To our members:
I am writing this letter to all 10,000+ of you, but especially to our white members. While white people account for 53% of San Franciscans, they represent nearly 80% of our membership, according to our most recent membership survey. Whiteness manifests itself in many ways in our organizational culture, and it’s no surprise: the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the broader bicycle advocacy movement have historically been led by white folks organizing and speaking to other white folks, operating under a flawed assumption that what is best for them is best for everyone. In my role, I’ve witnessed firsthand some of the worst outcomes of that organizational culture.
As our annual member meeting in January wrapped up, several members came up to me to talk individually. The first member who approached, a white woman, began by saying, “You know, you’ve done a lot of work to make biking better for Latinos, but don’t you think the pendulum has swung a little too far? Don’t forget about the rest of us.”
Attendance at the meeting was overwhelmingly white and male. Three other white members were gathered around us listening while they waited impatiently for their turn to say something to me. I told her I thought she was wrong and that, in fact, I believed the opposite was true: the SF Bicycle Coalition has, since its inception, tailored its advocacy and programs to be responsive almost exclusively to our white membership. But I failed in that moment. I did not call her and those around us into a necessary conversation about race and bicycling, and she left that conversation with her racist assumptions fundamentally unchallenged.
That exchange is just one example of white supremacy within our membership and how I have failed to do more in my role as executive director to name and dismantle it. I am truly sorry for those failures. Similar racist comments have been reported to me at past SF Bicycle Coalition events and I have received them directly over email and phone. Our strategic plan names “transportation justice” as a core value, but those words will remain meaningless unless we do the hard work to confront racism among our membership.
I have spent the last month reflecting and identifying the ways in which white supremacy has shown up in my leadership. Through feedback from our staff and board, discussions with peers and community members, direct action and lots of reading, it’s clear that not only have I made compromises in our advocacy and events in order to not challenge white supremacy, but I have failed to empower voices of our staff, board, and members of color who are calling for change. I am taking steps to show up better for people of color in our community and call out racist behavior among our membership. That includes consistently enforcing our existing community agreements, but that’s just a start. Along with other members of our staff, I am devoting time during my work week to antiracist actions in San Francisco and beyond. I am having difficult conversations with friends and family that I have avoided for too long.
There are many things that white folks can do to support Black and brown people calling for change, and some of them are as simple as amplifying their voices. But fully living up to our commitment to be antiracist will take more work. For the SF Bicycle Coalition, there are several aspects of our work that must change, including recruiting and hiring practices, which neighborhoods we spend the most time and energy organizing in, and how we show up and support Black and brown communities on issues not explicitly tied to bicycling.
Our board of directors took a first step in responding to Black voices in our community calling for change by voting unanimously on June 23 to remove measures related to the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) from our 2018-2022 strategic plan. We were wrong to rely on SFPD to address bicycle theft and traffic safety, and we caused harm to Black San Franciscans by ignoring the violent and too often deadly impact policing has on them. I take responsibility for their inclusion in part because of the pressure I felt from our members to appear “tough” on bicycle theft and traffic enforcement. In the weeks and months ahead, our staff and board will be exploring alternatives to addressing both problems. We can no longer listen to only the loudest white voices demanding certain types of infrastructure improvements or police enforcement.
These changes to our strategic plan are only one small step that the organization and its leaders, including myself, must take to live up to our commitments to antiracism and transportation justice. It will take change at all levels — our board, staff and membership — to move forward in that process. We must seriously address barriers to membership that have prevented more people of color from joining us, from pricing to language, and from benefits to methods of outreach. We must critically examine our community events and ask who they speak to and for. We must approach our advocacy and endorsements, particularly upcoming ballot measures, with a critical eye toward racial justice.
I invite our white members to join us in this work. Some of you may feel uncomfortable with these changes and actions or may still be questioning why they are necessary. I am learning that sustained discomfort is necessary to bring about change — it’s how we grow. I am willing to be in dialogue with you. Those telling us to “stick to bicycles” have held us back for far too long. We can no longer accommodate white fragility at the expense of progress toward justice.
Thank you for your membership, and I look forward to doing this work alongside you.