I’ve been doing a ton of work with Little Rock’s bike friendly community committee, so when they offered me a chance to represent LR at the National Bike Summit this month, I was eager to go.
At the last minute my flight from LR to Dallas was cancelled, and I was rescheduled on a flight the next day. A day’s delay would have meant missing part of the conference, so somehow, with me standing at the ticket counter inside and Bryan in the truck looking up flights on his iPhone, I managed to get on a different airline’s flight to Chicago and then to Washington DC, right on time.
It was a great trip. I attended sessions about the importance of women in cycling, and about working with people from different generations, and about applying for and using government funds wisely, and about using social media to manage volunteers.
I learned about working with people at different levels of government. Young people aren’t necessarily powerless – the aides that work in congressional offices carry a lot of weight and get a great deal accomplished. There was also some encouraging information about how government isn’t always a ‘pay to play’ endeavor – congressmen really do listen to constituents when they speak in groups. Last month, the terrible transportation bill was shot down mostly because organized groups like cyclists sent thousands of emails asking congress to reconsider it.
It was a two-day crash course in advocacy, and it was time very, very well spent. I’d gone to the bike summit expecting to feel overwhelmed and useless. I figured we were supposed to talk to our congressmen about the statistics of investments in bicycling infrastructure, and I’m not good at that kind of thing. But over and over, the programs emphasized telling stories. If you have a story, they said, tell it. Talk to your senator about how cycling has made your family healthier. Tell your representative about how your community is growing because of bike paths.
So that’s what I did. I called Bryan, who sent some photos of Mandy riding bikes in to a nearby Walgreens photo shop. I picked them up the next morning on my way to Capitol Hill, and I talked to our elected officials about how much Arkansas’ trails and parks and green space has meant to our family. And I felt like what I said made a difference.
It was a whirlwind trip, but I enjoyed it, met some interesting people, and learned a lot. Soon I’ll make presentations to the LR Bike Friendly Community committee and to our bike advocacy organization, and hopefully I’ll be able to use some of the things I learned to make things better around here for people who ride bikes.