- I am very politically involved, with eco-socialist leanings (i.e., I'm an active Green).
- I enjoy riding bicycles, even here in Houston.
- When circumstances permit, I prefer not wearing clothes.
- I am an introvert who, nevertheless, finds great enjoyment in being among friends and making new ones—at least until my social energy is all used up, and then it's time to go home to bed.
Other people who know me well might know that I manage to combine all four of the above through my involvement with the World Naked Bike Ride. Yes, this two-time candidate for public office is coming out as a Ciclonudista!
WNBR and its participants know that the USA will not become more like Scandinavia, and that Houston will not become more like Portland, without a protracted struggle. Our steps are small, but our shadow is long.
Bits of History
In 2004, a group of bicycle enthusiasts in Vancouver BC got together to start the World Naked Bike Ride. This two-wheeled protest was designed to bring attention to some problems and solutions—and what better way to catch people's attention than showing up naked?
- Problem: too many motor vehicles on the road, using up too much fossil fuel, spewing too many greenhouse gases, killing too many cyclists, too many pedestrians, and yes, too many motorists.
- Solution: get people out of their cars and trucks and onto human-powered transportation as much as possible.
The date for the ride has been the second Saturday in June since that first year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Because June gets nippy in the Southern Hemisphere, rides in Rio, Auckland, Sydney, Cape Town, etc., are scheduled for the second weekend of March. Some cities pick a more advantageous weekend: e.g., Seattle has its ride in July, because June already features the Painted Cyclists at the Solstice Parade and the Body Pride Ride during Pride weekend. You can learn a lot more about the origins of the ride and its message here (complete with typos).
To make it a truly worldwide ride, the Vancouver crew took advantage of the Worldwide Web, rather than just confining the event to one corner of Canada. There was a ride in Austin TX, for example. Austin sputtered along for the first few years, and then the ride disappeared for a while, only to return in 2010.
H-Town Gets Rolling
Houston did not join the party until 2011, when I got together with the good people at Super Happy Fun Land to get one started. Through email, Facebook, and handbills posted at bicycle shops, and canvassing Critical Mass, we attracted about 50 riders to Houston's inaugural WNBR, which started and ended at SHFL, as all Houston rides have since.
Super Happy proprietor Brian Arthur first voiced the idea of combining the ride with a pub crawl. It's easier to explain WNBR in a stationary setting than while zipping past at 15-25 kph.
In 2012, I had obligations at the Green Party of Texas convention outside San Antonio on the second weekend in June. So, along with the crew from southmorehouse presents, we came up with the idea of holding a second ride, sometimes called the Victory Lap or the Echo Ride. Each of the two rides takes a different route: Usually one loops through Montrose, the other through the Heights. This will be the fourth consecutive year that Houston has given WNBR enthusiasts a second chance to be part of the protest.
Themes and Variations
Each ride since 2013 has had a theme: This year's is H-Town vs. Houston. In this duality, the former represents all that is street-level, funky, and counter-cultural about the city; the latter, the interests of Big Oil and Big Development. It symbolizes how Inner Loop development patterns are a mixed blessing at best. Population density is increasing, which should encourage walking, cycling, and public transit; however, too many of the well-to-do residents moving into the city are too hooked on their motor vehicles and other wasteful habits.
The construction of loft townhomes and luxury midrises is wiping out affordable housing stock and destroying some of the coolest places for cultural creatives to live, work, dine and be entertained: e.g., the Artery and the Caroline Collective, to which we paid tribute last week.
A Big Asterisk
The nudity represents the vulnerability of cyclists on our streets and roads, not just in big cities, but everywhere. As people discover the virtues of cycling, motorists attitudes are not adjusting to their presence, and cyclists are not always educating themselves on safe cycling. Too many cyclists, including long-time riders, have been killed in recent years. With some exceptions, riding on the sidewalks is not necessarily safer (especially with cars backing out of driveways), and it endangers pedestrians.
In our first year, that whole "naked and vulnerable" thing came with a big but: We were vulnerable, yes, but not entirely naked. Houston has a city ordinance against having certain parts of one's body visible from a public thoroughfare. The dress code has always been "bare as you dare," but 2011 and subsequent rides were more focused on the cycling and the protest than pushing the nudity envelope.
Questions of Conscience
Some of us in the Houston WNBR group have friends who have been arrested at the construction site of the Keystone XL Pipeline for locking themselves to equipment there, or for blockading the fracking fields in Denton. They had to weigh the pros and cons of their actions: for example, I might get arrested vs. My grandchildren might not have a livable planet.
The same pros and cons influence the decisions a rider makes in WNBR: How far are you willing to go to demonstrate your displeasure that civilization is drowning in greenhouse gases? and that laws, and those who make them, focus too much on what we're wearing than that the sky is falling?
At last week's official World Naked Bike Ride, Houston, several of the riders went Full Monty. Knock wood, there were no hassles from law enforcement: HPD must have had too much else to do.
Back to That Whole Pride Thing
At the beginning of June, I observed Pride Month with a carefully worded post about being an ally of the LGBT+ community. Just in my lifetime, attitudes in this nation toward non-heterosexual orientations have improved dramatically. We say "orientation" now instead of "preference," because we know better. I hope that I can take some pride in helping shift attitudes toward the nude human form: away from body-shame, away from fear of female nipples, away from assuming that the naked person over there wants to have sex with you right now.
I am also proud to be at the center of a community of individuals who occasionally "get together in the altogether," as the slogan of our Meetup group says. Some of us are Burners, some are not. We are musicians, artists, baristas, IT geeks, attorneys, scientists, health professionals, executives, educators, and much more. We represent diverse ethnicities, orientations, faith traditions, and political beliefs. But under (or without) our clothes, we are all human, and we respect each other's humanity.
As a group, we wish that our society would truly respect everyone's humanity, and stop persecuting people based on their ancestry, their economic stratum, or whom and how they love.