Bringing Change In Times Like These Is Difficult


Just suppose you were a politician. It’s a tough job. You thought before you took it that all you had to do was ‘the right thing‘. But unlike the CEO of a business you have answer to more folks than just the Board of Directors. But very much like that CEO there is an annual meeting that must be attended and we call those elections. Both politicians and CEOs are not unlike you and me, they want to be liked. They are careful to preserve their legacy. Every single one of them wants to be remembered favorably by the denizens of their district.

Being mayor of a city in the United States is a chance to do permanent and lasting good. But there is always this or that faction which has an agenda that might be at cross-purposes with one espoused by another. And like it or not you have racial, gender and economic lines that stretch across the length and breadth of the electorate. And sometimes it would appear that everyone has forgotten that ‘we are all in this together‘. This is one of those times.

You could ask a valued colleague to present a particularly divisive legislative idea on your behalf. It is not something you relish having to do but the pressure to keep your city on a fiscally sustainable trajectory is made all the more difficult by decisions that preceded your tenure by several decades. And now that the global economy is struggling you have to ask the people of your city to dig deeper than they really should have to just to meet shortfalls in municipal income that are not of your making. So you have your ‘stalking horse‘ do the disagreeable work of presenting an unpalatable solution.

Her constituents do not have a problem with the idea of a new tax on bicycling. Few of them are bicycling commuters. But the aim here is to be seen as blind-sided by this proposal so that any of the flak that is surely coming from its suggestion does not cause you to lose favor with your larger electorate in the city. Key members of the bicycle advocacy community will be able to rail against the proposal which always helps them bring in new members. It is a win-win situation that allows the public to vent its frustrations without anyone taking too much of a ‘political hit‘.

Politics is a delicate art to practice. It requires that newspapers have polls ready to present so that everyone can get a sense of where the public’s sentiments lie. But at the end of the day there is still going to be someone who dislikes having to pay more. Groups of parents whose neighborhood schools have been closed will want their say. Teachers who have lost their jobs will want theirs. Cops and firemen whose pensions are central to the financial shortfall being experienced by the city will want their say as well. We are going to be living through “interesting times“.

Perspective regarding the Big Picture is what may prove to be key. Shared sacrifice is the goal here. Let’s hope that the people when given a chance to act prove to be more capable participants in the pursuit for the Common Good than their representatives in Washington DC have been for the past few years. Unlike those hapless politicians we need to avoid the tendency to demonize one another, that never makes for a smooth aftermath. Instead we should be seeking Common Ground.

This is an excellent time for cyclists to consider reaching out to their neighbors (who are most likely motorists) with a measured and considerate argument that includes not only an exploration of their rights but also a recognition of their responsibilities. We need to let everyone know that “we get it“. And indeed our cycling advocacy leaders needs to explain what is possible in a way that soothes the concerns of their supporters while preparing them for some future changes.

It is ‘time to pull on our big boy pants‘, roll up the cuffs and get to work. If we are to be taxed and educated then we need to make sure that the Rules of the Road are as tailored to the needs of the real world cyclist as possible. Our motorist neighbors are not ogres, just concerned that they not be the ones left holding the proverbial bag. And we need to assure them that we understand this. Now is the time for healing, not rancor. Nothing would be more satisfying to a city the size of Chicago than to know that its collective vision of the future is shared by all, not just a privileged few.