(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)
“Occupy the streets! Until we get peace! Occupy the streets! Until we get peace!”
Reeling from a (yet another) violent summer where gang members have ruled the streets with guns, about 150 people joined the Take Back the Streets Ride in New Columbia on Sunday. Armed with bicycles and a powerful sense of unity, they stood up to their fears. As they pedaled, chanted and smiled, they started a new narrative about the public space outside their doorsteps and showed how bicycles can be an effective tool for grassroots, social change far beyond the central city.
Nearby resident Deborah Moore showed up with her two daughters, Imara, 11, and Nia, 6. “I just figured we need to be out here to represent,” she said. “We’re not going to fear our community. We’re here. We’re a viable community… We won’t be afraid to walk and bike.”
There’s a strong connection between bicycling and this nascent anti-violence movement.
The creators of the ride — De Marcus Preston, Jason Washington, and others — started riding for fun and exercise with a group of friends just this summer. When someone got a flat on one of those rides a few weeks ago, they stopped into the Community Cycling Center to get it fixed. It was their first experience with that shop, but it left a positive impression. Later, when they decided to step up and do something about the shootings in their neighborhood, they reached out to the CCC and a partnership was born.
For Washington and Preston, it’s hopefully just the first of many partnerships that will help them form a united front against the pull of gangs that leads to tragedy and young lives being wasted behind bars.
A former gang member himself, Preston had been pulled over by police 78 times before his senior year in high school. Now Preston is a sports coach and community activist who helps young people see alternatives to the gang life. At Sunday’s ride he spoke to a TV reporter on camera, worked the megaphone at the front of the ride, and pulled a speaker in a cargo trailer behind his Trek mountain-bike. Stepping out into this leadership role is new for Preston, but it’s something he’s getting used to. “I’m used to keeping a low profile, especially when there are cameras around,” he said with a smile, after wrapping up an interview with KPTV, “But I’m going to step out of my box for this.”
Preston and many others in and around New Columbia have decided that it’s time to leave comfort zones and get active.
38-year Phil Clark showed up because his son is just entering high school and he wants him to be able to get there without worrying about the double-threat of gang and traffic violence. Clark, who doesn’t own a car, lives on the north side of Columbia Blvd, a high-speed, urban freeway where people often drive too fast. “That street is tough to cross,” he said. “There are no stoplights or anything.” He used to take TriMet, but he said he prefers his bicycle because it’s cheaper, more reliable, and it connects him to the neighborhood. “The more people that ride, the better.”
After rolling out from the CCC’s Bike Repair Hub at N Woolsey and Trenton, the group rode slowly through the streets of New Columbia. One of the ride leaders, Samuel Thompson, yelled into a megaphone and lead a series of chants. “If we’re out here on bikes,” he told the crowd, “We need to let people hear us!… What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”
Here’s some video footage of the riding and chanting:
As the mass passed homes and apartments, people came out onto their porches and leaned out second-story windows to wave and yell their approval. After looping through New Columbia, the riders ended up at Columbia Park where informational booths, food, drinks, and, most importantly, shade awaited them.
Throughout the ride I saw a lot of conversations, handshakes, high-fives, and hugs. Just as leaders Washington and Preston hoped, they’ve started something much larger than a bike ride. Preston told me he’s already been contacted from activists in southeast Portland who want to do a similar event, and Washington said he hopes to use the ride as a platform for future organizing.
During the ride, I spotted Washington watching proudly as people on bikes streamed by, filling two entire city blocks. How does it feel to see this? I asked. “I’m so proud. So happy. It almost brings me to tears,” he replied. “I’m just happy so many people came out and shared this with us.”
– To get involved and follow this initiative, stay tuned to our Front Page, check out the event on Facebook and/or follow future announcements from Community Cycling Center.
If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.
Many thanks for being there and covering this, Jonathan! I meant to come over and chat a bit and thank you in person but you looked busy enough as it was:) Cheers.
This is so awesome! I’m excited to see where this goes in the future. Hopefully this ride will bring much-needed attention to the dangerous roads in that area, in addition to everything else they will accomplish.
I really tried to get to this event. Sorry to have missed out on it. Thanks to all who organized this!
This event is a powerful reminder of how we can change the narrative about our community. We are resilient. We are healthy. We are community builders. We will persevere. We are united. We reject violence. We are peaceful.
I love it!
This is a great read to start the week.
Thank you Jonathon for a job well done in covering this event. My daughters and I enjoyed being participants in this much needed rally in our community. Thanks again for being involved in this epic and memorable event.
WOW…this is just fantastic.
+1000 to the event and the coverage.
Really wanted to attend this one, but too much personal stuff going on this week end, even had to miss the parkways which was pretty close to my house.
Looked like a great ride, and looking forward to future ones. I’ve got many years of off and on history with the Villa (in the early and mid 90’s) and am glad to see things like happening there.
Thanks for reporting on this event. I decided to go to this ride and this was the most satisfying thing I have done on my bike. It was so heartwarming to see all of these residents that wanted to show support for their community and do so in a positive constructive way…I would like to see thousands of us out there next time. Congrats to the organizers for working and pulling off this event.
Thanks so much for covering this! Especially given the recent hand-wringing over the lack of new voices in bike activism, it’s particularly fantastic to see this.
All starts with “peace officer’s” ride=awesome
So cool! A local parkway event. We need so much more of this.
Just curious, pardon my ignorance, but what does the sideways and backwards victory/peace hand sign (U+270C) mean as shown in this post here and in the Take Back the Streets poster here?
People who support the Take Back the Streets Ride might want to check out “Slow Roll.” Jason Hall is coming to Portland on Wednesday Aug 27th. https://www.apple.com/your-verse/organizing-a-movement/
Regarding “…this nascent anti-violence movement.” It’s true that to change anything, there must be new people from ALL WALKS coming forward doing new things that they haven’t done before in a sustained fashion….but let’s be real, in a sustained fashion, black people have been against violence in this country for HUNDREDS OF YEARS.
I know the writer meant well. I ask myself (a white person) and others, what can white people do in a sustained fashion, with all the power and freedom that we have, to be a force strong enough to end what has been going on for so long? How can we be ahead of the game instead of doing the most, after the fact? “Learning,” after the fact? Which priorities should be changed among ourselves as individuals and within the systems that we dominate?
That said, Sunday was a great day and I hope there are many more until our culture changes so radically that in peaceful times, we celebrate and strategize around full human potential and victories, as if it was a life or death matter.
I think that black freedom and white freedom are interlinked. We have very different chains……but neither of us will have, know, and exercise freedom unless the other is also free. What is the more difficult chain to throw off, handcuffs and zip-ties themselves, or the illusion that handcuffs and zip ties are “other” people’s priorities?
My last comment was not approved by the mods. I was critical of Hart’s opinion when it comes to People of Color as he is associated with a group who wrongly accused an Asian rider of being a snitch. Good to know who you support, bikeportland.
nothing substantial to add; just wanted to add my voice of support. +1!