BikePortland

Biking the Portland protests and return of Bike Swarm


People on bikes stopped drivers on SE Grand so thousands of marchers could cross onto the Morrison Bridge last night.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The fight against racism and support for Black lives has coalesced our community into the largest protest movement our country has ever seen. It’s a revolution of American society and it’s happening because people are leaving their homes and showing up in solidarity on our streets. If you dream of changes to our oppressive and over-militarized police system and want to live in a world that is more just and equitable for everyone, these are inspiring and hopeful times.

If you have a bike, you have the perfect tool to get involved and to support this movement more broadly. There’s even an effort to formalize the use of bikes in support of the protests that might be familiar to some of you who were around during the Occupy Portland days.

Protesting by Bike

(People and their bikes during last night’s march.)

I asked BikePortland readers about their experiences of having bikes at recent protests.

Mariana Mo.

Paul (last name withheld) said he helped “cork” intersections at Tuesday’s protest. Along with several other riders he rode ahead of the march and helped stop cross-traffic. With seven bright lights on his bike, Paul commands a lot of attention and used that to his advantage to direct drivers away from hot-spots and bridge closures. He said it’s harder to move around large crowds with his bike, but also had advantages. “I used my bike to block a dude with a TASER from coming up the rear and I used it to help clear the area when PPB let tear gas fly,” he shared.

Mariana Mo loves the freedom and attention her bike brings during the protests. “You can go places fast,” she said, “And a lot of people will see you on your bike and may be motivated to ride one.”

Reader Joan (last name withheld), took her bike to Tuesday’s protest. “It helps with social distancing in a large crowd,” she explained. “Having my bike also meant I didn’t have to worry about getting home.” Transit and Uber/Lyft service have been unreliable amid various curfews and closures.

In addition to mobility advantages, Joan said her bike makes it easy to carry protest essentials like extra masks, sanitizer, snacks, water, and so on. I’ve also seen many people attach signs to their bikes, turning them into a rolling billboards for the cause. If you bring your bike, Joan recommends staying toward the edges of or rear of the march to make it easier to maneuver.

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The Bike Swarm is back

Flyer for Monday’s ride.

If you were around during the Occupy protests in 2011-2012, you might recall this informal group of riders who came together to form the PDX Bike Swarm. The idea was to use bikes to support Occupy demonstrations and encampments by any means necessary.

The Swarm’s first big showing was highly successful and it caught on quickly. The group kept meeting and riding into the winter of 2012 but eventually splintered and has been quiet ever since.

Sensing a rebirth of the Swarm spirit at these Black Lives Matter protests, one of the group’s veteran leaders, musician and activist Dan Kaufman (of Disco Trike fame) called a meeting on Tuesday. About 10 people showed up to discuss the future, strategies, and next steps. Kaufman has also met with protest leaders from Rose City Justice and says they’re very interested in the idea.

Kaufman announced today that the Swarm will meet with protest leaders and ride at 4:00 pm on Monday (June 8th) at Revolution Hall (SE Stark and 13th). Check the event listing for more information.

See you out there!

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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