On Saturday 21st January, some committee members of the Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland, and a few guests, got together at the Glasgow Bike station for what we loosely called a ‘cake summit’. We wanted to take a step back from our busy lives and take the time to talk about how we do what we do – particularly campaigning – and how we could do it better and more effectively, and without losing our sanity! Because it was a cake summit we brought cake to share, and then we spent what turned out to be a glorious winter Saturday in a windowless room, setting the world to rights.
The conversation was pretty wide ranging, but at the end of it we had agreed a few key points that we want to share, and also to try and bring into our own campaigning. They’re not particularly ‘women’s’ points – but perhaps they do reflect a wider realisation that if we’re to bring about real change in the world, first we have to change the narrative, change our own perspective, and change the way we work.
Here were the main things which struck the greatest chord with those taking part:
First: we need to find common ground with people who walk, because that’s all of us, and because it’s something people understand much more widely than just cycling. And pedestrians are just as poorly served in many ways as people on bikes. Let’s talk about how we move, not how vehicles move.
Second: we need to change the way we talk about cycling and who we talk to – blanket certainty is offputting and so is picking fights over what appear to be minutiae. On the other hand, narrative does change minds, and so do great visualisations. So we should concentrate our communication on telling stories and using positive images and visions of how things could be different and how that would improve everyone’s lives.
Third: we need to get out from behind our screens and out of our social media bubble and engage with the real world and the wider public. This means we need to do things differently – a bit of tactical urbanism, activities like Parking Day or just going out and talking to people face to face.
Fourth: we need to ensure that people (including ourselves) don’t feel they have to be experts in things like street design and planning matters in order to have their say over how their streets, towns and cities should change. We should concentrate on communicating the bigger vision, of what we want to see, and let the details be worked
out once the vision has been agreed.
Finally: just gathering in the same room, sharing food we had made or brought, enjoying each other’s company and making sure we listened to each other, was refreshing and energising in itself. Campaigning is for the long haul, and if we’re to keep going we need to remember to ‘be excellent to each other’ and keep bringing together great people to share great ideas in a friendly, enjoyable atmosphere.
So what’s next? We deliberately didn’t make an action list, other than writing up this brief summary. We hope that over the next 12 months, some of the conclusions above will be reflected in what we do in our various campaigning roles. And, having enjoyed ourselves and found it useful, we might consider running similar events in the future – day or weekend retreats to gather, reflect and share ideas (and cake).