When being completely lazy isn’t enough

December 15, 2014 § 31 Comments

You might think that Louis Zamperini, Michael Brown, Milton Olin, this weekend’s CBR upgrade crit, and the midterm congressional elections are unrelated.

You’d be wrong.

Louie Zamperini was the poster child for the Greatest Generation, the men and women who fought World War II and made the world safe for democracy. Michael Brown was the unarmed man gunned down by a killer cop. Milton Olin was the bicycle rider mowed down by a deputy who wasn’t paying attention, and who wasn’t even prosecuted. The CBR upgrade crit this weekend was a bicycle race that about a 10% increase in participation from 2013.

There’s a reason that Americans love WW II stories like Louie’s, the story of an Olympic runner from a tumbledown house in Torrance, CA who crashed in the Pacific while flying as a bombardier, survived 47 days in the open ocean on a raft, and then somehow made it through more than two years of torture in various Japanese POW camps. Americans love these stories because World War II is the last time this country did anything good for the world commensurate with our resources and our capacity. Since then our achievements have been defeats in Korea and Vietnam, defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a national government that thinks torture is a good thing. Maybe they need to read Unbroken to remember why it isn’t.

World War II was a war for many things. One of those things was democracy, which is the right to choose our own form of government and to have a voice in the laws that we decide to abide by. Twenty years after the war, almost 50% of Americans voted in congressional midterm elections, a high watermark in modern midterm voter turnout. It’s no coincidence that this happened alongside the civil rights movement, and it’s no coincidence that we more opportunity and more equally distributed wealth than we do today.

Michael Brown was killed and the killer was no-billed by the grand jury. He walked. People responded with riots, protests, and fury. But they didn’t respond with votes. The midterm turnout in 2014, when Americans were outraged enough to riot over our police state, was 36.4 percent, the lowest in 70 years.

Milton Olin’s killer wasn’t prosecuted because the district attorney chose to ignore the evidence and protect a member of the police. She’s an elected official, but doesn’t have to worry because she knows that angry cyclists will vent their fury on Facebook, chat forums, and listservs, but they won’t vote. And she’s right. Less than 30 percent of the electorate bothered to vote.

This weekend’s CBR upgrade crit grew ten percent over last year. Once reason it grew is because various people in the bike racing community did something more effective than jizzing over Strava, or posting sexy bike photos from the latest group ride. They actively encouraged their friends to show up and race.

Is there a lesson here? There is.

The most satisfying thing is to vent, whether it’s by burning a few cars, smashing out a few windows, marching in solidarity while chanting chanty chants, or bashing race promoters because their races are too boring/too expensive/ too far away/ too [fill in your complaint here]. But the most effective thing isn’t always the most satisfying thing, at least not in the beginning.

The most effective thing is voting. It may be hard. There may be huge barriers to doing it. They system may be set up to keep you away from the polls. But you know what? People were willing to die to cast a vote in Afghanistan’s presidential election this year. I’m pretty sure that whatever’s keeping 70% of the electorate from rolling off the couch and signing up for a mail-in ballot isn’t as challenging as the risk of getting your brains blown out by the Taliban.

Bike racing is the same. It’s only by encouraging people to race that they will go race. If we want a robust racing scene, it’s on us. And if we think that a 10% increase is nothing, imagine that 10% compounded every six months or every three, something that’s totally doable if everyone who claims to like racing takes the time to call, prod, and push. In two years’ time we’d have full fields, every category, every race.

That’s the same with voting. I respect the right to march and to voice discontent. Hell, I agree with it. But until we’ve voted, or urged a buddy to come out and race, we haven’t really done anything. Social media protests give the illusion of action, but really they just turn us into one more yammering idiot who’s got all the energy to bitch, and none of the conviction to back it up. A ten percent increase in voter turnout over two or three election cycles would revolutionize this country without firing a shot. But to do it, like encouraging people to go race their bikes, we have to do something more arduous than firing up Facebag and hitting “like.”

The Louie Zamperinis of World War II took action. Maybe we should, too.



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§ 31 Responses to When being completely lazy isn’t enough

  • Jeff M says:

    Right on, brother!

  • Michelle Landes says:

    Nailed it !! Good one wanky!!!

  • A-Trav says:

    It’s all true.

  • Winemaker says:

    “… the last time this country did anything good for the world…”
    Really??? 1945 was the LAST time? I seem to recall a couple of things the Feds did since then….hmmmm…..bully pulpit got to ya?

  • AA says:

    I’d vote for someone that rode to the races!

  • Liz says:

    I voted but nothings changed. Why? It really makes you feel like your vote doesn’t count when year after year, decade after decade, things remain the same.
    Stupid people are still out there and they vote and money talks more than my vote. What’s the point? I’ll keep voting though.

    • fsethd says:

      One vote isn’t enough, just like showing up to race isn’t enough. You have to get people to do it with you.

  • Pink Pant-er says:

    I like to think of myself as a “concerned citizen”. What that means to me is that I vote. I research the measures/politicians on the ballot and vote on the ones I have an understanding on and believe in. Otherwise, I leave it to those who may know better.

    Very similar to the CBR Upgrade Crit. I’m a license holder that registered to race and showed up. I researched how off season training can be effective. I prepared my bike and kit to go “cast my ballot”. I drove my fat ass down there and voted with my wallet, my legs and my lungs. Two of which were on fire by the finish. In the end, I left it to those who knew (and trained) better. But I left with the pride of knowing I voted. And when the wife walked in and saw me in sweat pants and cycling socks, sprawled out all over the couch, half asleep, watching some old Tour de France DVD, she knew I had voted too.

    Someone once wrote “If mediocrity had a podium, I’d be on the middle step.”

    And God Bless America!

  • sibex9591 says:

    Excellent! Though I expected a low turnout, I was still disappointed when it actually came to pass. So damn sad.

    • fsethd says:

      I didn’t drag anyone to the polls. Next time, I will.

      • sibex9591 says:

        Most of my friends are conservative leaning, so I don’t want to drag any of them out. :/

        I did manage to get my daughter to the polls, but Jersey wasn’t a problem state. Now we are f’d in the Senate for 6 years with these latest GOP victors. It’s just a bad cycle. We can only get people motivated for the presidential races, but they just don’t realize how important the follow-up is in the mid-terms.

        • fsethd says:

          It’s crucial for everyone to vote because so many local elections are non-partisan or they involve non-partisan issues, or they involve issues like bikes about which conservatives and liberals agree when they share an interest such as cycling.

        • fsethd says:

          Good for getting your daughter out!

  • DangerStu says:

    I was concerned that your recent vows of sobriety would diminish your writing, I was wrong great words, keep it up on both counts.

  • channel_zero says:

    The most effective thing is voting.

    And since none of you USAC license holders can vote for anything at your federation, vote with your dollars and race outside USAC.

    Louie Zamperini would 😉

    I know it!!

  • Trooper says:

    When was the last time elections changed anything?

    • fsethd says:

      When Lincoln was elected president.

      • Deb says:

        That didn’t turn out all so well for Mr. Lincoln. He did a good job, though.

      • Trooper says:

        Exactly. Which is why people don’t vote anymore – makes no difference.

        • fsethd says:

          Al Franken was elected by less than 500 votes.

          Municipal and county elections nationwide are decided by a few hundred votes or less.

          People focus on presidential elections, but some of the most crucial decisions are made at the smallest unit of government. Votes matter — it’s the people who benefit from your staying home who tell you they don’t.

  • FTR DS says:

    Believe there is a small error in your info regarding Louie Z…. “who got shot down in the Pacific, survived 47 days in the open ocean on a raft,…”

    The plane wasn’t shot down. Errors were made in the cockpit that led to the crash.

    He is still a hero, loved the book and am looking forward to the movie in a couple weeks!

    • AA says:

      Not saying you’re right or wrong, but it looks like Wikipedia is wrong too, yes?;

      They were given another B-24, The Green Hornet, notorious among the pilots as a defective “lemon plane”. On May 27, 1943, while on the search, mechanical difficulties caused the plane to crash into the ocean 850 miles south[18] of Oahu, killing eight of the eleven men aboard.[19]


      • fsethd says:

        Well, there were mechanical problems but it’s likely that the plane went down because the co-pilot, who was inexperienced, switched with the pilot to get flying time. A few minutes after, things went sideways. Pilot error may have compounded the mechanical problems.

      • fsethd says:

        I’ve corrected it … thank you both!

    • fsethd says:

      Entirely correct. He was shot up in the US air attack at Wake Island, but did not go down. Thanks for the correction!

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