The National Women’s Bicycling Forum at the 2014 National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 3, 2014 was an inspiring success with 450+ registered participants and an amazing level of engagement. More than any other part of the summit, the Women’s Forum is an interesting framing point for where bicycling advocacy and transportation equality are right now.
“It’s important to women as a means and a metaphor in that it allows women to take themselves where they want to go … And learning about bike mechanics … because it teaches us that we can fix any problems that come up along the way.” – Liz Jose, founder of WE Bike NYC.
Speaking to several of the women from WE Bike NYC about the history of the 3-year-old Women’s Forum it was heartening to see how far we’ve come so quickly. In 2012, the first year the Women’s Forum was held, the feeling participants, organizers, and supporters shared was one of overcoming major hurdles so that it could exist at all. In 2013, the mood was jubilant and expansive. But, even before the 2014 summit began, there were already rumbles that segregating the Women’s Forum from the main Summit was no longer the way to move forward. Why not? Because the Women’s Forum had the most exciting, intellectually creative, and actively diverse sessions, speakers, and participants of the entire Summit. Clearly those are things that should be front and center in the national dialogue, not partitioned off from the main business at hand.
And that’s pretty exciting because it means that bicycling advocates in America, thanks to its’ pioneering women, are finally beginning to realize a diverse, inclusive movement. After all, it benefits no one to have women and minorities in a room all agreeing that women and minorities should be included. By including the women’s forum into the National Bike Summit – and making it financially accessible to grassroots leaders in the form of scholarships – we are so incredibly close to the dream of creating a uniquely American cycling culture. One that isn’t divided along the usual tribal lines but is uniting us for all the reasons we love bicycling in the first place.
From the opening plenary with female business, government, and advocacy leaders to the packed hall of pop-up shops run by female entrepreneurs and the six breakout sessions covering everything from education and storytelling to cultivating the all-powerful bike lobby, it was a non-stop marathon of women who refuse to wait for change. Even more impressive was the constant theme of generosity and empowerment. “This is how YOU can do it” seemed to be the unofficial theme behind all the talks and presentations, from Kidical Mass to media outreach, community development, and business strategy.
It’s also important to note how many men were there. Men who wanted to discover what innovations were happening in the women’s biking movement or who wanted to support their friends and colleagues. Turns out that the women’s biking movement is simply the American biking movement. It was such a delightful experience to go from a fancy lunch keynote with Terry O’Neill, President of National Organization of Women, to hearing the brilliant discussion moderated by Dr. Adonia Lugo with Senior Transportation Planner Dorothy Le and then head over to a session on Cultivating the All Powerful Bike Lobby moderated by SF Bike Coalition’s Executive Director Leah Shahum with a 100 percent female presenter line up.
Much of the credit for the successes in the women’s forum belongs to The League of American Bicyclists Communication Director, Carolyn Szczepanski, who organized and made possible so much of what happened at the Women’s Forum and the National Bike Summit. Another great reason to hire brilliant women to senior positions!