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Case #607

"Bikes not Bombs" program helps pave road to peace and justice


Carl Kurz, who helped start Bikes Not Bombs nearly two decades ago to provide material aid ? bicycles - to people in Nicaragua during the war with the Contra guerrillas. But over the years, the organization has evolved into a place where young people from the most forgotten streets of Boston spend their afternoons and evenings and summers.

A bike mechanic by trade, it was Kurz?s idea, in 1984, to challenge American support of the Contras, person by person, bike by bike. His political analysis-that oil is the basis of American militarism, that bicycles can reduce oil dependency and promote economic selfsufficiency-has been consistent for 20 years. Here is someone who did not awake to September 11 wondering, "Why do they hate us?" Here is someone who did not need to ask, in the aftermath, "What can I do?"

Still, if the "not bombs" part of the mission did not exactly change the course of American foreign policy, the "bikes" part was wildly more successful than Kurz ever envisioned. The 40 bikes they distributed in 1984 grew to 13,000 by 1990 and approached a total of 20,000 by the end of the century. They stopped shipping the bikes for free - charity, they came to see, devalued both the bikes and their recipients and they stopped refurbishing the bikes themselves, instead training local mechanics who could then parlay their skills into capital. Self-supporting bike shops opened all over Nicaragua, and then in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador.

That work continues. In 2000, nearly a thousand bikes were sent from Boston to Central America, some to a cooperative bike shop in Rama, Nicaragua, and some to the El Salvadoran Appropriate Technology Center in San Salvador. In 2001, hundreds of bikes were sent to Maya Pedal in Guatemala, some of which were converted into pedal-powered machines for small farmers to shell corn and pump water and depulp coffee. It is direct action, but of a subtle and practical sort. "We help create community, which is the total opposite of creating the tools of destruction," says Rick Jarvis, who recently replaced Mira Brown as the director of Bikes Not Bombs.

"We're doing what we've always done," adds Brown, who is now the group's community organizer. "Promoting economic development and a political movement necessary to have environmental sustainability. The magic is that we do all of it at the same time."


Location: Roxbury, MA, USA
Action: Direct
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: International
Issues: Environment, Peace/Conflict Resolution
Year(s): 1984
Outcome successful
Source: Mother Jones, Mar./Apr. 2002


Prepared By: rja, 3/02
Rating: 1
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