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How much advocacy do we want from our area’s largest bicycle club?

In the wake of Cascade Bicycle Club’s ousting of Chuck Ayers as Executive Director, Ayers told Mike Lindblom at the Seattle Times that differences between him and the club’s board revolve somewhat around the role of advocacy in the club’s focus:

Ayers said Monday the board thinks bigger is better, and wants more of a business model, rather than a community-organization model.

Political advocacy is a friction point as Cascade pushes with other groups to add bike lanes, trails and city funding for non-car projects, causing a backlash among some drivers. “I think they [the board] take a very PC approach and are afraid of people getting a little angry at us,” said Ayers.

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What do area bikers want from Cascade? Should they focus on advocacy, getting dirty in the media defending bicycle projects that are divisive? Or should the club focus more on their rides and educational programming, etc? Does sometimes controversial bike advocacy alienate potential members, or are many of those members there because they want that advocacy?

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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8 responses to “How much advocacy do we want from our area’s largest bicycle club?”

  1. david

    I’m curious if there are examples of active transportation non-profits successfully operating under a “business” model. Generally speaking, there’s certainly a trend in the non-profit world towards adopting business as opposed to “traditional” non-profit organizational structures, but I wonder how successfully that’s been translated to the realm of active transportation non-profits.

    I think what makes this move even more interesting is that the BTA, Portland’s version of the CBC, recently parted ways with their executive director for exactly the opposite reason; that is, the board didn’t feel the organization was acting aggressively enough in advocating for better bicycle infrastructure and the needs of their membership base.

  2. Charles

    We desperately need some organization that is not afraid to get into scraps with the powers that be. Otherwise, we would not be getting as much infrastructure as we are. Maybe it shouldn’t be Cascade if its membership doesn’t want it to be. But that is a question that should be decided by us, the members.

    I can tell you one thing: If Cascade gets out of the advocacy game, or turns into some scardey-cat shill willing to make questionable deals to get teeny tiny bits of trails or sharrows in, then I’m taking my membership to Bicycle Alliance.

    1. Leigh

      As a Cascade member for similar reasons, I agree whole-heartedly.

    2. Z

      @Charles, if advocacy is this important to you, why not both Cascade and BAW?

    3. fred

      I can’t agree more. I joined Cascade because of the great things Ayers and Hiller championed. If Cascade decides to focus less on advocacy, my membership will lapse, but my money will follow Ayers and Hiller. (I realize that Hiller is still at Cascade, but if the culture of Cascade moves away from advocacy, I have to believe he will move on.)

  3. Scott

    As a biker and occasional driver, I have a positive impression of CBC, and I support their advocacy. I’ve engaged with their staff and even volunteered for them once. What surprises me is that they’ve never simply asked me to join up.

    “Community organization”, “advocacy”, and “business” are broad terms & can be hard to nail down. Specifically, I’d think a community organization would recognize and know its base and seek to build leadership from within that base. Instead, it feels to me like Cascade is more about advocating and relying on its core staff to get things done. That’s fine, but there isn’t much community in that, and it relies on a strong, charismatic, salaried leader. As a sympathetic observer on the outside looking in, that’s my perspective.

    “Business model” suggests to me they’re looking to grow their base, but not necessarily to engage them any better. If they were to become a true “community organization” in the Alinsky model, they’d need to make a better commitment to growing, building, connecting and empowering their membership base.

  4. Edog

    This entire thing is strange to me. I mean, a variety of causes (with CBC) have recently won funding from the mayor for various projects. With success like winning funding in a time of austerity, why change now?

    I really like to watch interest group politics and am very curious about how this plays out and what it means. I really have to wonder how much of this 14,000 plus membership could be actively called on to make calls, visit officials, and write letters on behalf of the group.

  5. eric.br

    i think the problem with chuck ayers is that his idea of “advocacy” working within the cascade construct never really rang true with the urban cyclist. trying to advocate for the daily commuter or kids-dropping-off, running-errands kind of rider never gelled with the squid wearing long-distance main-money-giving weekend rider. this huge disjoint within cascade played out in their needing to please both camps, and getting very little done.

    (we can’t even pass a bill to force drivers that maim or kill a cyclist or pedestrian to take a class? puh-lease. advocacy fail.)

    best thing that could happen to cascade is that under new leadership, the organization could schism into two separate non-profits. bicyclists the city over might finally see some real advocacy…

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