BNB Responds to the Boston Marathon Bombing

News released on: 
Apr 18th, 2013

Dear friends,

In the wake of the tragic, senseless act of violence that took place at the Boston Marathon on Monday April 15th, we at Bikes Not Bombs are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries sustained by the victims. This attack hit home for us in so many ways. First, Boston is home to Bikes Not Bombs, our youth program participants, and so many of our supporters. It is where we collect most of the bikes that we send to our international partners, many of whom continue to deal with the long-lasting effects of war and violence. I personally was just a mile away from the explosions when they happened, cheering on runners with my family. Many of us spent the hours after the blast frantically trying to reach friends and loved ones we knew were running or nearby. Thankfully our immediate staff and community are safe and unharmed. 

Second, in less than two months we are hosting our own athletic event, the 26th annual Bike-A-Thon. Close to 500 cyclists will come together to support our work, and while this event is much smaller than the marathon, there are obvious similarities. I was profoundly struck by the incongruity of these runners, who had all worked so hard and, in many cases, gone to their absolute limit to accomplish this feat, often to raise funds for charity, running into this atrocity. I have come to see how athletics - whether team or individual - transcend culture and politics, and allow us to build links and connections and community across boundaries. Here at Bikes Not Bombs we use the bicycle, and cycling, to bridge those connections across neighborhoods in Boston and our Bike-A-Thon is proof that it works. Professional cyclists ride side-by-side with amateurs, youth from our programs, families, and people of all ages and backgrounds, from all different communities – all with a goal of raising resources for youth and international programs. 

This brings me to the final reason this attack has hit home for Bikes Not Bombs. People often ask us why we still keep the name Bikes Not Bombs even though we do so many different types of work. On some level, the bombs we disarm through our work are symbolic. Toxic environmental conditions, street violence, roadblocks to education and employment; young people in Boston and our international partners face these realities every day. We believe that bikes can transform their lives. But the reality is that the violence and war that prompted our founder, Carl Kurz, to launch Bikes Not Bombs 28 years ago persist today and our vision of a more peaceful and just world is more relevant than ever. Below is a letter Carl wrote ten years ago, about our name, that still resonates. While we all try to make sense of what happened, I know that being part of Bikes Not Bombs in the wake of this violence is comforting to me and I thank you all for being part of our community.

Peace,

Jodi Sugerman-Brozan
Executive Director

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We have built Bikes Not Bombs for 18 years. We started sending bikes to Nicaragua in 1984, the same year that Ronald Reagan announced a full-scale economic embargo against that country for having the guile to try to feed and care for its own people in its own way with its own resources. The bombs  were soon to follow. Not only did the United States attack Nicaragua by creating and financing a proxy army, but it also developed the methods of conter-insurgency warfare used by many Central American governments. (We don’t see Reagan as an aberration of U.S. foreign policy, but he certainly pushed it to the hilt.)

We defied the embargo, and dared to continue sending bikes and technicians to Nicaragua during the war years. All told, we have sent over 20,000 bikes to Nicaragua since then. The current policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), along with local corruption, have kept us from sending any bikes there in two years. We have, however, shipped thousands of bikes to new partners in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador. All these countries, like Nicaragua, suffer the devastating aftereffects of U.S.-backed dictatorships, counter-insurgency wars, and invasions. We feel that our partnerships in these countries – and now in Ghana – continue the commitment that gave us the name "Bikes Not Bombs."

In the last few years, much of our local work has tried to build the foundations for a bike culture with teens and adults. The auto-centric culture in which we live makes this a very difficult task. American consumer culture sells not only the products but also the ideal of auto-cracy to youth and families that can scarcely afford them. The teens who are part of Bikes Not Bombs are about two-thirds Latino and Caribbean and about one-third African-American. Many of the Latino and Caribbean youth come from countries where we send aid, which has allowed us to open up many economic and environmental discussions.

These efforts have contributed to our struggle for just and sustainable transportation here in the United States. We have campaigned against the urban highways that make cities unwalkable and unbikeable, and for better public transportation and bicycling infrastructure. We have demanded that resources be diverted from the United States’ bloated military budget and directed toward human needs like transportation. We have argued that the thirst for oil is a principal cause of the United States’ constant wars. Again, we feel like our name fits this work pretty well.

We have kept the name "Bikes Not Bombs" for many reasons. While our work has branched out in numerous directions, it is the name with which the organization was born, and by which it is known – to anti-war activists, environmentalists, transportation advocates, cyclists, and youth alike. Sometimes what we do tangibly acts against militarism, and sometimes it doesn’t. We continue, however, to have an anti-war as well as an environmental mission. The "not bombs" reminds us of that, which is more important now than ever.

Carl Kurz, 2002