(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.