Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Getting deeper into community activism

Parental unit on school drop-off duty.
(Photos by Becky Jo)

Communities revolving around shared interests are a funny thing, aren’t they? Online communities more so.

I come to you, wide-eyed, and with the joy of learning something new. You know that feeling. It’s almost like a teen-spring crush. It’s thrilling, exciting, full of awkward moments, triumphs, and failures. I have that annoying energy and “whywhywhy” of a toddler. You are an established community with well-worn hats. Many of you have seen it all, and have seen people like me come and go. People like me haven’t yet proven our mettle, and some of you may be wary of sharing your precious good energy. I get you. I do. I’m a more seasoned person in sewing communities, and while I love nothing more than to bring new people to the fold, it can be exhausting, and at times even soul-crushing.

So I just want to say:

I owe you a thank you. Thank you for giving me your time, energy, and kindness. Thank you to those of you that have reached out and invited me to be social. Time is your most precious resource and I am grateful on behalf of both myself and any other new cyclists lurking in here with me

Why am I talking forever and seemingly not going anywhere? Because I’m going to bring up the possibly touchy subjects of Community and Activism. My hope is we can share what we are involved in, what we’d like more people to be involved in, what we feel is a place our precious resources of energy and time can be used most effectively, and hopefully we can all learn something new. We may not all agree on what is “best,” so I do note here I hope for positive discourse.


I was at a bike-people-gathering and one attendee was considering joining the ODOT Advisory Committee. Their hesitation was “Is joining the foe really going to help? Can one enact change from the inside from just an advisory committee?” I kept my mouth shut. I’m the noob. My opinion and experience is a resounding yes, with caveats. It will drain you. Oh it will drain you. There will be lots of “two steps forward and one step back.” You must have self-preservation tactics in place. But when you get a win, it is so very fulfilling. It’s more of a slow-grinding way to that win, but very worth it. But that’s my experience. Your experience may be different. I hope we can share in the comments, respectfully, and maybe start following and researching new bike clubs, new-to-us spring rides coming up, action committees, etc. I get such joy from seeing Jonathan Maus post about bike events, I’d like to know more and start adding some to my calendar, in addition to some classes for me and my kidlets.

So far, I’ve started small and local. I joined the traffic team around my local elementary to try and help keep the kids safe. I’ve written PBOT as advised in this BikePortland article for help and new 15 mph signs (no luck so far). So for now, we stand out every morning, put out traffic cones, try to be a presence to remind drivers to our PPS-designated “walking school” to slow down. I’m grateful to the parents that came before me and teach me what they’ve done. It takes a lot of personal generosity to meet every month with optimism. (We are lucky to have a former employee of Nutcase Helmets, avid cyclists/walkers/skateboarders, and Robert Ping, who almost needs his own paragraph with his leadership in Trips for Kids, NW Trail Alliance, More Fun in the Dirt, and Gateway Green Committee.) I’ve learned so much from them and it has been the perfect place for me to dip my toe in.

Please share your passions for community and/or activism. What do you do? Are you a full-committee kind of volunteer? A one-and-done kind of volunteer? Do you prefer the social camaraderie of bike outings? Do you dabble in both? NOTE: You’ll not get judgement from me if you don’t volunteer at all. We all have different availability and ability to participate.

—  Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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Becky Jo (Columnist)

Becky Jo (Columnist)

Becky Jo lives in North Portland with her husbeast, four children, two cats, and has packed more fabric into their modest house than anyone will ever know. While she knows her way around a sewing machine, cycling is new, filling her with great wonder, confusion, and occasionally panic.

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Tina Ricks (Guest Author)
4 years ago

Becky Jo, I love your writing and your enthusiasm! I’m following your column regularly. And to answer, I’m a dabbler at volunteering with intentions to do more. I attend occasional local meetings in Washington County with intentions to go to the Beaverton Bicycle Advisory Committee.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
4 years ago

Becky Jo, I applaud to for your advocacy as you are directing students to your local school! For too many of us, advocacy involves joining various groups & attending lots of meetings, which it doesn’t have to be.

Just riding every day to and from work is an important advocacy tool, of seeing and being seen. This is especially true if you live or work in an area that doesn’t have a lot of bicyclists – motorists can be inspired to look out for other cyclists and to maybe even try it themselves.

As an individual advocate, my favorite advocacy tool is to attend a public open house for a street or highway that really doesn’t have much to do with bicycling, then have a quiet 2-way conversation with an engineer or consultant about bicycling – do they own a bike? do they ride? what would it take them to ride to work? – Then I’ll push for a totally unrelated bicycle project. It has always amazed me how many of these unrelated projects have eventually gotten funded.

But I do find that many helping hands (and feet) do in fact get more done, and that working with other advocates is in fact more effective than working alone. In Portland I served on my neighborhood associations (Sullivan’s Gulch 2003-6, Hazelwood 2008-15), the East Portland Action Plan (2009-15) and with a community group here in Greensboro NC called Bikesboro and a nonprofit called the Transit Alliance of the Piedmont

I also (usually) find it useful and worthwhile to work with other groups on government-sponsored advocacy committees. On the better committees, government staff will share their concerns and seek working partnerships with the advocacy community – we can lobby elected officials with impunity whereas they could lose their jobs doing the same. In return, staff can speed up administrative decisions that get projects built sooner (and/or better). In Portland I was appointed to the TBAC (PBOT Bureau Advisory Committee 2009-15 – definitely worth it), and the BAC (PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee 2014-15 – too passive of a group for their own good). Here in Greensboro I have been appointed by Council to the Greensboro Transit Advisory Commission for a 6-year term (I do bike advocacy there for first-mile/last-mile connections) and regularly attend our Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). This last committee is far and away the best I’ve ever been on – we all (usually 20) sit at the same table having a casual conversation between advocates, city traffic engineers, parks planners, city planners, facility managers of our two public universities, reps from Lime, and pedestrian advocates. We learn from each other, we share ideas, we understand (a bit) how engineers think. It turns out they are pretty human too.

Catie Gould (Contributor)
4 years ago

Way to go Jo! There are lots of ways to get involved, and all of them are great. I’ve had periods of attending lots of public meetings, Better Block projects, public speaking, committee service, ride leading. Being around other great people keeps it fun during the times when the work is not.

Scott Kocher
4 years ago

Ooh you read the *second half* of my very long post (blushing). Please (you and everyone who has made it to this very particular corner of the interwebs) come to this on Saturday to “share what we are involved in, what we’d like more people to be involved in, what we feel is a place our precious resources of energy and time can be used most effectively, and hopefully we can all learn something new.” Yeah!

doug B
doug B
4 years ago

I think the best piece of advocacy advise I have ever received is to put a smile of your face when you ride!

4 years ago

“People like me haven’t yet proven our mettle, and some of you may be wary of sharing your precious good energy.”

I have good news for you, this is hyperbole. In my experience, the cycling community has been more than happy to indoctrinate newbies. It’s not like the music industry, where you “have to pay your dues”. Even that is somewhat hyperbolic.

What I really want you to know is, the cycling community is the bike shops. Every bike shop represents the community. Even the bad ones, because there are “bad” cyclists.

So, great, you found us. But go to the shops now and experience the community up close. If you haven’t already.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
4 years ago
Reply to  Jason

To further your point, it’s been my experience that in any given city or area that the number of advocacy groups and the opportunities to advocate are directly proportional to the number of local bike shops. For example, more groups near downtown, far fewer in East Portland.

Quite typically, it’s the existing organizations that have been around a long time, especially those who actually have paid staff, who are most resistant to new ideas, new volunteer energy, and new advocacy strategies. I prefer working with newer all-volunteer groups.

Jay T.
4 years ago

I’m allergic to sit down meetings. I have become a gad about, helping multiple advocacy efforts in my community but rarely serving on any permanent committees.

When we started a non-violent direct action campaign on sidewalks and crosswalks in support of safety on our neighborhood street, I got to be there every time we were out. The advocacy that grew out of that was very dependent on a neighborhood listserv and some side conversations to generate and refine ideas. The only meetings we did were quite informal and over a snack after
an action.

I love being out on the playgrounds and leading groups of Smart Cycling students as they learn to function safely as part of the flow of traffic. I’d languish in a Safe Routes to School planning committee.

Because I love those efforts and because is there to support them, I show up for those meetings more than most others. The closest Portland equivalent is BikeLoudPDX.

In the winter when my seasonal work is slow, I also show up for monthly meetings of

Those groups and some others need volunteers now and again. I show up for several of those each year.

One of the things I notice is how much I enjoy the people who I meet through these efforts. Thoughtful, caring and active folks who spend their time and sweat in loving service of a healthy future for our families and our shared spaces.