One thing I am glad about from last night’s Town Hall Meeting for HB 689….I spent the night in my own bed and not a jail cell. As I told Jim Walsh, as we carpooled up there, I had worked on my speech all day and I came fully loaded with very specific points to make our case. When it was announced each person had only 3 minutes, I was wondering how my 16 minute speech would play out. I decided that I would leave it up to Rogers to monitor the time and just focus on reading as much of my speech as possible. Whenever they asked to to stop; I would.
It was outstanding that 3 TV stations were there and I was interviewed by 2 of them prior to the start of the meeting. A local news talk radio station was there, as well. I have to give all the thanks to my friend Todd Case, who took the reins on reaching out to the local media and he did a bang up job. Because of his efforts, 2 stations ran stories last week and the AJC did s ‘front page story’ on the whole thing.
Because I knew if this Bill ever saw the light of day (just like any common sense thinking cyclist would agree), that it would have far more reaching affects that no one would really like to imagine. Therefore, I used all my outlets of social media that I use to promote my charity bike ride (Jackson County Brevet) to get the word out. Several other social media groups jumped on board and we were well on our way to making this thing go viral in just 48 hours. One producer at 11Alive studio last night told me their website has blown up on hits about this Bill and has been the biggest story viewed/searched on their site for almost a week. As one friend emailed me…‘I love the power of social media”.
About 5:30, there was only about 30 people in the room, so I encouraged everyone that all the other cyclists would show up but to view this a just another group ride; that meant that about 5-10 minutes before the start, everyone would show up. And boy they did. 300+ were jammed in this room with standing room only. You just had to have been there.
Jim Walsh got the meeting started off in the most perfect ‘visual’ fashion by showing one chart of 33 riders 2-abreast (about 100 ft long) and then what it would look like under the proposed 4-person limit with 50 feet spacing between each. When we rolled out that very long chart, the room erupted with applause. There could not have been a better visual to make such an overwhelming point. Way to go, Jim.
Lots of people spoke and I am glad everyone spoke with professionalism…uh, let me give an exception to the New Orleans guy… We kept it civil, respectful but intently opposed to this Bill and we were not afraid to directly challenge the 3 sponsors of the Bill, sitting right before us. As Mr. Hawkins (one of the Bill sponsors) told me after the meeting, he was surprised of how well we spoke and how we conducted ourselves. Yes, we are an intelligent bunch but just a bit crazy about a sport and activity that we so love.
My name was called to speak. Here we go. I decided to read as fast as possible to cover as much of my speech as possible. I came fully loaded and I was quite prepared to deliver. I have to admit, after getting the feeling that surely I was over my 3 minutes, I actually kept expecting them to tell me to stop…but they didn’t. Hey, give me the mic and I’ll use all the time I can get. My remarks were professional, incredibly direct and challenged the safety aspect, that all 3 sponsors claimed was their motivation for the Bill. I certainly was not expecting what would happen next. Finally, Mr. Rogers interrupted me and said that was enough. I asked if I could have 30 seconds to share practical, common sense suggestions. The answer was no. Next, the entire room began to chant “Let him speak. Let him speak. Let him speak”. Rogers refused and told me I needed to sit down. Without hesitation, I sat down and as I was putting my speech away, I feel the, and this is no exaggeration, my arm being squeezed like being in a metal press. I look up and an armed officer told me I had to leave. I told him I did nothing wrong. I stopped when requested. I sat down when requested. No doing. He pulled me up out of my chair. I walked out peacefully but you can bet I was outraged. I was given high-fives by countless on my was out. In a non-direct way, I was told that me staying in the room would incite the crowd more so I had to leave. What? To have the unbridled authority to remove me (or anyone) from a public meeting in this manner, made me feel like I had no rights, no say and almost like I was not a citizen of my own country. This was one of those times I was almost without words.
About half way out of the room, I was convinced I was going to jail. Back in the entrance hallway, they stopped me and told me I could not come near the meeting room doors. Last time I checked, I was not a criminal. Towards the end of the meeting, I was told I could go back into the room but I could not say anything and had to stay in the very back and sit down. This WAS a public meeting, right? I’ve seen on TV folks being escorted out before but having that happen to me, in the way it happened, was certainly not the right thing to do and certainly for not the right reasons, either.
At the end of the meeting, Rogers announced the Bill would be pulled today and is no more.
On the drive home, I got a call from 11Alive, wanting to know if I could do a live interview on their 10 o’clock show. I had just enough time to get home, kiss my bride and jump in the car and drive down to Monroe Ave. Love to see it, but received several comments that the interview was great. Once that was over, they asked me to answer some questions on camera to be used for their morning show today. Finally, I got to share some of the suggestions that I didn’t get to share a few hours earlier.
I am glad I got the chance to speak for cyclists last night and hopefully be a voice of reason and common sense. Hey, this is my passion, my livelihood, my lifestyle. You can bet if our lifestyle is being threatened, I’ll be there to have my voice heard. I’ll always do it in a respectful but direct manner.
And finally, I hope everyone can forgive me for not being able to find a banana yellow colored suit to wear last night. Hey, if I had found one…..well, I do love my yellow. BTW, if anyone tivo’d my 11Alive interview last night, please send a link or something to firstname.lastname@example.org. THANKS!!
NOTE: Click on the images for video coverage and full story write-ups.
UPDATE (2:06pm): Just received an email from Jim Syfan, asking to spend some time together. Update forthcoming….