put down the July movement, the bicycle battalion had zealously stormed the Palace of Kshesinskaia, and afterward been installed in Peter and Paul as one of the most reliable detachments. It was learned that at yesterday’s meeting which settled the fate of the fortress, the bicycle men had not been present. The old discipline still held in the battalion to such an extent that the officers had succeeded in keeping the soldiers from going into the fortress court. Counting on these bicycle men, the commandant of the fortress held his chin high, frequently got into telephone connection with Kerensky’s headquarters, and even professed to be about to arrest the Bolshevik commissar. The situation must not be left indefinite for an extra minute. Upon an order from Smolny, Blagonravov confronts the enemy: the colonel is subjected to house arrest, the telephones are removed from all officers’ apartments. The government staff calls up excitedly to know why the commandant is silent, and in general what is going on in the fortress. Blagonravov respectfully reports over the telephone that the fortress henceforward fulfils only the orders of the Military Revolutionary Committee, with which it behoves the government in the future to get in connection.

All the troops of the fortress garrison accepted the arrest of the commandant with complete satisfaction, but the bicycle men bore themselves evasively. What lay concealed behind their sulky silence a hidden hostility or the last waverings? "We decided to hold a special meeting for the bicycle men," writes Blagonravov, "and invite our best agitational forces, and above all Trotsky, who had enormous authority and influence over the soldier masses.” At four o’clock in the afternoon the whole battalion met in the neighbouring building of the Cirque Moderne. As governmental opponent, Quartermaster-General Poradelov, considered to be a Social-Revolutionary, took the floor. His objections were so cautious as to seem equivocal; and so much the more destructive was the attack of the Committee’s representatives. This supplementary oratorical battle for the Peter and Paul fortress ended as might have been foreseen: by all voices except thirty the battalion supported the resolution of Trotsky. One more of the potential bloody conflicts was settled before the fighting and without bloodshed. That was the October insurrection. Such was its style.

It was now possible to rely upon the fortress with tranquil confidence. Weapons were given out from the arsenal without hindrance. At Smolny, in the Factory and Shop Committee room, delegates from the plants stood in line to get orders for rifles. The capital had seen many queues during the war years—now it saw rifle-queues for the first time. Trucks from all the districts of the city were driving up to the arsenal. “You would hardly have recognised the Peter and Paul fortress," writes the worker Skorinko. "It’s renowned silence was broken by the chugging automobiles, shouts, and the creak of wagons. There was a special bustle in the storehouses. . . . Here too they led by us the first prisoners, officers and junkers.”

The meeting in the Cirque Moderne had another result. The bicycle men who had been guarding the Winter Palace since July withdrew, announcing that they would no longer consent to protect the government. That was a heavy blow. The bicycle men had to be replaced by junkers. The military support of the government was more and more reducing itself to the officers’ schools—a thing which not only narrowed it extremely, but also conclusively revealed its social constitution.

And does this mean that there are no troops in Petrograd prepared to defend the Provisional Government? asked the astonished Maliantovich, who had up to that moment dwelt in the kingdom of the eternal truths of law. I know nothing, Konovalov answered, shrugging his shoulders. It’s pretty bad, he added. And what are these troops that are on their way? insisted Maliantovich. A bicycle battalion, it seems. The minister sighed. There were 200,000 soldiers in Petrograd and in the environs. Things were going badly with the régime, if the head of the government had to fly off with an American flag at his back to meet a bicycle battalion.

The ministers would have sighed deeper if they had known that this third bicycle battalion sent from the front had stopped at Peredolskaia and telegraphed the Petrograd Soviet to know for just what purpose it was being sent. The Military Revolutionary Committee telegraphed the battalion a brotherly greeting and asked them to send their representatives immediately. The authorities sought and did not find the bicycle men, whose delegates arrived that same day in Smolny.


In spite of the complete blockade now at last established, the besieged (at the Winter Palace) still kept in touch with the outside world by telephone. To be sure, as early as five o’clock a company of the Keksgolmsky regiment had already occupied the War Ministry, through which the Winter Palace had kept in touch with headquarters. But even after that an officer still remained apparently for some hours at the apparatus of the South-western front, located in an attic chamber of the ministry where the captors never thought of looking. However, as before, this contact was of no help. The answers from the Northern front had become more and more evasive. The reinforcements had not turned up. The mysterious bicycle battalion never arrived. Kerensky himself seemed to have disappeared like a diver. The city friends confined themselves to briefer and briefer expressions of sympathy. The ministers were sick at heart.


The junkers wanted to know what was going to happen next, and demanded from the government explanations which it was not in a position to give. During this new conference between the junkers and the ministers, Kishkin arrived from staff headquarters, bringing an ultimatum signed by Antonov and delivered from the Peter and Paul fortress to the Quartermaster-General, Poradelov, by a bicycle man: Surrender and disarm the garrison of the Winter Palace; otherwise fire will be opened from the guns of the fortress and the ships of war; twenty minutes for reflection. This period had seemed small. Poradelov had managed to extract another ten minutes. The military members of the government, Manikovsky and Verderevsky, approached the matter simply: Since it is impossible to fight, they said, we must think of surrendering—that is, accept the ultimatum. But the civilian ministers remained obstinate. In the end they decided to make no answer to the ultimatism, and to appeal to the city duma as the only legal body existing in the capital. This appeal to the duma was the last attempt to wake up the drowsy conscience of the democracy.