I don’t drink tea but many people do. For some there’s a deep cultural aspect to tea drinking. There are rituals, types, flavors, methodologies for preparation… The tea drinking community is one that I am not a part of.

Perhaps that’s why a reference to tea stuck out to me as I was reading an article on politics. The ending sentence said something to the effect of, “we must let the tea kettle simmer until ready.”

Regardless of what was meant, the creative analogy did not draw me in to the article. It was cute but it didn’t speak to me. No biggy. But in that moment I realized it was a very subtle way of speaking more effectively to certain people and inadvertently excluding others. It was an example of how the references, examples, analogies we use signal the perspective we are communicating from and who we are communicating to.

What does tea have to do with bikes? (And, thanks for reading thus far and hanging in there!)

The tea reference is a way of illustrating why SVBC has been working to more deliberately center equity in its work. Whether it is a communications style that consistently appeals to a certain demographic, like tea drinkers, or a set of priorities that ignores less affluent neighborhoods, SVBC has embarked on a full scale effort to be more aware of how the organization shows up from a diversity, equity and inclusion, (DEI), perspective.

SVBC strives to spread happiness and joy through the bicycle. This concept is articulated more formally in our mission: Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition works to improve the community, economy and environment through the everyday use of the bicycle for all in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. To get there, we have an interim metric of 10% ridership of trips by bike 2025.

It was about three years ago that we, with nudges from partners and members, started questioning whether from a diversity, equity and inclusion perspective we were set up to achieve our goal.

The data told us no. For example:

  • When looking at ridership demographics the vast majority of folks who ride regularly are male, financially comfortable, and white. Is riding a bike for every day use portrayed in a way that discourages women and people of color from riding? Does the type of street design we have been advocating for not create a safe feeling for women and people of color to ride?
  • When analyzing crash data, most of the fatalities in San Jose take place in neighborhoods where low income people of color live. Have we been systematically underinvesting in low income neighborhoods while directing street improvements to more affluent areas of the City?
  • In many areas, bike lanes are now viewed as the first signs of gentrification, signaling to poor people and people of color that it won’t be long before they’ll be priced out. If the ultimate result of infrastructure investments leads to displacement, is that a win for the bike movement?
  • SVBC’s membership skews male and white. Does that hurt our ability to accurately advocate for solutions that welcome a broader demographic to the joy of bicycling.

These questions speak to a “business case” for why we in the bike movement should care about diversity, equity and inclusion.

We also see a moral imperative in shifting what we prioritize and how we advocate. Racism, sexism, ableism, and more all remain prevalent in today’s society. Depending upon skin color, gender, sexual orientation, we are impacted both positively and negatively by a system that we did not create yet live in and perpetuate. Given that, if SVBC is not using its organizational power to rectify societal wrongs, is not working to change the system to be more fair and just, then we will fail to achieve our goals and worse, we will fail to be decent human beings.

This thinking led SVBC to a three-year process of self-assessment and education within the Board and staff along with the help of outside advisors, (thank you – Laurin Mayeno and Ricardo Molano Nieto and the support of the Hewlett Foundation). Some of the key parts of the process included:

  • Reading and discussing relevant articles both at the Board and staff level
  • Sharing experiences where we have noticed ourselves being biased
  • Reading, learning and choosing a values framework for the organization
  • Vetting the development of plans with a team comprised of SVBC members, staff, boardmembers, and people deep in DEI work who have no relationship with the organization
  • And coming to an understanding that this work is ongoing, it is a daily practice

Out of that process, the staff, Board and membership developed a values and goals statement along with an implementation plan. We are now ready to share that statement with you all.

Today, we are proud, excited and frankly a bit hesitant to make public this values statement. Its intent is to elicit our membership’s ideas, better root the organization, and refine SVBC’s style and systems going forward. It is also intended to be a living document, one that acknowledges and anticipates that we have and will continue to make mistakes.

As our members and supporters, we thank you for continuing to be a part of the bike movement and hope you look as eagerly as we do to continuing to learn, falter, have difficult but essential conversations and learn some more as we work together to spread the joy of riding a bicycle to all. And, we invite you all to come by the office to share your thoughts. Bring your favorite beverage, whether it’s tea, beer, wine, or a pumpkin spice latte. (Confessions: the SVBC office is always full of beer and we have a bottle of vodka on the shelf. This Executive Director prefers San Jose tap, no ice.)