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Thinking bigger and beyond the Summit
The following guest post was written by Beth St. John, who lives in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel with her partner and three of their five children. She is Founder and CEO of Aspire Institute and a new member of the League of American Bicyclists Board of Directors serving on the Fund Raising and Equity Committees.
In retrospect, I would say that for a long time I was a cycling advocate in waiting. As a mother of five, I wished my kids had safe cycle routes to school and I just wanted to be able to bike to the grocery store rather than drive everywhere all the time. I was also the kind of person who wanted to be able to enjoy a ride without putting on special gear, or worrying about getting mowed down by a car. Selfishly, I was hoping some sort of safe bike paths would magically appear without me having to do anything about it.
Before last year, I had never been to a National Bike Summit hosted by the League of American Bicyclists. Sure, I had been a “supporter” for a while. I paid my dues, read their emails, followed them on social media, and even liked a couple of their social media posts. That’s how my support went along, until I attended last year’s Summit when I stopped referring to the League as “them” and started saying “us”.
In August 2018, I moved to Amsterdam. Since I previously worked in the field of international educational programs, I had just launched a study tour company hoping to bring urban planners, civil engineers (anybody really) to the Netherlands to learn about its safe and sustainable transportation infrastructure. Honestly, my rationale for attending my first Summit was totally self-serving. I wanted to meet potential clients. I even brought fliers and convinced the Dutch Embassy folks to let me put them on their table because I had zero marketing budget.
I went with business building goals, however, what I ended up achieving as a result of attending the Summit was tremendous inspiration. I met hundreds of incredible people who were energized by working to expand and improve cycling all across the U.S. I learned a lot, and I was truly astounded by the amount of work that Caron Whitaker and the League staff put into preparing attendees for the Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. Now THIS was something I could get behind — an organization that was not all about helping companies profit or having some sort of narrow self-interest, it was about improving health and wellness for people all across America and improving the wellbeing of the planet itself. My mission changed. I not only wanted to educate, but to motivate and mobilize an army of cycling advocates to work toward positive cycling advancement back in the States. Further, I wanted to help the League succeed.
Just as a cycling trip through the Netherlands in in 2013 inspired us to eventually relocate to Amsterdam with our three younger children, giant dog, and crazy cat, the Summit inspired me to take much greater action on the cycling advocacy front. At the Summit last year were founders and representatives from Black Girls Do Bike, the American Women’s Cycling Network, and Cycling Without Age — all of which made me reflect on the inequity around cycling in the U.S. and how this cause was much bigger than myself. After watching the documentary Motherload in a room with a hundred other weeping people (most of whom were men) I was completely transformed.
I went to the Summit hoping to get something out of it, and I came home wanting to have an impact. I left Washington D.C. last year wanting to give something back to the League — to make an actual difference.