A Velorution Inspired

How exciting and impressive to witness a mostly peaceful revolution in our time! There were some rocks, batons and fire bombs, but instead of guns, the real weapons of

The face of revolution in Egypt. AP Photo/Victoria Hazou

revolution chosen by the people of Egypt were the electronic media, modern social networking, and most importantly, an inspiring display of peaceful civil disobedience and unity.  I am awed at how the people of Egypt manage to maintain collective self-control and at the same time display such passionate nationalism and pride. I am also very impressed at the restraint of the Egyptian military. And to think they did all this without an obvious revolutionary leader. 

The United States of America has a heritage of revolution as well, but our ancestors had to spill their blood to gain freedom of religion and independence from the British Monarchy. While there are heady times to come in Egypt I’m sure, we can only hope the Egyptian revolution turns out as well as the Velvet Revolution did in Czechoslovakia. I’m no historian, but the only other comparisons I can think of are the battle for suffrage and the civil rights movement in the United States.

I don’t mean to cheapen or trivialize what the people of Egypt, Tunisia, the suffragettes or civil rights workers accomplished, but I think as advocates for a healthier world through a more balanced transportation system, we can learn from what we have witnessed. We can learn to stick to our positive message when faced with charged rhetoric.  We can be prideful without anger.  We can, no, we must organize and speak with unity if we want our voices to be heard. This is a bit long, but what she said in 1896 holds so much truth for we cyclists today that I think it is worth giving Susan B. Anthoney a full read:

“I think it (the bicycle) has done a great deal to emancipate women. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of freedom, self-reliance and independence. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm while she is on her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood…The bicycle also teaches practical dress reform, gives women fresh air and exercise, and helps make them equal with men in work and pleasure; and anything that does that has my good word.
      What is better yet, the bicycle preaches the necessity for woman suffrage. When bicyclists want a bit of special legislation, such as side-paths and laws to protect them, or to compel railroads to check bicycles as baggage, the women are likely to be made to see that their petitions would be more respected by the law-makers if they had votes, and the men that they are losing a source of strength because so many riders of the machine are women.
     From such small practical lessons a seed is sown that may ripen into the demand for full suffrage, by which alone women can ever make and control their own conditions in society and state.”


The seeds of a velorution are already beginning to germinate, from the Waukesha Bicycle Alliance to the Driftless Region Bicycle Coalition, local advocacy groups are sprouting up across Wisconsin.  These groups are already making real change in their communities. 

Can we afford to dump the old strident rhetoric without becoming conciliatory?

While I can’t see anything popping up in Milwaukee yet, I am interested in helping something grow here.  Interestingly, if you do a Google image search for “velorution” you get about as many images of Dutch-style city bikes and cyclechic photos as you do of graffiti

The new velorutionaries? I think Susan B. Anthony would be proud.

and critical mass rides.  Try it and perhaps you will agree with me that in the same way the bicycle was a symbol of independence for women suffragettes, the simple act of riding a bicycle in a skirt and heels or a suit and tie may have become a revolutionary statement. 

There are a lot of different directions we could take and we can certainly learn from the experiences of others. To help frame a discussion about some sort of organized group of Milwaukee bicycle advocates, or more broadly, balanced transportation advocates, I will look at the Waukesha Bicycle Alliance, the Driftless Region Bicycle Coalition and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.   In my next post I interview with two of the founding members of the Waukesha Bicycle Alliance: Ron Stawicki and Sonia Dubielzig.  I will follow that with interviews with the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and the Driftless Region Bicycle Coalition.

As they say in Chicago Critical Mass, “Happy Friday.”


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Cyclechic and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A Velorution Inspired

  1. Casey Foltz says:


    A Milwaukee bicycle advocacy group is something that I’ve been quietly thinking about for some time. I would be happy to help try and get one started. I’m kind of thinking that there’s no better time than now.

    If you’re onboard, I would be happy to set up a kickoff meeting of sorts in the next week or two, and try sending out an email to the biking groups to see who else is interested in joining the effort.


    • daveschlabowske says:

      Casey, that is awesome that you are willing to help out. I think we definitely will be working on this together soon. That said, I’m usually the first one to jump into the pond, but in this case, I want to talk to talk to my friends at the BFW first. I have not had the chance to do that yet because their Executive Director has been out of town. Sorry to squelch your buzz, try to maintain the enthusiasm for a week or so. Follow the posts here and we will make a plan soon. Thanks again, I bet a lot of people in Milwaukee feel like you do.

  2. Barry says:

    Great thoughts Dave…since you noted that Egypt’s peaceful national revolt is one of the first of its kind, I just wanted to mention Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution in 1989, also a very inspiring event. Go Czechs!

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I knew I forgot about some revolution or another. Thanks for the historical reminder. As I said, I’m no historian. We can only hope the Egyptians manage to put together a free and fair election soon.

  3. Bill Sell says:

    Thanks for tying so many strands together. One of the failings of our transit coalition was a reluctance of the automobilista to ride the bus in protests. Never let that be said of bicycles.

  4. Tim says:

    I thought this was an interesting bit of research in today’s Seattle Times Sunday magazine article about our “mean streets” i.e. the tension between drivers, pedestrians and bikers. “In Seattle, one study of grocery stores found that between 1940 and 1990 the average distance from a person’s house to a store increased from .46 miles to .79 miles. That’s just enough distance, city traffic engineer Eric Widstrand notes, to turn walkers to drivers.”

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Hmm, I know more than one person who regularly drives 4 blocks to work. I’ve been in safe routes to school meetings in which parents have told me “my child lives 10 blocks from school, so I have to drive her.” I buy that grocery store arguement in principle, but I’m afraid our current culture is a bit more depressing. I will give the reporter credit for a pretty well balanced article. I like how it ended. I have done exactly the same thing on my bike. Turns out it is nice to get along.

      • Tim says:

        Yeah, I found the article fairly balanced, too. Of course, as always, I found the comments people left rather interesting, too. As for people flipping their fingers at others, I’ve never quite understood where that comes from. I’ve only done that once in my life and it was when I was about 16 years old. It really felt stupid so I never did it again. About a month ago I was driving to work (yes, driving; I biked and bused for 10+ years, but have to mostly drive or take the bus now)…anyway, that day I was flipped off by 3 people. Why? One was busy using their smartphone and wasn’t moving so I honked, politely. The other two, well, I haven’t a clue what their problem was except that they have difficulties in life, I guess. As my 89-year-old mother said last year, people aren’t as nice as they used to be. My reaction to these people is that I just shrug my shoulders and journey onward.

    • Dave Steele says:

      Great article. I scratch my head at the road rage phenomenon. Why is it that so many seemingly ordinary people, from moms driving minivans to college students in beaters, feel it’s OK to endanger lives in order to gain a few seconds, if that? This behavior is so common as to have a name attached to it (“road rage”); what does this say about our society? Was it always this way? Did Roman Chariot drivers cut each other off, yell and hurl obscenities at each other and risk deadly crashes in order to “get ahead” of the other guy? Is there something inherent in human nature that leads itself to this behavior, or is our society seriously off kilter?

      The many incidents of road rage that I’ve personally been subject to always leave me mystified. When a motorist completely loses it and goes apeshit I’m left dumbfounded. Most incidents of road rage are very bizarre. Like the time a motorist near UWM screamed obscenities at me because I didn’t go when he waved me through an intersection (there were other drivers in another lane who wouldn’t have seen me had I gone). Why did this seemingly normal man suddenly become so abnormal, so bizarre? I would chalk it up to mental illness or some other unique circumstance, but this incident was hardly unique. It happens all the time.

      I haven’t been able to come up with good answers to these questions. All I’ve been able to figure is that the feeling of anonymity driving affords releases people’s inner demons, like on anonymous internet forums. That, and widespread narcissism makes people think that they are the center of the universe, that the road is their personal domain, that they get to enjoy the benefits of driving without any of the responsibilities.

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