On a cold November night in Portland, Oregon, as police in riot gear attempted to evacuate the Occupy campers from a downtown park, a contingent of about fifty bike riders took to the streets. Circling the blocks, slowing car traffic, riding around and around, ringing their bells, they were an important part of the struggle. The cyclists aimed to serve as a barrier between the police and the protestors and prove that the streets are for the 99%.
The cyclists that night responded to a call put out by several local activists. It was their first pubic action, and in the months since November 13th, they have engaged in various other acts of protest and celebration, fulfilling their stated goal of “putting the fun between your legs” and of being the two-wheeled cavalry of the Occupy movement. Naming themselves The Bike Swarm, the group of bikers, moving along together joyfully, was a logical addition to the protests since bikes are allowed on the street unlike protestors on foot.
The Swarm has made known its opinions and presence about both local and international issues. It has paid attention to transportation concerns but also to civil rights, work conditions, and war. While great strides have been made in increasing bicycle ridership and resources, Portland is still a car-dominated city. To emphasize alternative options, cyclists circled the hall where mayoral candidates were discussing issues, including a new 12-lane 3.6 billion dollar freeway bridge planned over the Colombia River. Several dozen also turned out on a snowy day to demand the right to ride bicycles in a suburban skate park. The Swarm has galvanized support from other cyclists and people concerned with civil liberties after the police confiscated the “Disco Trike” that its rider, filmmaker and activist, Dan Kaufman says has “the power to tame any crowd, cause any group of people to break out in spontaneous dance, and provide the soundtrack to the Occupy movement.“ The mayor ultimately decided to release the bike.
Other Swarm actions have included demonstrations against banks, against a possible attack on Iran, and in solidarity with immigrants, Federal postal workers facing mass layoffs as part of the privatization of their workplace, and with port workers. The latter action, on December 12th, was in support of workers whose working conditions have been under attack. During the daylong protest, riders aided in blocking the entrances to the port, helping to shut it down. Several weeks later, acting in solidarity with longshore and warehouse union workers of the Longview, Washington port, (where multi-national agri-business corporations control facilities) they again aided in blocking grain shipments meant to be unloaded by scab-workers. In February, the workers’ demands for union recognition, safe working conditions, job security, and fair wages were achieved.