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PDX Bike Swarm pumps up awareness at ‘Tour de Petro’

Posted by on February 29th, 2012 at 1:57 pm

The PDX Bike Swarm took their bike-inspired protest style to Portland gas stations this morning.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Despite weather that mixed freezing rain with strong winds, the PDX Bike Swarm was out in force this morning with a protest action they dubbed “Tour de Petro.”

The idea was to draw attention to the vast subsidies the U.S. government hands out to oil companies and the alignment between those companies and the powerful non-profit American Legislative Exchange Council that represents their interests. ALEC has come under scrutiny for its close connection between state legislators and its corporate and billionaire benefactors.

Jason Johnson took the day off work to join the Bike Swarm. “I don’t even use gas much at all,” he said, pointing to his Surly steed as we rode up SE MLK Jr Blvd., “But I wanted to show my support.”

Despite major concerns voiced by commenters on this site yesterday that this protest would create a backlash among gas station customers and would only exacerbate the divisive public dialogue started by The Oregonian with their irresponsible story on Sunday, I’m happy to report that the event was very peaceful and productive.

At each station, riders would roll around the pumps a few times, while others would stand near the entrance holding signs. There were two people dressed up like polar bears. One of them held a sign that said, “Up with polar bears, Down with BP,” and the other one’s sign read, “There has to be a better way.”

Dan Kaufman (of disco trike fame) rolled with a sign that said, “RIP Big Oil: Don’t Subsidize Our Demise!” He also pulled a coffin that carried a gas can. “When we buy gas, we’re pumping money into groups like ALEC,” said Kaufman, “Then ALEC members write laws so oil and gas companies can do more drilling and bend the laws to their benefit.”

For Kernel Moses, a man who was pulling a huge fake gas price sign that listed his version of the true cost of gas, the event’s goal was to raise awareness that oil is both heavily subsidized and at the center of America’s economy.

Other than a few friendly honks, passersby and gas station customers didn’t seem pay much attention to the protestors — but they probably read the signs. As for station employees, their reactions were mixed.

At a Shell station on Broadway and MLK, an employee asked us to leave and to stop taking photos (which we quickly obliged with). Then a few minutes later at a 76 station across the street, the employees engaged swarmers in conversation and then posed for pictures.

The police presence was easy to miss; but it was there. A white police SUV followed us as we took the lane up MLK Jr. Blvd and at one point there were 4-5 police motorcycles also following us.

Overall, the event was calm and productive. Conversations about the issues were had between riders (I got a nice rundown of how ALEC works from one woman who had created a little folded comic about the group), with people who approached the swarm, and with gas station employees. The fellow below had an animated (and friendly) chat with one of the riders…

As I type this, the swarmers are still out on the cold and wet streets, using their bikes to support Occupy Portland on the F29/ALEC march that’s going through downtown. Keep up to date with the Bike Swarm at PDXBikeSwarm.org or follow them on Twitter.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Steve B
Guest

Way to go, Bike Swarm!!

Eric
Guest
Eric

The post yesterday made it seem like they would block a gas station for a significant amount of time. This actually seemed more like an awareness tour. Which I think should be the goal, to convince people to not drive instead of forcing them to not drive.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I have no problem with this. I think they need to tone down the rhetoric contained in their communications a bit. They may be trying to motivate people to join up with words like “BLOCKADE”, but it ends up turning people against their cause.

jeff
Guest
jeff

may we surmise from this group that none of them own and use a car? take the bus? trimet?

BURR
Guest
BURR

It’s always easier to criticize than to get active to bring about change, and if you’re waiting for our sorry politicians to take the lead, you’re going to be waiting an awful long time.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Any video?

J-R
Guest
J-R

It sounds as if the event was far different than what was described. Maybe it was your intent to shock with the use of terms like “blockade.” I think you need a new communications strategy. The event seems to have been positive and even fun. Maybe even something I would attend with my kids. Yesterdays description made it sound like anyone attending should carry money for bail.

Mike
Guest
Mike

What exactly did they blockade?

Their next protest might be along the lines of Bike Swarm to Destroy Apple (and by destroy, we mean we will ride our bikes around a Best Buy parking lot while using our iphones to tweet and post pictures of our ride).

Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

It sound like the event ended up being much more peaceful than the Bike Swarm website described. You have to admit the use of the word “blockade” was incredibly poor and I’m happy to see they didn’t go that route.

The one thing I like is the sign that shows the true cost of gas. I question how much people were able to actually read it if they were zooming by in a car but still, that the kind of message I like to see getting out there more.

Overall though, I think a lot of the points made on the previous thread are still valid. Do you honestly believe this event inspired anyone to leave their car in the driveway tomorrow and instead consider riding a bike? Did this event get the attention of any politicians or members of ALEC?

I promise I’m not trying to be harsh. I love the idea of people having energy and passion around this issue, I really really do. **I** have energy and passion around this issue too. I just want to see that passion turn into something productive, organized, and most of all effective. All the hours spent organizing and promoting this event could have instead been spent on something concrete.

Here is another suggestion:

Why not have the next Bike Swarm event centered around getting studded tired banned from Oregon roads. Bike Swarm members can dress up in suits and ties and “arm themselves” with clip boards and petition sheets. Getting that law passed would have a tangible impact…i.e. less road repairs, less oil consumption, more money available for related projects, more bike riders.

Or how about this one:

Use the Bike Swarm to raise money for an ad campaign. Hold a fund raising event or partner with a local business. Maybe get a business like Hopworks to donate 10% of their proceeds made on a specific day to the effort. Things like that. Can you imagine billboards across Portland bigger than life showing something similar to the “true cost of gas” the rider today was lugging around?

Just some thoughts for you.

jocko
Guest
jocko

Way to keep it classy bike swarm.

AC
Guest
AC

a dozen riders is not quite a bike swarm

Barney
Guest
Barney

It looks like Bike Swarm scaled it back based on the outcry shown on this site to their stated plan. I have to agree that people riding bikes in Polar Bear costumes may be less threatening than blockading the pumps, but personally, adults in furry costumes give me the creeps!!!

Jon Makela
Guest
Jon Makela

Protesting subsidies to big oil? Where are the protests surrounding the complete waste of billions the Obama administration has given to preferred green energy firms that went bankrupt? Where are the protests against union-dominated manufacturing plants? All receive subsidies or sully the environment in some way.
And how was this swarm productive? Like-minded people interacting in their own echo-chamber is all this was.

And forgive the intrusion of facts, but the green energy and climate alarmists are far better funded than folks like heritage or Alec. What a waste of time.

Daniel R. Miller
Guest
Daniel R. Miller

If they had described it like this in their pre-event promo information, instead of as a “blockade” of local gas stations, I think that I and a lot of other people might have shown up and made for larger numbers. Granted I could have come out anyway, but I need to decide my participation sometimes just based on the basic info I get, and how things are framed.

Kernel Moses Loose-nut
Guest
Kernel Moses Loose-nut

Thanks for the coverage Jonathan! I am not a colonel though, just a seed. @KernelMoses

jim
Guest
jim

How many hundreds of gallons of jet fuel is Jonathan going to burn up in our higher atmosphere on his way to Sacramento? Hypocritical I would say

indy
Guest
indy

My suggestion to protest groups:

Just give facts and statistics, back them up with sources, and let your audience decide. Don’t use hyperbole, pleas for emotion, scare tactics.

For example, you can use the numbers from AAA:
Composite national average cost per-mile for 2010: 58.5 cents

Just tell people, in nice, clear lettering, that it costs them half a buck to drive a mile. Have another poster break down those costs. Have another poster show how those costs have risen year-to-year and how they are projected to be x amount in y years, and from a FINANCIAL perspective, it just isn’t sustainable.

People respond real quick when they see their money in plain sight like that. They double-take the next trip, perhaps. They don’t think of expense for the mile-to-mile, they just think about it for the gas and the initial car payment.

Just an idea. I know screaming about faceless corporations wouldn’t do jack sh*t to me and many people I know, it’s too impersonal to us.

jim
Guest
jim

At least they were protesting at places that sold hot coffee, wait a minute- shouldn’t we be boycotting coffee too? They are big companies making tons of money off of the working class paople. Folgers, maxwell house, Kureg… sigh. maybe I’ll plant a coffee bush, oh wait- not another bush, is there a coffee clinton??

Straybike
Guest
Straybike

I love this Web site! Swarm On! We all have our opinions. Mine just happen to be changing the world through action since yelling at the TV didn’t work for 10 years.

revphil
Guest

I think I can help resolve the “blockade” dictum.

Imagine your car was out of gas and you rode your bike to the pump for more. Because you are a rad person a couple dozen friends join you.