“These programs are about learning how to be reliable and creating more opportunities.”
In 1984, they famously packed bicycles into a VW bus and drove to Philadelphia.
From there, the activists sent all the wheels to Nicaragua, where they became transportation for Sandinista laborers, health workers, and teachers during that country’s revolution.
To Bikes not Bombs co-founder Carl Kurz, those shipments, and his nascent organization, symbolized opportunity.
Over 30 years later, the organization has repossessed, repurposed, and dispatched more than 78,000 bikes across the globe. All these years since the Nicaraguan shipments, Bikes not Bombs is still supporting health care workers and others, aiming to promote equity by providing sustainable transportation. Not surprisingly, they have responded to coronavirus, protests against police violence, and climate change with the same spoked answer: the bicycle.
Of course, in the midst of the pandemic, Bikes not Bombs has implemented necessary safety measures: masks, socially distant rides. Beyond the usual, they also forged new programs to help those with extraordinary needs.
“We’ve had to adapt immensely,” Executive Director Elijah Evans told DigBoston.
For one, Evans and Bikes not Bombs created Bike Match, which connects a person with a ride to a frontline worker in need of transportation. The program was started in response to the public’s inability, or unwillingness, to ride public transportation due to the virus.
“Matching people with bikes who need them,” Evans said, “is kind of a unique solution to getting around.” He added that he sees the bicycle not just as a solution, but also as a “vehicle” for change.
As for strategies, Evans said that any “solution we take in the future” must acknowledge “what it means to be a wasteful country.”
Their response to recent Black Lives Matter protests required less modification to the organization’s mission and goals. Bikes not Bombs was born in solidarity with anti-war protestors, and remains aligned with protests against state violence, Evans said. It’s part of what spurred them to co-organize the Ride for Black Lives, done “in solidarity with the fight against oppression,” in June and July. The events started at Franklin Park and brought 800 riders—anyone on a bike, skateboard, scooter, etc.—past historic Black monuments, as well as through typically white affluent Boston neighborhoods.
Beyond the rides, Bikes not Bombs is continuing its longstanding legacy of community building. One nationally recognized and widely replicated program, which started back in 1990, has youth spend time with mechanics, eventually earning their own bike.
“These programs are about learning how to be reliable and creating more opportunities so that young people can feel confident and take on the world,” said Evans, who had his first contact with the organization through Earn-a-Bike when he was 14 years old.
“One of our main strategies is to build leadership from the communities that we serve.”
José da Silva is a fourth-year journalism student at Northeastern University with minors in Spanish and emerging markets. After recently completing a six-month stint as a marketing assistant, he hopes to write for more independent magazines in the future.