See you in the streets

A ghost bike, DIY bike lanes and sharrows, and procession for Bizzy

The image above is from a vigil for “Bizzy” – killed by a speeding drunk driver at Marmion Way and North Figueroa Street.

This post is a response to a defamatory, slanderous, unhinged blog post by Sahra Sulaiman of Streetsblog LA published one week before the May 16, 2017 General Election for the Los Angeles City Council District 1 seat I was a candidate for. You can read Sahra Sulaiman’s biased rant here. My response was originally posted as a comment on Streetsblog LA but was labelled “spam” by Streetsblog LA staff.

I am still shocked that Sahra Sulaiman’s essay was published on Streetsblog LA.

First, because of the multiple instances of (what I interpret) as an intentional misreading of nearly everything I’ve written online. Second, because of the highly personal nature of this attack and its proximity to an election in which I was the “better” candidate for all the issues that Streetsblog LA was founded to support in local politics.

My disagreements with some, not all, of what Sahra Sulaiman has written and said in the past had to do with the practical politics of installing bike infrastructure, pedestrian projects, and generally building up (instead of tearing apart) the political alliances that have come to define whatever the Livable Streets movement was at a given point in time.

I felt, and I still feel, that several of her articles and some of her positions are counter-productive in a practical sense. For example, yes, I agree with her reading and description of unequal police response when it comes to traffic stops. No, I don’t think that is reason enough to stop forward momentum on the installation of bike and walk infrastructure in communities of color – which despite her protestations, is exactly what she’s advocated for regarding Central Avenue. I bring up the example of Central Avenue bike lanes to highlight that I have been consistent in my desire to see on-the-ground projects built and legal changes made. Saving lives and helping enable a measurably healthier, happier, and economically productive life for as many people as possible is why I got into this movement.

Sahra, I feel, often wants to highlight an ethical or moral failing either of a large system, or of an individual – and will do so quite effectively, but will sacrifice seeing what works to address issues of physical safety, physical and mental health, in order to achieve the communication of a larger injustice, or make an ethical or moral point. She is very good at what she does, but her results speak for themselves – there isn’t a project in this city, or a law or change in policy, that I’m aware of that can be chalked up to her journalism.

I’ll admit: I have a tendency to move to verbally stomp on anyone attempting to narrate the future of this city away from the endpoint of safer streets, healthier people, and a fiscally sound local government. This isn’t always the right move, practically speaking, but it is one honed through years of slogging through meetings, rallies, and events as a vociferous advocate rather than as a scared bystander – and watching friends, acquaintances, and neighbors die or be grievously injured in preventable car crashes while riding their bikes, or crossing the street. It wasn’t until I found a voice as a self-schooled transportation policy analyst and a rhetorical bomb thrower that my work started moving policy decisions, and peoples ideas about this city, in a given direction.

After the devastation I felt following the death of 17-year-old Andres Perez at Avenue 60 and North Figueroa by a city truck, I put that part of my personality aside. I have been desperate for change in the dangerous streets in my community, but attacking Councilman Cedillo rhetorically about traffic safety simply wasn’t enough. I had to broaden the attack, and build outrage for his term in office around more than traffic safety. In my run for city council, I was able to bring together several disparate political groups – including some of our local closet conservatives, by focusing not on righting injustices but on addressing practical problems we all want to see solved.

I worked to help people find common cause with those they normally would write off as being the wrong skin color, the wrong ethnic background, or wrong class. This problem of writing off the value of a coalition with “the wrong sort” of people isn’t limited to right-wing groups and people. In fact, many of our city’s self-proclaimed “inclusive” groups and leaders are deeply vested in insulting and walking away from working with anyone symbolically of “the wrong sort”. It isn’t easy to do what I did in a city this complex and diverse, and I’m proud that my door knocking efforts to sway voters by talking about repairing park bathrooms and making it safe enough for everyone to cross the street to buy something from the local store found success with voters.

As someone who has been a part of the conversation on Streetsblog LA from its beginning, a true believer in what the site and those who worked on it stood for, I cannot express how disgusted I am to have ever trusted the bonds I thought our shared efforts over the years represented. That a defamatory headline, a slew of personal attacks in the heat of a political campaign, would send all the “brave” and “fierce” and “courageous” (to judge by their Instagram and Facebook feeds, and my former opinion of some of them) safe streets advocates running for cover speaks volumes about what this “community” really is, how fragile our power was, and how badly it has been fractured, not by my campaign but by the intrusion of identity politics into our everyday lives.

If a decade of actions and words, what amounts to the central project of my entire adult life, can’t stand up to partisan sniping before an election and whatever motivates Sahra Sulaiman to produce unhinged rants – you can expect the pace of bike lanes and sidewalks to continue to slow, the pace of street deaths to increase, and for the winds of politics to wipe away the political and cultural opportunity that had opened for a more livable Los Angeles.

That is certainly the case in Los Angeles’ 1st District for the time being.

See you in the streets.

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