Why white people marched for Black Lives Matter at CicLAvia

"What if L.A. were safe for black people?"

That might sound like a strange question to ask at a bicycle event, but for a group of demonstrators who paraded downtown in yellow shirts on Sunday, it was an appropriate one.

Nearly all of the protesters were white.

The group, which is called White People for Racial Justice, held signs, marched and chanted during CicLAvia, an event that provides Angelenos a peek at what a city could look like if it was eco-friendly and safe for people on bikes. Demonstrators handed out yellow “Black Lives Matter” balloons and asked people to join them.

I spoke with Jason David, a member the group, about what they were doing at CicLAvia. You can listen to our conversation below:

Here are some highlights from the interview:

Why they came to CicLAvia:

This is a progressive vision of an eco-friendly, bike-friendly LA, and safety for people on bikes. And we want to push that vision to say, what would it look like if L.A. were safe for black people? What if it were safe from police brutality? So we want to push that to people that are progressive and liberal and that want a different kind of L.A., and we want to make sure that L.A. is racially equitable as well.

Who they’re trying to reach:

For the most part, it’s other white people. We want to say, hey, we know that you’re thinking about these issues, we know that you’re impacted and shocked by the killings that have happened in the last year. And we figure that you may not know what to do, but you want to do something. So we’re here to say to other white people that there is a way to get involved.

On the response from CicLAvia participants:

We’re a group of white people, so it definitely creates a lot of attention. Dominant culture among white people is not to talk about race, not to mention white privilege. So we figured we might as well make a splash.

—     —     —     —    

Many people did seem to appreciate the demonstrations, but I found that overall, the CicLAvia crowd’s response was mixed.

I frequently heard people wondering aloud why people would demonstrate at CicLAvia. At one point, as the demonstrators chanted “Black Lives Matter,” a group of riders stopped to chant with them and show support. But minutes later, another group rode by, slowed their bicycles, and shouted “All lives matter!” at the group.

Activists have faced backlash for interrupting people at brunch or in grocery stores before. But this group was fairly unintrusive: they did not block roads, and with all the noise of the festivities, their chants were nearly inaudible only a block away. Even at a liberal event like CicLAvia, it seems that the mere presence of a conversation about race was enough to annoy some riders.

Follow me @dexdigi for more on the intersection of culture and the Internet