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spires from Carfax

civil liberties, cycling, sinking lifeboats and the shoulders of giants

Books + Ideas, — February 2015

I was an active civil liberties campaigner in Australia: I led two protest marches through the streets of Sydney in the 1990s and was a board member of Electronic Frontiers Australia for twelve years. Here in Oxford I've become involved with cycling advocacy instead. That's partly because my lay knowledge of Australian telecommunications and censorship law wasn't going to be much use here, but also because fighting for civil liberties was getting me down.

With cycling infrastructure, progress may be slow and painful, but there's at least a sense that things are moving in the right direction and one can build on the work of those who've gone before. Civil liberties campaigning, on the other hand, is more like being on a sinking, water-logged lifeboat, which is gradually settling however furiously one bails water. Occasionally something bad can be averted or delayed, but there's been a pretty steady downhill progression, with law enforcement and security agencies acquring more and more powers and never relinquishing any. It's also emotionally draining: one ends up having to defend Holocaust deniers and racists, pornographers and suchlike, and often ends up arguing with people one is otherwise in political agreement with. (Though it's true cycling has its dreaded 'helmet wars', as well as the divide between infrastructure and vehicular cycling approaches.)

Anyway, the point of all this is that I've been quite critical in this blog of existing policies and infrastructure in Oxford, but I know how much I owe to all the people who laboured to get, or preserve, what we have — most notably people in CyclOx, but probably many others as well. If Oxford hadn't been as friendly as it is for cycling, I'd never have taken to riding a bike, let alone taken up cycling activism. Thank you.


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