Let’s not be bland

This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 98.

I disagree with Simon’s wish to change the name of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, and also the name he wants to use. I think it is a distraction, and one that we have discussed and dismissed before.

We have spent a lot of time and effort getting ourselves known and I think we have succeeded in that. Changing our name would undermine a lot of that effort and set us back many years. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it if it has other benefits, but I don’t think it has.

The word Campaign seems to be the problem. But I don’t see it as a problem. Campaign implies challenging the status quo, and that is, I hope, what we do. Changing the name to something blander because it puts off people who do not want to challenge is either disingenuous (implying we do one thing while doing another), or worse, actually dumbing down. Challenge does not mean we cannot, should not or do not engage with decision makers – quite the opposite – or oppose for opposition’s sake.

Of course, the word Campaign has its roots in military and electoral activity. But we aren’t using it in either such sense, and people know that. We mean ‘an organised attempt aiming at a definite result’ (OED). Actually, we mean a collection of such activities about particular issues, as well as our more general, ongoing promotional and educational work.

And the name Simon is promoting, I think it doesn’t represent us. We aren’t a ‘city’, we are an organisation. It doesn’t make sense. If we want to change name, personally I think there is only one sensible candidate, and that is ‘Camcycle’.

I am now the only one of the four people who set up Cambridge Cycling Campaign still active in the organisation. We set it up to have an edge, to be challenging. I think we have lost a lot of that edge. I think to choose a blander name would be to lose even more of that edge, when what we should be doing is trying to regain some of it.

Yes, we know there are people who don’t want to join us because of the name. But I am not convinced it is the name itself, but what it implies that is their problem. They don’t want to engage in political activity with a small p and think that a meek approach will achieve things. I disagree. And there are also people we know who will not join us for quite the opposite reason: that we are not vocal enough, who think compromise should not be a word in our vocabulary, and think we should ‘accept’ almost nothing of what has been done for cyclists in Cambridge because it has flaws.

At a time when the County Council and central Government are focussing on the notion that economic growth is all that matters, we need the broader challenges too. That our communities don’t have to revolve around the car because cars are seen as money-making, even though this ignores the huge economic costs that cars impose. That transport is a major factor in climate change and we need to address that. That development assumes people should conform to certain kinds of lifestyle.

To change our name would be to shoot ourselves in the foot, undermine our aims, make ourselves less visible, misrepresent us and replace people who are passionate in support of what we do with those who aren’t.

I don’t want us to be bland.

David Earl