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Filemón VásquezSolidarity cyclist Filemón Vásquez in front of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
By Erik Neumann
Bicycle ride fundraisers are nothing new in Seattle. Each year, the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic raises money for Group Health Cooperative, and in 2010, the Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day (RAMROD) will benefit road improvements in Mt. Rainier National Park. Numerous alley cat races and scavenger hunts are organized each summer, usually benefiting bike clubs or shops.
But most bike fundraisers are designed for riders on the far end of the cycling spectrum: those willing to log 100-200 miles per day, or risk life and limb on city streets, vying for space with cars and their fellow racers. To fill this void, the Seattle non-profit Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) has created Solidarity Cycle, a bike fundraiser for a different crowd: the environmentally-minded cyclist who might not don a pair of spandex shorts, but will spend two days riding 50 miles for a cause.
“It’s not your typical big ride, so people who aren’t even associated with the ride started asking questions,” said Colette Cosner, a volunteer with CISPES.
The rules are simple: each cyclist raises $100 to participate in the two-day, supported ride. Last year, the group rode the Seattle/Tacoma loop, one of the Puget Sound’s most diverse routes, that covers the Kitsap Peninsula, Vashon Island, three ferry boats and one huge bridge. It’s about 50 miles from beginning to end, and serves as a first step into the world of bike touring, in addition to a fundraiser for a political cause that many hold dear.
CISPES was founded in 1980 by a group of US citizens and Salvadoran refugees during the country’s then civil war. Today, CISPES chapters around the country work to raise money in support of grassroots groups that are “working to create fundamental progressive change” in the small Central American country. “Our specific role is to be active when injustices in El Salvador have a connection to something that’s happening in the US,” said Cameron Herrington, the Seattle CISPES Coordinator.
This year’s Solidarity Cycle will benefit the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining, a coalition of environmental, religious and community groups opposed to a North American gold mining operation in El Salvador.
“It’s solidarity on a couple different levels,” said Cosner, referring to their annual bike ride. “You’re connecting to the greater issues, you’re seeing that you’re part of a larger movement and, especially in this last year, we got to meet some of our Salvadoran partners in the US who helped support the ride.”
In March, 2009, the victory of El Salvador’s first leftist president, Mauricio Funes, the small country made headlines around the world. In June, CISPES felt the effects. An unexpected 54 riders participated in Solidarity Cycle, earning the small non-profit nearly $6,000, up from 18 participants the previous year.
“This is pretty accessible to everyone, because all you have to do is raise $100, which means, find 10 people who can all pay 10 bucks each,” said Herrington. In addition to being an event that just about any non-profit could reproduce, the beauty of Solidarity Cycle is its engagement of more casual riders. According to Cosner, “The way we organize it, no one feels left out or intimidated about that difference in experience, which I think makes for a really successful fundraiser.”