Ahead of Election Day, NYC bikers hit the roads to encourage people to vote

The so-called Justice Rides are part of biker groups’ strategy to encourage people get out and vote in places like Bronx that have historically seen low turnout.
People participate in a march organised by Riders4Rights in Brooklyn, New York.(Photo courtesy: Josh Pacheco /Instagram)
People participate in a march organised by Riders4Rights in Brooklyn, New York.(Photo courtesy: Josh Pacheco /Instagram)
Updated on Oct 28, 2020 12:06 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySanya Mathur

With little more than a week to go for the contentious US presidential election, hundreds of New Yorkers, dressed in grey, biked nearly 23 kilometres from Bronx to Lower East Side as part of an initiative arranged by Brooklyn-based collective Street Riders NYC.

The so-called Justice Rides are part of the group’s strategy to encourage people get out and vote. Bronx for instance has reported historically low levels of voter turnout. As they rode through the borough, many residents watched them pass and even participated in the chanting.

“The first step in the push for change is to get [Republican President Donald] Trump out of office,” says Peter Kerre, one of the co-founders of Street Riders NYC. The group has been arranging Justice Rides weekly, with next weekend being the last before Election Day on November 3.

Boosted by the effects of Covid-19, the US cycling industry has seen “unprecedented growth” with sales increasing by 31% to $1.3 billion in the first quarter of the year, according to reports by NPD Group, a market research company. While some use the two-wheelers for leisure and other as a way to commute, bikes have also increasingly become a feature of activism across New York. Their presence was tangible over the summer months as protests against police brutality erupted after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man killed during his arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Kerre, who is of Kenyan heritage and comes from the same town where Floyd was killed, had bought a scooter to commute to work, but found that it came in handy when protests began in New York. “There would be 20-30 protests a day,” Kerre tells HT. “The scooter made it easy to get from one protest to another.” It was at these protests that he repeatedly ran into the six cyclists who later became co-founders of Street Riders NYC.

The organisers of Riders4Rights, another New York-based group, also met at protests. “Riders4Rights essentially grew out of McCarren Park,” says Rutuja Ganoo, one of the organisers, referring to the park in Brooklyn which became a popular location for sit-ins, vigils and demonstrations. “The riders essentially provide protection to the people as they march.” What started as a small group has now grown to include between 60 to 70 organisers.

As the elections approach, Riders4Rights has been involved in education and awareness campaigns. It organises community meet-ups and webinars where people can get together and talk about difficult topics and policy issues. The group has also been involved in voter canvassing in Philadelphia. With early voting underway, New York is seeing long lines at polling booths. Street Riders NYC has also been part of an effort to stop voters from giving up due to the long waits by setting up water, refreshments and chairs, especially for senior citizens.

Kerre also believes that the presence of bikers could also deter voter intimidation and harassment, which has become a huge concern this time especially after President Trump encouraged his supporters to go to polling stations and “watch carefully”.

On October 14, Kerre received a call from Floyd’s brother requesting biker protection for a vigil to mark what would have been Floyd’s 47th birthday. “It was a last-minute request, but in the end, it shows the easy resilience and malleability of our movement,” says Kerre.

The whole movement community is built on love and respect, says Ganoo. They offer people the chance to meet like-minded individuals and engage in something that bigger than themselves and to engage in their shared interests — activism and cycling. The goals of the groups are much larger than just the election; they believe in total systemic change and hope to keep working towards it post-elections. “The long-term goal of Riders4Rights is to see liberation for all — especially the most oppressed,” says Ganoo.

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