Freedom of speech be damned. A slew of cyclists congregated outside the Washington Post today to protest a recent column by Courtland Milloy calling them bullies and terrorists. They demanded to speak to Milloy and his editors. Most wanted an apology. Some wanted a retraction. Still others wanted the Post to institute a more balanced coverage of bikers.
At one point the cyclists seeped into the street in the bike lane, causing a woman in a dark sleeveless dress and white bike helmet to walk through and shout, “HEY, YOU ALL ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BIKE LANE. CAN YOU MOVE BACK?”
The irony appeared to be lost on them as they lashed out at Milloy and his honchos.
“I’m a cyclist and the article he wrote made me angry,” said Jenny, who handles contracts in the National Geographic Magazine photography department, and bikes wherever she goes. “Calling cyclists terrorists, I just think the article was meant to antagonize. Did it make biking or driving safer? Probably not.”
A line in his column drawing the most ire involves Milloy daring to empathize with drivers who’ve experienced the wrath of bikers: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”
All the bicyclists who spoke to The Mirror today have all had ugly brushes with motorists. Of course, most would not cop to smacking cars, spitting giant loogies or cussing out motorists, which is the other side of this story.
“I was really offended,” said Katherine Fuchs, who works for the environmental non-profit Friends of the Earth, which sits adjacent to The Washington Post building. “I was personally offended that I was called a terrorist.”
I asked if she believed in the freedom of speech since Milloy is, in fact, a columnist. She said having a variety of opinions is important, but reasoned, “I don’t ever think it’s worth it to incite people to violence.”
What does she want from The Washington Post? “I’m hoping they’ll apologize. I’m hoping they’ll provide more balanced coverage.”
Fuchs explained that she routinely gets treated like dirt by motorists. “Everyday a car will turn in front of her without a signal. I’ve been doored once. Knocked off my bike. I said, ‘Ma’am you’re in the bike lane.’” Which the woman didn’t take so well. “Cars have the same entitlement,” Fuchs added, saying that she once tapped the hood of a woman’s car, who proceeded to flip out and say she couldn’t do that.
Mike Forster, the protest organizer, looks like Richie Cunningham, with red hair and freckles. He’s actually a real estate lawyer who also reps injured cyclists. He created the protest via Facebook. “It’s been amazing,” he said.
As for the Post, he said, “I would like it if they issued a retraction.” Told that it was a column with opinion and there’s really nothing to retract, he replied, “This kind of opinion can enflame tensions that are already there. We don’t want to be stereotyped as terrorists.”
He said he too has been doored, but not seriously injured. “I’ve had a number of close calls,” he said.
Forster said he had not heard from Milloy and his editors. Nor did they come outside and talk to the protesters, which is what they were hoping for. The Mirror requested comment from a Washington Post spokeswoman.
Joe Brophy, decked in fluorescent green, showed up in his pedicab. He’s the general manager of National Pedicabs. He flexed his guns and wanted me to number his muscles “one” and “two.” He said of Milloy’s column, “I feel it was just callous, poorly written, demeaning. It amazes me that the Post ran it. I was astounded that the Post thought it would be a good idea or that it reflects the values of the Post. I’m OK with expressing opinions. I’m not OK with condoning violence.”
Tina Jones, the most dramatic of the protesters, showed up in amusing bicycle glasses (pictured below) that seemed pretty dangerous, actually. “What he advocated was something somebody actually did to me,” she said. “It was so terrifying. I was commuting to work. He turned his car wheels at me and accelerated. I guess he was pissed because I was a biker on the road. To read Milloy write the same thing, I’m shaking thinking about that right now.”
As for those bicycle spoke glasses, she said, “I wouldn’t recommend them for everyday use.”
Protest organizer Mike Forster chats with a cop outside The Washington Post. The policeman wanted to know how long they’d be there, what the plan was.
Tina Jones and her psychedelic glasses.
Hipster biker displays his signage.
Joe Brophy, for whatever reason, flexes his guns in his pedicab.