Lessons In ‘Social Activism’

Background Reading


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to capture a majority of the vote last month, forcing him into a runoff. It's highlighting a divide among Democrats playing out nationally. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to capture a majority of the vote last month, forcing him into a runoff. It’s highlighting a divide among Democrats playing out nationally.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Chicago Mayor’s Race Reveals Deep Divide In Democratic Party

One of the nation’s savviest politicians is in an unexpected fight.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former White House chief of staff, is in an unprecedented runoff election next month.

Here is a link to the media clip as well…

The challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, contends that Emanuel favors the rich and powerful over working-class Chicagoans. But Emanuel is firing back, attacking Garcia for having no plan to deal with the city’s deep financial problems.

Samantha Hernandez, 17, poses for a selfie with Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia during the St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago. Paul Beaty/AP

Samantha Hernandez, 17, poses for a selfie with Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia during the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago.
Paul Beaty/AP

Emanuel is the first incumbent Chicago mayor to be forced into a primary runoff — and it’s a race that’s signaling a deeper, growing divide between liberal and more moderate Democrats.

Several national progressive groups, including Democracy for America, MoveOn.org and the American Federation of Teachers, have banded together to take the fight to Emanuel in what they see as a fight between the “Elizabeth Warren Wing” and the “Wall Street Wing” of the Democratic Party.


In one of the Urban Cycling Movement forums here in Chicago a member raised concerns about the distress they felt over the move to remove or severely limit the presence of red light cameras in the city.

What makes this a bit ironic is that of all the groups on the roadway each and every day it is bicyclists who are least likely to obey traffic signs or traffic lights. They even have a bit of a protocol for running red lights. It looks something like this:

Urban Cyclist "Idaho Stop" Two-Step Variation

Urban Cyclist “Idaho Stop” Two-Step Variation

Their reason for running red lights is because as one wag put it:



So clearly the transportation sector of the city is ‘up for grabs‘ in that you could spend the better part of each Rush Hour pulling cars and bicycles over and handing out tickets.

Here is a link to the media clip as well…

Cyclists for some inexplicable reason feel that they own ‘Vision Zero‘ as a concept but have very little personal responsibility as a group for bringing it to fruition. That is the job of ‘the other guys‘. They even have a manifesto to elucidate their agenda for them:

Chicago's Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Chicago’s Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

This is essentially the role you take just out of high school when you finally figure out that adults have been lying to you all this time and now you want them ‘to fix the world‘. But when they won’t agree to do it by tomorrow you join an activist group to ‘change the world‘.



But when it becomes clear that you have only one arena in which to ‘change things‘ you either ‘grow up‘ or you enter a period of despair. When the latter is the outcome you then determine that you are going to be the conscience of the city and you start writing letters and making phone calls and generally acting like the ‘Nanny State Police Captain‘.

If it were not so embarrassing you would probably stop and threaten to hold your breath until things changed. But they won’t. They really cannot. No matter what anyone says, ‘money is king‘. Why? Because ‘money is power‘.

Those who have power get to decide what is good and what is not. That is all there is when the day is done. So please do not have a hissy fit when you hear that the current mayor is considering putting countdown timers on the existing red lights (and effectively extending the yellow light period) or altogether caving in and removing the lights.

You Must Be The Change You Seek

So first and foremost we need as cyclists to stop making ‘speed‘ the single most important issue on our plates.

We come from the same gene pool as automobile drivers. We all like to ‘amber gamble‘ and that is why the cameras made sense. Of course it does not hurt that the fines levied against those caught in the intersection when the light changed made it a bit easier to balance the cities budget. But we would never have stopped our shenanigans because unlike the automobiles we are not identifiable.

We have no license plates. We can in fact run down pedestrians in the crosswalk and will only get caught if we manage to stop and help the poor fellow off the pavement. Otherwise we are ‘golden‘.

Now the lady who decried the threat to red light cameras is probably not a speeder or a practitioner of the Idaho Law ‘Two Step’. Frankly most of us never run red lights. We are however quite fond of following the injunction of former New York Times Ethicist Randy Cohen and cheat when we can:

It’s a kind of game we play with ourselves. And like the motorists whose behavior we loathe we too cheat when we think no one is looking. But actions have consequences. We cannot on the one hand castigate motorists and demand of our city officials (who are also largely motorists) that human behavior be overridden in favor of our whims, while ignoring either our own peccadillos or those of fellow cyclists.

This is the real world. You do not get the opportunity be a priest who rails against sin, but has a penchant for pedophilia.

The Real Schism Being Uncovered

There is a fair amount of societal envy of the wealthy. Elizabeth Warren embodies that feeling for many a social activist. They stood with the Occupy Wall Street crowd as they called out the financial sector for bringing down the curtain on a perfectly good Bull Market. Everyone turned a blind eye to what was going on with Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) because it meant that as long as this game of ‘Musical Chairs‘ continued they could buy more handbags and Gucci shoes, drink more craft beers, or purchase more stuff whether it be bicycles, cars or tattoos. Things were great!

But when the proverbial feces hit the rotating blades it was like being a ‘scofflaw cyclist‘ whose bicycle had overnight been outfitted with a license plate (which in his drunken stupor he had failed to notice) and when he ran his usual series of red lights on the way into work, he was tagged at each and every intersection. The following month a small mountain of tickets arrived in the mail and suddenly all that crap about sticking it to the motorists came crashing down on him.

He too was going to suffer the indignity of having to pay a $250 fine for running a stupid red light. So rather than digging deep into his beer money he decided to write his alderman and complain about having to pay his fair share. He would get his Midnight Riders Cycling Group members to rally in Daley Plaza against the overreaching of ‘The Man‘.

They would take their fight to the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue. Rather than bend a knee to Authority they would act just like their car-driving nemeses and use the Pedestrian Lane (a.k.a. sidewalk) and dare anyone to ticket them.

This is the reality of the schism in the Democrat Party. It is a rift between the ‘teenagers‘ who hide behind the notion that they are the ones who will right all the transportation wrongs of society and in the bargain never have to follow any of the rules themselves as payment for the sacrifices they are making by riding their bikes to work and the ‘teenagers‘ know that ‘money talk and bullshit walks‘.

But whatever happens going forward, money will in the end dictate ‘how things fall out‘. We are facing a crisis in terms of our collective public coffers. The battle for cyclists will be in trying to convince drivers that being restricted in where they can drive and where they can park is ‘good for them and for the rest of us‘. While at the same time fending off demands that we too join the rest of the adult world and get licensed and trained and pay our fair share.

Stay tuned!