(This note is from Carl Kurz, Bikes Not Bombs' founder, which Carl had sent directly to Jonathan at SLC in response to question about whether we started as a traditional nonprofit or chose that direction later.  I'm now posting to the whole list in case it is interesting/useful.  -Arik)

We are honored, to be sure, to think that there are groups out there that could glean info from our experience.  Its interesting to note that Bikes Not Bombs had very anarchistic, affinity group style roots that had evolved out of the organizing strategies of the Anti Nuclear movement in the late 1970's. We didn't start as an institution or a 501 c 3 organization.  From there it was my intention to spread our mission wide and include and involve as many people that would be interested in rejecting the Reagan Admin onslaught against Central American movements for self determination.  I was looking for a way to involve the environmentalists, the cycling community, the nascent recycling movement into something that was, frankly anti-imperialist.  During my work in the Anti Nuclear movement I had begun to realize that the US nuclear weapons industry was very much part of an imperialist arm of the US military and corporate strategy for global hegemony.   It sounds sort of dogmatic the way I'm phrasing it here but it was a very intimate  realization to me at the time and I was seeking a way to go beyond my comfort zone with circles of white anti-nuclear activists and venture into the world of solidarity.  In meeting activists and  Nicaraguan representatives at the Survival Gathering hosted by the American Indian Movement in South Dakota in 1979 and again in 1980 I knew that I wanted to do something and involve as many people as possible.  It wasn't until early 1984 that I found the right folks and strategy to start to formulate Bikes Not Bombs and then I took off for Nicaragua to see what more Nicaraguans thought about the idea of developing a tangible aid-based bicycle collecting US solidarity organization.  Of course I was an environmentalist, a bicycle racer, a bike mechanic and had some of my own agenda in addition to the solidarity aspect of helping the popular Sandinista Revolution. Throughout that process and later in El Salvador, Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico and Haiti I gained a huge amount of respect for people that were struggling for a more just world in their third world realities.  And now after returning last week from Tanzania and South Africa I have been enriched by meeting activists and connecting with communities in those cultures as well.  In 1985 we did begin to have leadership in Washington DC that formed a 501 c 3 non-profit to house a number of projects that were collecting bikes and shipping them overseas. That entity was called the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. The ITDP still exists and they are doing great things in the international scene re transportation policy in developing countries.

Even though we had an organizational base, and the ITDP was acting as an umbrella for projects such as Bikes not Bombs to Mozambique, and efforts to send bikes to Haiti, our main group,  Bikes Not Bombs,  was focused on solidarity and development in Nicaragua and that effort was taking shape more as part of a movement and not as an organization (if that makes any sense to you as you read this.)  In other words the last thing on my mind was to patent any logo or create a set of guidelines that were proprietary, I was trying to show the injustice in the US foreign policy and encourage people to join a movement through a practical step of collecting and sending bikes to a country that was redistributing wealth and opportunities to its people in a profound manner. And I was appealing to the environmental aspect of the use of bicycles as a potentially beneficial and transformative power in society.  I do subscribe to some degree in EP Thomson's concepts of technological determinism.  The BNB idea has always been to keep it tangible and yet connected to something bigger, not shying away at all from politics but not wallowing in political theory and diatribes - make it concrete.  Soon we  had Bikes Not Bombs chapters in DC, Minn, Texas., SF and Berkeley, LA, Oregon, Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, New Hampshire, Boston, Denver, Bristol England, and even Karlsruhe Germany, to name the more prominent groups. It really was more like being part of a movement than part of an organization and the backdrop was the Central American Solidarity Movement.

We really began to change in terms of growth and maturity when we began to change the nature of our work from solidarity to a broader yet still radical concept of "sustainable development".  We also added a youth component to our work in Boston believing that it was even more critical to change the US transportation policy as the worlds largest per capita energy consumer society and that we had to start with people that were least invested in the system. ie Youth!   In hindsight, it was a naive political analysis because even though youth are not very engaged in the system economically and have less to lose by rejecting some of its status quo icons,  we underestimated the ubiquitous impact of the Auto-crats marketing monster and its never-ending production of consumer ideology and cultural imaging that transforms the individual into a fan base for idolizing the auto regardless of any rational critique one could put forth. That's changed with time as new paradigms have emerged and as we have become better and more patient at working with and listening to youth and presenting information and bike culture in a way more engaging to youth.

The chaos of a movement-centered strategy ended up being a bit too much for the ITDP, and BNB was split off and we started our own 501 c 3 in Boston in 1990.  Then Nicaragua changed, the election was basically bought with American money and threats and some Sandinista mistakes as well.   Then BNB  went through another  huge transformation, while still fomenting a radical agenda around sustainable development and  shipping bikes to community partners in other countries, we began to become a bonafide community-based organization in the Boston inner city. We did not form another top-down white activist bike advocacy group,  although we maintain great ties with orgs that are based on that model and we also embrace city wide bike advocacy, but our focus was on advocacy at the community level, school by school, community by community and person by person.  We have made a unique marriage out of building our community base in Boston and reaching out to the communities that we work with in other countries and our anti-militarist stance re US foreign policy. We reject the idea that the US is rich enough and should pursue a strategy of " bike lanes and bombs"  "guns and butter" so to speak. We flatly reject that, it is the nemesis of the spiritual regeneration and technical evolution that America has to come to someday on a  pathway towards peace and responsible environmental stewardship.  Were not saying, don't build bike infrastructure and bike culture until peace is secured, but on the other hand we will not delude ourselves or anyone else into thinking that investing 700 billion dollars a year in the Department of Defense budget and the execution of two wars isn't completely destroying the core of our economy and our culture.  That's why we're still Bikes Not Bombs.

Carl Kurz
Bikes Not Bombs

On Oct 8, 2008, at 5:08 PM, Jonathan Morrison wrote:

There is no question there is a tremendous amount of information that the 130+ organizations on this list could use from well established groups like Bikes not Bombs and the Community Cycling Center.  The question is, what do we have to offer them?
At a minimum it would be good to interview some of the longer standing members of each of these organizations and figure out what hard decisions they had to make and what the out come was.
One thing I have observed with some of the larger organizations is that they went more in the direction of a traditional non-profit.  I would be curious to find out if it started out that way, or if that was an active choice.


Jonathan Morrison
Executive Director
Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective
2312 S. West Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84115
w: 801-328-2453
c: 801-688-0183
f: 801-466-3856

Get Addicted to Crank!

The mission of the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective is to promote cycling as an effective and sustainable form of transportation and as a cornerstone of a cleaner, healthier, and safer society. The Bicycle Collective provides refurbished bicycles and educational programs to the community, focusing on children and lower income households.

On Wed, Oct 8, 2008 at 2:08 PM, Rich Points <rich@richpoints.com> wrote:

So, BNB, are you out there? Lemme know.
I'm curious why BNB isn't present on the Think Tank or at Bike Bike!  I can think of some other groups like the Community Cycling Center in Portland.  These are groups that are way more established than most of us and have a lot to offer.  I think the communications we have here and at Bike Bike are what makes us a movement and these more established groups should be part of our conversations/discussions.

How can we get these groups involved?

Community Cycles