A week ago
These words are by Antonio Chavez of @lostcoulcouriercollective the community initiative helping marginalised communities in San Fran AND increasing racial diversity in the outdoors. Enjoy these words from Antonio, photos from @eaunor + @plattyjo and pay what you can to the correlating GoFundMe page that is supporting his goals.
We started late morning in front of the William McKinley statue in Golden Gate Park with some freshly brewed coffee from our friends at Pentacle Coffee SOMA Coffee | United States | Pentacle Coffee Company | Coffee Shop and some pastries from Arizmendi Bakery Arizmendi Bakery, Panaderia y Pizzaria. As more people arrived we took our place on the steps of the McKinley monument, located directly in the center of the panhandle, which is the most western point of Golden Gate Park.
When planning the route of the ride I made the starting point purposely at the beginning of the panhandle out of convenience, seeing that the route would flow through the park from the wiggle. This is also a starting point for one of the local coffee rides, so I figured some folks would recognize the spot and know where to go (not to mention it was convenient for me, considering I live less than a block away from the park.)
I’ve lived on the edge of the panhandle all my life, in the same spot; on the corner of Hayes and Baker, about a block away from the statue. I know the area well. I’ve played In the park playground as a little boy, and hung out late night on those same steps as a young knucklehead. I never paid much attention to the statue itself.
The night before the ride, I was walking my dog past the statue, and I noticed some graffiti on the base of the statue, right over William McKinley’s name. “TEAR ME DOWN.” Of course, I’m not much of an American history buff, so I pulled out my phone to do a quick name search to find out who this guy is.
I found his history pretty quick, in an article about a statue of William McKinley in Arcata, CA. The Wall Street journal had quite a bit to say about the late president and his role in history. He was a praised as a civil war veteran who was a natural leader;
“The son of abolitionists, McKinley enlisted as an 18-year-old private at the start of the Civil War not only to save the Union but also to end the moral blight of slavery. He received three battlefield promotions for bravery, ending the war as a major. As a young lawyer in 1867, McKinley worked hard to pass an Ohio constitutional amendment protecting black voting rights. Elected to Congress in 1876, he was a staunch advocate of federal civil-rights protections, and as resolutions chairman at the 1884 and 1888 Republican national conventions he ensured that the GOP platform supported such measures. McKinley was the first presidential candidate to appear before black audiences while seeking the nomination in 1896, and he appointed a record number of blacks to federal positions.” The Pitchforks Are Out for McKinley
He was elected president of the United States in 1897, and served until his assassination in 1901, but not before he signed the Curtis Act on June 28th, 1898, [William McKinley: Dismantled Five Civilized Tribes] and the annexation of the Hawaiian islands on July 7th, 1898 [Letter from Queen Liliuokalani to William McKinley (U.S. President), June 17, 1897 University of Hawaii at Manoa Library].
Both of these documents violated the civil and sovereign rights of indigenous societies in what is now known as Oklahoma and the state of Hawaii. William McKinley was a champion of manifest destiny, and as I read multiple letters, memos and speeches I confirmed what I’ve always suspected, not just about William McKinley, but about the United States as a whole: the main goal is imperialism and mindless expansion and consumption.
The powers that be will use any and all means of violence to achieve these goals, whether it be through military and police intervention, or racist and ignorant policies and legislation, and they will pedal their propaganda to win the support of the greater American society: an overall ideology of white supremacy with Christian overtones.
In this model of society: the ends will always justify the means. We, as people of color especially, are expendable and disposable to the state, seen as speed bumps on the road to progress, or more accurately, the road to perdition.
The article that I read in the Wall Street Journal praised him as a hero to people of color, and I got the sense that the author was implying that we, as “trendy leftists'' should shut up and be happy with what we already have. (You got a black president, what else do you people want?) The hypocrisy exposes itself, as I am one who knows how to read between the lines. Just because the man had black employees does not mean he was not racist, it does not mean he did not have deeply ingrained ideas of whites being superior to people of color, it does not mean he did not perpetuate violent oppression and colonialism. I can say, history speaks for itself, and he did little to curb a history of deep hate by hiring thirty African Americans to “positions of consequence.” [William McKinley: Domestic Affairs] He, like many before him and after him, made empty promises and cosmetic gestures of race relations in America, which brings us back to today.
The morning of the dirt ride, I looked up at the statue, and back down onto the small crowd that had gathered with their bikes, trying to figure out which words to use. I knew I had to say something, considering I had organized the event, but the race relations part is always tricky. It's a subject that gets under my skin and tends to make people uncomfortable, so I knew I had to do my best to not offend anyone, or be disrespectful.
In San Francisco, the issue of gentrification has made national headlines, and has been compared to imperial expansion and has been commonly referred to as “the new colonialism.” I counted 3 brown people, 4 Asian people, 1 black person, and maybe 15 white people. I thought to myself, well, this is what San Francisco looks like now.
My home neighborhood of western addition, what is now known as NoPa (north of panhandle), wasn’t always the posh, affluent neighborhood it is today. Before 2000, it was a low income neighborhood, made up of primarily black residents.
The area on Divisadero between Oak and Mcallister was known as D Block, a strip that was poverty stricken, largely abandoned and devastated from the crack era and the reaganomics days. Fast forward to 2020: it is a far cry from what it once was, with a brand new arcade/bar, expensive boutiques and popular eateries. Some would say this is a good change, and I might agree, if it wasn't for one small detail I can't ignore….WHERE DID ALL THE BLACK PEOPLE GO?
The small stores and mom and pop shops that held onto the neighborhood have long since been priced out, being replaced with nice clean white people and nice clean white businesses. People have been displaced in the name of progress and urban renewal, and I can’t help but think as I walk down my street, where have I seen this before? Where have I read about BIPOC being pushed around and out of their homes by white people….oh yes, I have heard about this before, when I read about manifest destiny.
History, so it seems, will repeat itself. Even if it isn't direct military violence of westward expansion, racism and imperialism exist in more subtle ways. Look at the direct relationship between gentrification and police. How else will they “clean up” the hood? Not by actually helping anybody, but by passing gang injunctions and starting a war on drugs and criminalizing an entire population of people so that they can justify locking us up and shooting us down in the streets.
The US army has been replaced by an army of BBQ Beckies and Karens, always vigilant and ready to call 911 and report on all “suspicious and sketchy” individuals (we all know what that means). Gentrification and urban renewal go hand in hand with police violence, are a direct byproduct of this system, and are no less a form of violence than their older predecessors.
So, as I stood there struggling to figure out what to say to everyone who came to show their support, nervousness set in. I figure these people want to help, right? If they didn’t want to, they would’ve read the flier, scoffed, and kept scrolling on instagram. With this in mind, I decided to read an excerpt from an “Open Letter to President McKinley by Colored People Of Massachusetts” 1899;
Sir:—We, colored people of Massachusetts in mass meeting assembled to consider our oppressions and the state of the country relative to the same, have resolved to address ourselves to you in an open letter, notwithstanding your extraordinary, your incomprehensible silence on the subject of our wrongs in your annual and other messages to Congress, as in your public utterances to the country at large. We address ourselves to you, sir, not as suppliants, but as of right, as American citizens, whose servant you are, and to whom you are bound to listen, and for whom you are equally bound to speak, and upon occasion to act, as for any other body of your fellow-countrymen in like circumstances. We ask nothing for ourselves at your hands, as chief magistrate of the republic, to which all American citizens are not entitled. We ask for the enjoyment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness equally with other men. We ask for the free and full exercise of all the rights of American freemen, guaranteed to us by the Constitution and laws of the Union, which you were solemnly sworn to obey and execute. We ask you for what belongs to us by the high sanction of Constitution and law, and the Democratic genius of our institutions and civilization. These rights are everywhere throughout the South denied to us, violently wrested from us by mobs, by lawless legislatures, and nullifying conventions, combinations, and conspiracies, openly, defiantly, under your eyes, in your constructive and actual presence. And we demand, which is a part of our rights, protection, security in our life, our liberty, and in the pursuit of our individual and social happiness under a government, which we are bound to defend in war, and which is equally bound to furnish us in peace protection, at home and abroad. [Open Letter to President McKinley by Colored People Of Massachusetts | ID Barnett et al. (October 3, 1899)]
I read this out loud, and after I finished, I looked up from my phone and spoke to the crowd. “That was hard to read, considering it was written in 1899 and they used different english, but from what I gather, they were dealing with the same problems that we are today.” In the letter black Americans ask the president to honor his promise that he made to protect them from lynch mobs in the south.
Today we’re asking to be protected from the people who have sworn to protect and serve us, the people who use their power and authority to literally get away with murder right in front of our eyes. They kill with impunity and use old criminal records of the deceased to justify their actions. Especially in recent weeks, we have seen the stark contrast of how law enforcement treats white America vs how they treat black and brown America.
We've all seen the videos of the police, cool, calm and collected at anti-pandemic demonstrations vs beating us down and inciting riots at Black Lives Matter demonstrations. The facts cannot be ignored any longer, when information and evidence is at our fingertips. We've seen the videos of George Floyd , and we've heard the story of Breonna Taylor.
Are we not entitled to the same protection and safety as our white fellow Americans? are we not entitled to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? Is it not our right to go wherever we please in this “free country,” without fear of persecution and harassment?
I highlighted these talking points before we embarked on the dirt ride for black lives. I pointed out to the mostly white crowd to notice the demographic of the group and I pointed out that this is a direct reflection of the city of San Francisco and the issue of gentrification. I also noted how important it is that they showed up, and I thanked everyone for supporting Lost Soul Courier Collective and doing the work, black, brown, yellow and white alike. I reminded everyone that the objective of the ride was visibility and representation of BIPOC on the trails, here in the bay and abroad.
We rode through Golden Gate Park, the presidio, over the golden gate bridge to the Marin headlands. When we got to the top of Hawk Hill we observed a moment of silence for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubry, and everyone else who has lost their lives at the hands of the state. When the moment of silence was over, We revisited the story of Christian Cooper, a black bird watcher who was harassed by a white woman in Central Park in NYC. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODhNRyjJsl8]
I pointed out how we did not run into any BIPOC while we were on the trail. It is this lack of visibility that makes black and brown people seem “out of place” in the great outdoors.
We had an open dialogue about our experiences with police and police violence. The POC in attendance spoke, and the white allies listened, and they leaned into the discomfort of being faced with these ugly truths. We as non black people have some serious work to do in the fight against racism and racial prejudice. The fight begins within our own mind, against everything we’ve ever learned about race and history in this country. We must check our motives and thoughts, and furthermore our actions on a daily basis, as it is a daily battle.
We closed up the meeting with an agreement that we have a social responsibility to check our privilege and put more people of color onto adventure and gravel cycling. Most people like me do not have the funds or accessibility to obtain the equipment needed to go on these trips, or ride the way we do. The cycling community as a whole is mostly white, cis-gendered, and ableist. If we want to see as many people as possible on bikes, why wouldn’t we include as many people as possible, no matter what marginalized group they are part of?
It is in my belief that the most marginalized and underrepresented groups can and will benefit the most from cycling. It gives me a deep sense of happiness and pride when I see other groups in other parts of the country doing the same work, bringing bikes and cycling culture to their own hoods (I’m talking about you, Bicis Del Pueblo, Pedal Revolution, Cyclista Zine, Melanin Base Camp, California Field School, Black Cyclists Network, the list goes on. I see you, I love you, I’m proud of you). I'm also proud of the white people who are doing the work as well.
I read somewhere online that the issue of racism is not a black or brown issue, it is a white issue, and it is up to white people to solve the problem. I couldn't have said it better myself. I will also say that it takes a certain amount of courage to look yourself in the mirror and want to change, and even more courage to want to change an entire system of racism, which has a legacy of bloodshed and genocide, and even more courage still, to refuse to be part of that system any longer.
I must also add, that wanting is not enough, you must act and be the change you want to see. The ride itself was a blast and it was a great place to start, but it was lacking on the organizational side.
We desperately need more guides and experts willing to take time to do the work. Even now, as I write to whoever is reading this article: I ask you, what have you done for your community today? I challenge you to do something to make the world a better, more inclusive place, no matter what walk of life you are on. Are you doing something about it, or are you just complaining? But I commend everyone who is doing this work. I know these conversations can be awkward and difficult, and the work can be confusing and it is hard to deal with (just think of what we as POC have to deal with on a day to day basis).
The work is much like hiking and adventure cycling itself; you get tired, there are obstacles, you get poison oak and mosquitoes bite you in the ass. Sometimes you just want to say fuck it and give up. In my own experience, it is that time in which you want to give up, that it is important to fight even harder, because the work and trouble are so much more rewarding than throwing in the towel and going home.
I will continue to fight, I will continue to organize, and I will continue on the journey that I am on, even when the road gets rough. At the risk of being a little too cliche, I’m going to quote John F. Kennedy: “We do it not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”