Sore-thumb Activism

The World Naked Bike Ride Ruins it for the Rest of Us.

By Ollie Mikse

It’s difficult being a liberal activist. Let me rephrase that; it’s difficult being a liberal period. I’m not talking about being a Democrat. I’m talking about being a real liberal; one who believes in grassroots organization, trickle-up economics, locally-grown produce, and a thorough de-corporatization of the world. I’m talking the kind of liberal who isn’t afraid to call universal health care by its real name: Socialized health care.

I say that it’s difficult, because it requires patience, and it’s a constant struggle mainly because we’re portrayed as either misguided or utopian. However, patience and persistence is the only thing we have going for us, because we inherently believe that, in the grand scheme of things, our values are geared in the right direction, and every little bit helps. It’s a war of ideas when you think about it, and the last thing we need in this war is friendly fire. So, it goes without saying that I was on the verge of tears when I learned this week about the event known as World Naked Bike Ride ( or WNBR.

What is the WNBR? The Wikipedia page that the WNBR homepage forwards me to says:

“Save the planet! shifting to a carfree lifestyle is one of the most powerful things a person can do to make a real difference in reducing negative environmental impacts on this planet.”

Basically, the idea of the WNBR is to get a bunch of people together in a city and ride around naked in an effort to increase awareness on oil dependency.

What? I’m sorry, but this is incredibly misguided for a couple of reasons. First of all, it trivializes the issue of oil dependency. Riding your bike naked (or doing anything naked, for that matter) does not do anything to abate this problem. Oil dependency is a crisis, wearing clothes is not. Don’t confuse the two. Second, the WNBR is throwing away the opportunity of an exchange of ideas, which is really the only way to raise someone’s awareness on an issue. There is no way anyone whose attention has been grabbed by a naked bike ride is going to start a dialogue with one of the riders. Third, and most importantly, what message does this send to an outsider, someone who stands undecided on an issue such as oil dependency? From this person’s perspective, image means a lot. It’s not only what is being said, but who is saying it.

On the one hand, the war-supporting, Wal-Mart shopping, Starbucks drinking, Fox News watching conservative comes across as an average Joe and someone who can be trusted. They are relatively well adjusted, wear suits, use hair product, hold esteemed job positions, and have a family, a house and 2.5 children. On the other hand, the liberals are holding up traffic, painting their bodies, and biking naked throughout the city like mental patients. Who is our conscientious objector supposed to go to for advice? In addition, why should they care about oil dependencies and the much larger problem it addresses if the supporters look like naked weirdos and freaks zooming through the streets? Why listen to any liberal point of view if this is the kind of people who represent it?

This hits at the core of the problem with events such as the WNBR; it’s alienating people instead of attracting them, and anyone who actually cares about the issue of oil dependency should realize this.

Now, I’m not knocking the actual act of riding in the city naked. If it’s fun, do it, but as far as you’re cause is concerned, you’re making things worse. How do we effective approach our liberal plight effectively? The only solutions are to communicate and to focus. Oil dependency isn’t about riding naked. Oil dependency is about the corporate takeover of our lives, the misery it causes to people in other countries as a result, the war it brings, and the plundering of Mother Nature it leads to. And that’s just scratching the surface.

The only way we can raise people’s awareness is to start a dialogue and an exchange of ideas. Treat people whose opinions differ from ours as equals; as human beings. We can do this on many levels. We can start small with friends when we’re engaged in personal dialogue. A step further would be to join a local chapter of an environmentally friendly organization. Want to go a step further even? Then, get a degree, write a book, or become a politician and legislate against oil dependency. More importantly, don’t give up!

There are many people out there who care about these issues, and I’m confident that many participated in WNBRs have their hearts in the right place. But, in a world full of serious liberal activism, events such as WNBR give the cause a bad name, and stick out like a sore thumb. There are less desperate, smarter, and simpler ways to get our message across and it starts at the basis of humanity: conversation. The only way to succeed is to get people to listen, not to make them turn away.

Ollie Mikse is a Ph.D. student in genetics at Penn State Hershey and a freelance writer.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2009

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