2012-01-22 - Energy Bike Project - Worldmaking

OWS's Energy Bike Project: Powered by the People!

Worldmaking:Tales of Transition

January 22nd, 2012

By Melanie Jae Martin

Early in the Occupy movement, the various segments of the Zuccotti Park encampment in New York decided they no longer wanted to rely on unsustainable gas generators for energy. The Sustainability workgroup in particular was looking for viable alternatives to gas. When they learned the gas generators were about to be seized by police, they knew the time had come to fully implement a better system: bicycle-powered energy.

Keegan Stephan, from Time’s UP! (an NYC-based direct action environmental organization) and the OWS Sustainability workgroup, spearheaded the energy bike project. While I was in NYC, we spoke at Time’s Up! in Brooklyn, where the group worked to create the energy system.

“The first bike was a really big hit, within the community. We brought it in late at night, and people sort of just flocked to it. We had a light going, because we hooked up a light and a radio to it, and it was like moths to a flame.” The bikes grabbed so much attention, he says, that “It was actually a little bit problematic for us working on the bikes at the park, though we were trying to do a lot of the wiring and stuff there, because the volunteers really wanted to be there, in that space…it was a magnetic space.”

The first bike got people in the movement interested in creating a more extensive energy system, and drew in passersby who had skills to share or wanted to learn more. “People knew what we were doing because we got coverage for that first bike, and then very professional electricians, a nuclear physicist, who ended up making our electrical schematic, they just stopped by at the park, and they would say, hey, I heard what you’re doing and I want to help.”

“People just poured out of the woodwork to help with it. It was difficult to manage that many volunteers,” he laughed.

Time's Up! and the Sustainability workgroup collaborated with other organizations like Brooklyn Machine Works, Occupy Boston, Pedal Power NYC, and MIT Pedal Power to get the bikes up and running, too.

Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response to the bikes, creating power together is incredibly empowering—all the more so in this case because people generated this power with their own bodies. Anyone could hop on a bike and start peddling. The power used by the people came from the collective efforts of the people—and the people’s collective skills in creating this energy system.

The police raid happened just four hours after Keegan and other volunteers had installed all of the bikes. Only a couple of the volunteers were able to get into the park after the alert about the raid, he said, and many of the bikes, stands, and batteries were damaged or lost. Keegan, who was at a meeting at Time’s Up! in Brooklyn, raced to the park on his bike and repeatedly tried to ride in with the traffic flow, since traffic was still being allowed through--only to be arrested when, at the officers' request, he began walking away.

However, the experience of creating and using the bike generators taught members of the movement, and the greater public, a lesson that won’t be so easily lost—that sustainable energy systems are more viable than we might think. And the bonds formed by this experience certainly will remain strong. By combining our skills, we can lead each other into a radically healthier world, building vibrant community in the process. Keegan and Time’s Up! plan to continue promoting sustainable energy in the NYC community with the energy bikes. In fact, he says, spinning classes have approached them about generating power with their bikes, so perhaps the project will have more widespread effects than anyone even imagined.

To learn about creating your own energy bike project--for your home, your neighborhood, even your business--check out this nifty how-to from Time's Up!