I don’t want to write this post. The upside is negligible and improbable. Since I work in the same sector as the subject, the downside is… let’s just not dwell on that. And this is going to veer away from the relatively irrelevant stuff I used to blog about. Sorry in advance.
Last week, a paid professional spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic gave what could be the , worst interview-while-sober ever, calling a critical local blog editor “developmentally retarded,” and comparing his colleagues and readers to the Ku Klux Klan. When this sort of thing spews forth from such thought leaders as Lindsay Lohan or Lady Gaga, it is rightfully condemned, sincere-sounding apologies are immediately issued, acts of contrition are performed, and ‘teachable moments’ are declared. While few walk away terribly satisfied with the whole transaction, we at least have a bit of hope that we have nudged the future decency needle just a bit higher.
Instead, AAA M-A issued a twitter-only apology that looked for all the world like a “non-apology apology.” The organization pinning blame solely on the man it pays to talk on their behalf, a cryptic spanner of doubt thrown in about “attribution,” and an assertion that “statements were presented out of context and mischaracterize the discussion.” Author Aaron Weiner pulled back the curtain on the context, and AAA M-A did not come out looking not worse.
I was among those who signed onto the byline of Greater Greater Washington’s response, and have waited for this past week for something to happen. A real apology, a firing, an act of contrition, maybe a donation to the R-word Campaign… Nothing. A few people cancelled their AAA memberships, folks checked into Better World Club, the Examiner ran a comparatively banal AAA M-A quote, AAA National warned us about the “breaking point” on gas prices, somebody started a parody twitter account, and AAA Safety reminded us that we can die on our bicycles. In other words, a return to normalcy.
I must admit that I have never liked AAA, either National or our regional chapter. Whether it is their local ‘war on cars‘ talk, their national lobbying against bicycles as transportation, or the many other instances where AAA at all levels has shown itself to be reliably opposed to the interests of sustainable transportation, I am irretrievably pessimistic that they will ever pass my own personal bike-ally litmus test [Would you answer 'yes' when asked, "If more people rode bicycles for transportation, more often, would that be a good thing?"].
I do not think they deserve a role in our big events, like DC’s Bike to Work Day, for those reasons alone. I have felt this way for a number of years. Many (many many) disagree with me, have told me so (sometimes angrily), passionately arguing that detente can be reached, that AAA is key to educating the driving public, and a ‘big-tent’ strategy is necessary for advancing bicycling. All fairly debatable points, and I only raise them so you may attack my motives, dear reader.
But last week, things hit a new level. And AAA M-A’s decency debt has accrued interest over this past week, at least with me. We are past the apology zone. Regardless of where you stand on the good-cop/bad-cop issues described above, I think many would agree that AAA M-A has burned its last bridge to our community. And their main arterial into our local community has always been their confounding sponsorship of DC’s Bike to Work Day.
It is time for that sponsorship to end. Establishing detente with unrepentant organizations who try to excuse their own hate speech is just not possible (at least I hope not). I challenge the organizers and co-sponsors of Bike to Work Day to:
- Condemn AAA M-A’s recent conduct as incompatible with the ‘big tent’ of DC’s bicycling community. We gave AAA M-A ample opportunity to show themselves as allies. They have not only failed, but have since shown the darkest sides of themselves.
- Ask that they refrain from taking part, either in-person or online, in any Bike to Work Day activities. It is too late to take their logos off the signs, but it is not to late for AAA M-A to exhibit a smidgen of shame.
- Make clear that they will not be welcomed back as a Bike to Work Day co-sponsor without substantive organizational changes. DC’s bike community has sufficiently matured to the point that we do not need the endorsement of our foes for the sake of legitimacy.
I am not asking that people withhold registering or participating in Bike to Work Day. You should. Sign up now. Bike to Work Day is not only too important, but with Bike DC going back into hibernation, and the fact that we will not get an Open Streets event here until completion of the Global War on Terror, this is all we’ve got. You should enjoy it. Assuage any guilt by signing the R-word Pledge. Maybe Sharpie over the AAA logo on your t-shirt. Or just dismiss me as an oversensitive prat.
But barring some change, I will probably lay low on May 17th. The AAA’s R-word slur has put a stain on the day that AAA bikewashing will only make worse. I’ve participated in most (maybe all) Bike to Work Days since 2002, and I’ve got the garish neon rainbow of t-shirts to prove it. It is a testament to all involved that my staying away would cause an undetectable ripple among the sea of 14,000+ partying bicyclists, and I wish you all the best. But as it stands, it comes down to AAA Mid-Atlantic, or me.