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.

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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.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan

I rode by the Swarm this morning while they were hanging out at a station on NE Broadway. The rhetoric from the earlier posts definitely mismatched what I saw: a lot of people with costumes and open faces, looking to engage passers-by. Given the energy of previous Bike Swarm protests, this shouldn’t have been a surprise, but (to me at least) it was.

As an outside observer, the traditional strong protest language in communique doesn’t seem match the reality of this creative, engaging, friendly group.

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.

A.K.
Guest
A.K.

Indeed. I think the reality of what they did was much better than what it sounded like they were going to do in Jonathan’s post.

revphil
Guest

I agree. Also I think you need to turn down your computer and do it in the streets!

jeff
Guest
jeff

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

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Oh c’mon… That is about the weakest rebuttal ever.

I can pretty much guarantee that these folks have smaller carbon footprints than 99% of Americans.

jeff
Guest
jeff

it wasn’t a rebuttal, it was a question. and I still havent’ received an answer. you can guarantee it, huh?

JAT in Seattle
Guest
JAT in Seattle

Indeed, Jeff, it was a rebuttal in the form of a rhetorical question; don’t hide behind cheesy rhetoric, and obviously some of the swarm use cars sometimes.

Are only paragons of virtue and ideological commitment and consistency allowed to take part in public protest? I think not.

L
Guest
L

If they have any kids at all then their carbon footprint starts looking a lot like everyone else in the 99% group.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Yeah, well… My carbon footprint is totally smaller than yours.
It was organicaly grown locally using sustainable air and enviromentally friendly water. It was harvested by a local coop earning living wages and delivered on barefoot.
And my Dad can totally beat up their Dad.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

No, we may not, I don’t think. I can’t presume to speak for (or surmise about) this particular group any more than you can, but it seems that when folks see “protests” like this one, or hear advocates promote less car use, they assume that what is being promoted is some kind of all-or-nothing proposition, when in reality it isn’t. I would bet there is a variety of positions held by participants in this particular group, but there is a position held by many people that internal combustion has its place, but has become obscenely overused for trivial applications that are grossly wasteful. There is also the angle that car/SUV operation in this country has reached the harmful levels of overuse we see today due to massive encouragement by giant corporations who have manipulated the government into hiding the true costs of this overuse.

As a society, we have been pandered to in our laziness and desire for convenience and marketed to in our desire for status and fear of competition and imaginary danger, so that some of us have come to believe that traveling anywhere outside of a personal motor vehicle is so physically demanding/dangerous/low-class/slow/inconvenient/distasteful/insane/etc. that it simply cannot be done. People have structured their entire lives around being able to drive instantly and directly to anywhere. They have added so many tightly-scheduled, daily destinations to their lives that to travel any other way has become impossible. The problem will come when anything near the true cost of such travel is realized and requires cutting out of the household budget (of dollars or hours) some of the things we think we “need” to travel to. Then, except for the “rich”, travel by single-occupant personal motor vehicle will become the impossible thing.

All many forward-thinking “protesters” like those participating in this tour would like to see is people taking a more reasonable view of motor travel–in light of the current state of street congestion and peak oil–and start using the right tool for the job. Going to Grandma’s in Bend? Sure, drive the car. Going to soccer practice at the local school or park? Maybe you and the kids could walk there–or ride bikes. Headed to the store for a month of groceries? Could do it on the right kind of bike, but it might be appropriate to drive. Going to the the pharmacy less than a mile away to pick up one prescription? Maybe firing up the SUV is a little bit of overkill. Could you take a bus or train downtown to work instead of driving? These are the decisions many folks are asking people to think about rather than automatically assuming every last mile of travel must be done by auto.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Above is a misplaced response to “jeff”, who was asking whether we could surmise that no participants in this event ever used motorized transport for any purpose.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“may we surmise from this group that none of them own and use a car? take the bus? trimet?”
jeff,
Notwithstanding your assertion I think your question is rhetorical. What is your point? To highlight that we all use gasoline, even if only a little, or indirectly?
If the answer to your rhetorical question is ‘no,’ does this in your mind invalidate the effort? Only those with lily white vests may protest?
And if the answer is ‘yes,’ someone (you?) will shout: “but your bike and the roads you ride on were made with oil….”
So productive.

JAT in Seattle
Guest
JAT in Seattle

errr, yeah, what 9watts said! (sorry i guess i should have read the whole comment thread before replying…)

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.

Scott
Guest
Scott

What’s easiest @BURR is to misrepresent the format of your protest. The post was incredibly misleading.

BURR
Guest
BURR

I don’t think yesterday’s post was misleading, everyone commenting just assumed the worst and responded as if the sky was falling.

Scott
Guest
Scott

Define “blockade” @BURR and relate it to today’s event.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Everyone read exactly what they stated they were going to do and responded appropriately. They did not do what they claimed they were going to do.

Hart Noecker
Guest

Please reread our the comments we left yesterday, we told you exactly what todays action consisted of.

Lazlo
Guest
Lazlo

From Bike Portland:
“Bike swarm organizer Katherine Ball says they discussed tactics they can use to ride within the law, but also prevent and slow down traffic from entering gas stations. One of the legal tactics is called the ‘chainsaw.'”

From pdxbikeswarm.org:
“Bike swarm will be shutting it down at two seperate times come F29.”

Is it any wonder why people assumed the action would be more confrontational than it turned out to be? I saw some of these folks yesterday, and it was really no big deal. I think it was handled well, I give them credit for backing down from their stated tactics.

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).

Mike
Guest
Mike

In all seriousness, I am very happy that their protest was nothing like their flyer had suggested it would be.
I do think it is too early to state that the ride did not “exacerbate the divisive public dialogue “. Let’s see how the media portrays it.

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.

BURR
Guest
BURR

Those sound like great ideas Andrew, why don’t you start organizing them yourself?

are
Guest

yeah, i don’t think andrew quite gets it yet. obviously your suggestions are welcome, but the suggestions that get heard and implemented are those that are made by the actual participants.

Scott
Guest
Scott

Totally. There is no way that an exclusive club of people listening to only themselves can end up going down the tube. I know ALEC, OPEC and the GOP sure do listen to everything everyone else says. Nothing says getting it done like closed door meetings I tell ya.

peri
Guest
peri

There’s nothing “closed-door” or “exclusive” about it. If you want to be a part, come and participate. If you can’t make it to the meetings, friend us on FB and see what else we’re up to.

Scott
Guest
Scott

@peri I was responding to @are’s comment. You guys really need a PR person. The posts and flyers are full of vitriolic rhetoric and do not lend themselves to a feeling of inclusion. I have nothing against your group aside from it’s misrepresentation of it’s intended actions. However, informative rides are not how I like to effect change.

Andrew Kaiser
Guest
Andrew Kaiser

The moment Bike Swarm gets organized and starts focusing on effective demonstrations and really influencing policy is the moment I’ll be there right with you. In the meantime, if it makes you feel good going to these events all the power to you. Just don’t be surprised if nothing changes as a result.

It would make no sense for me to abandon my current efforts at activism to align myself with a group that quite simply doesn’t accomplish much. I’m sure it was fun going out there this morning and riding around. I have no doubt in my mind about that at all, but I don’t think it changed anything.

In my day job I work for a company that employs over 2,500 Oregonians (and more than a few Washingtonians). I recently organized an employee bike safety seminar aimed at educating both drivers and cyclists on road safety. This past year I also managed to convince my employer to add more lockable bike cages and expand it’s shower facilities.

I know for a fact my efforts got at least a dozen people to ride a bike at least once a week. How about you? Can you say the same?

So yes, I do “get it”. I get plenty. If you don’t like my ideas that’s fine, you certainly don’t have to. As I mentioned in the earlier thread however it’s rather lame to be dismissive of those who don’t wish to put on a Bike Swarm membership pin.

are
Guest

i feel i have been unkind in my responses to andrew, and i want to apologize. i too tend to work in trenches, plugging away at the attainable practical tasks that might make for incremental change. i rarely participate in rallies and demonstrations, and i did not participate in this one.

the point i was trying to make, admittedly not effectively, was that dan kaufman and his crew also have a role to fill, bringing some of this dialogue into a broader public awareness. the people who are going to shape how the swarm delivers its message are for the most part going to be those who participate. they will not always make the choices you would make, but then you (and i) chose not to be there, on these occasions.

frankly, i thought dan and hart were very receptive to suggestions made on these boards yesterday, and made it reasonably clear they intended an upbeat, nonconfrontational event. and while one release from the swarm a few days ago used the word “blockade,” the more recent releases did not.

Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

No need to apologize dude (or dudette?)

You have every right to make your point, as do I. Besides, I’m enjoying the conversation. I also don’t want to come across like I hate Bike Swarm or something. Quite the opposite. I meant what I said when I mentioned it looked like fun. I just want things like this to be better.

I agree with the notion that this country needs a wake up call on a variety of issues. Transportation and fossil fuels just happens to be the one near and dear to my heart.

Swarmonymous
Guest

Up-twinkles on the ideas. Could use your help and are typically meeting on Friday’s at St. Francis from 7-9pm. We can do it without you but it might mean our studded tire signature collection drive gets listed instead as studded-tire slashing event 😉

jocko
Guest
jocko

Way to keep it classy bike swarm.

AC
Guest
AC

a dozen riders is not quite a bike swarm

Hart Noecker
Guest
Hart Noecker

We had about 25, didn’t see you there.

Scott
Guest
Scott

25 riders is not quite a “swarm”, and I was not there either.

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

A.K.
Guest
A.K.

None, since he’s driving!

BURR
Guest
BURR

b..b..b…b…but if he doesn’t pedal there on his bike he will lose all his credibility, OMG!

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Jim,

then you should stay in a building built of tree limbs and grow your own food.

The reality is that you need fuel to cover long distances in a timely manner.

There is not hypocrisy about Maus driving……I am sure he did a cost benefit assessment of what his time is worth and it was more effective to drive.

You also need to weigh the benefits of his actions against the cost of the process. Many environmentalists only focus on the cost side of the equation and therefore miss the actual big picture.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

“Many environmentalists only focus on the cost side of the equation”

strawman 1

“and therefore miss the actual big picture.”

strawman 2

Mike
Guest
Mike

How about Amtrak? Need he drive?

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.

Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

I always hate to admit it, but I think it is absolutely true one of the fastest ways to affect change is to appeal to someone’s bank account. I’d like to think people change because it’s the right thing to do, but yeah, that’s just wishful thinking on my part. It’s true for some people of course, but for the masses not so much.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Andrew,

even if it is the right thing to do, there may be a point in time where one simply cannot afford to do the right thing.

People are influenced by their individual economic standing…..and little else.

9watts
Guest
9watts

curious that you assume the right thing is (always?) more expensive. In my experience it is often exactly the other way around. In other words it is not about money at all so much as it is about habit and what we feel comfortable doing, whether we are willing to prioritize learning how to do what you are calling ‘the right thing,’ make the time to learn a new trick, a new way to get from A to B, etc.

Opus the Poet
Guest

Given that my current household income is a shade higher than $10K/an and the cost of owning a motor vehicle in my county is a shade under $10K/an we could either own a car, or pay for our house, food, water and electricity, cable and internet access…I still have a place to live and it ain’t in my car. Doing the right thing saved my bacon.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

“People are influenced by their individual economic standing…..and little else.”

its nice to see the regard with which you hold your fellow human beings. i wonder if this attitude colors your interactions with them and your perceptions of them.

Hart Noecker
Guest

We like using hyperbole, it’s fun to do and fun to read. A million critics with a million different suggestions, but if you want to voice them, you gotta do it in person. We meet most Fridays seven to nine at St. Francis. Hope to see you there.

Barney
Guest
Barney

Definition of hyperbole, from Dictionary.com:
“an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally”

So you want to be heard but not to be taken literally? Well, I guess that expalins the “blockade” versus “raising awareness” versions of the protest that was promoted beforehand.

I hope you feel good about the gas you saved by riding around town in your petro-chemical based rain and reflective gear shadowed by a PPD SUV, 5 moto cops and some news people. The plastic, rubber, steel and wood you were using were certainly harvested locally in a sustainable manner and not transported halfway around the world by corporate giants in fuel guzzling container ships before being trucked conviently to your location on the devils own interstate highway system. Not to mention that you are reading this on technology made possible by strip mines harvesting rare minerals used in high tech devices powered by coal burning power plants in someone elses neighborhood so you can feel smug about eating pollution free locally grown vegetables. Wheewww!

I’m just saying that it is easier to act in a superior and enlightened manner than it is to actually live it. If you so opposed to fossil fuels (and their spawn) then swear them off entirely. Don’t give yourself a pass for doing some of the things that you criticize others for using to different degrees. Double standards are so easy to justify for yourself. Not so much for others.

are
Guest

so it would be better to leave things the way they are?

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

So then, the only way to avoid being drunk is to be a tee-totaler?

The only way to maintain a healthy weight is to never, ever eat anything with sugar in it?

The only way to save money is to swear off ever spending a cent on anything remotely “fun”?

The only way to save electricity is to never turn on a single light in the house?

The only way to be taken seriously is to never, ever laugh at anything or make a joke?

I don’t believe the point of the protest was to “save gas” during the “tour”–although driving from station to station would have used a lot more…

I think it is misleading to set up the straw man of unattainable perfection in fair and sustainable practices in all areas of life, then claim participants in activities like this are either hypocrites or failures because they don’t live up to such a level of perfection (or convince every living person to do so). That is illogical hyperbole in itself.

As ‘are’ alludes to in his reply, there is such a thing as “better”, regardless of whether perfection is ever reached. It would be ridiculous to suggest that everybody can dump from their lives every last shred of anything remotely oil-based–but most of us could use less, which would be an improvement, which is all most folks are asking for. Improvement, not perfection.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Hyperbole and fact spinning is what’s working for the oil companies, coal companies and radical fundamentalist christians who want to rebuild America as “the theocracy it was meant to be”.

Have we already past the point where facts can stand on their own or must we all rely on well spun falsehoods to coddle the masses?

Must we rush to a lower common denominator?

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

One of my favorite “hyperbolic” statements from neo-atheists: “Religion has killed more people than all war put together.”

And that number is???

Point is: all people use this vehicle to make a point…not JUST oil companies, christian zealots and coal companies.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

See you just proved my point.

Your denigrating use of “atheists” and attempts to put words in my mouth (and others in the past) basically puts you in the position of the PR person who is willing to misrepresent any and all facts to paint the “truth” that fits your need. If all else fails a Pyrrhic victory is acceptable.

There’s this nice little flow chart for how rational and productive discussions take place.

The fact of the matter is that NOT all people use this vehicle; some of us try to hold ourselves to a higher standard than feces flinging monkeys.

Jon Makela
Guest
Jon Makela

Oil companies and coal companies now want a theocracy??

Number 1 reason why I don’t interact with or confront swarmera, ows folks, etc. You cannot reason out of them what was never reasoned in in the first place.

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.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Swarm your tv.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Swarm your toilet.

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.