With little more than a week to go for the contentious US presidential election, hundreds of New Yorkers, dressed in grey, biked almost 23 kilometres from Bronx to Lower East Side as a part of an initiative arranged by Brooklyn-based collective Road Riders NYC.
The so-called Justice Rides are a part of the group’s strategy to encourage people get out and vote. Bronx as an example has reported historically low levels of voter turnout. As they rode through the borough, many residents watched them pass and even participated in the chanting.
“Step one in the push for change is to receive [Republican President Donald] Trump out of office,” says Peter Kerre, one of the vital co-founders of Road Riders NYC. The group has been arranging Justice Rides weekly, with next weekend being the final before Election Day on November 3.
Boosted by the effects of Covid-19, the United States cycling industry has seen “unprecedented growth” with sales increasing by 31% to $1.3 billion in the first quarter of the year, according to reports by NPD Group, a market research company. While some use the two-wheelers for leisure and other so to travel, bikes have also increasingly more develop into a feature of activism across New York. Their presence was once tangible over the summer months as protests against police brutality erupted after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man killed all over his arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Kerre, who is of Kenyan heritage and comes from the same town where Floyd was once killed, had bought a scooter to travel to work, but found that it came in handy when protests began in New York. “There would be 20-30 protests a day,” Kerre tells HT. “The scooter made it easy to receive from one protest to another.” It was once at these protests that he repeatedly ran into the six cyclists who later became co-founders of Road Riders NYC.
The organisers of Riders4Rights, another New York-based group, also met at protests. “Riders4Rights essentially grew out of McCarren Park,” says Rutuja Ganoo, one of the vital organisers, referring to the park in Brooklyn which became a popular location for sit-ins, vigils and demonstrations. “The riders essentially supply protection to the people as they march.” What started as a small group has now grown to include between 60 to 70 organisers.
As the elections approach, Riders4Rights has been involved in education and awareness campaigns. It organises community meet-ups and webinars where people can get together and talk approximately difficult topics and policy issues. The group has also been involved in voter canvassing in Philadelphia. With early voting underway, New York is seeing long lines at polling booths. Road Riders NYC has also been a part of an effort to stop voters from giving up because of the long waits by setting up water, refreshments and chairs, particularly for senior citizens.
Kerre also believes that the presence of bikers could also deter voter intimidation and harassment, which has develop into a immense concern this time particularly after President Trump encouraged his supporters to go to polling stations and “watch carefully”.
On October 14, Kerre received a call from Floyd’s brother requesting biker protection for a vigil to mark what would have been Floyd’s 47th birthday. “It was once a last-minute request, but in spite of everything, it shows the easy resilience and malleability of our movement,” says Kerre.
The whole movement community is built on love and respect, says Ganoo. They offer people the chance to meet like-minded individuals and engage in something that bigger than themselves and to engage in their shared interests — activism and cycling. The goals of the groups are much larger than just the election; they consider in complete systemic change and hope to retain working towards it post-elections. “The long-term goal of Riders4Rights is to see liberation for all — particularly the most oppressed,” says Ganoo.