SJW on Bicycling
By: Purwanto Setiadi, a freelance journalist and a passionate “fietser” who volunteer at B2W Indonesia
Some people denounce B2W Indonesia because recently, in their impressions, it has posted on its social media accounts too much stuff specifically unrelated to bicycling activities, or that the content of the postings is associated with politics. One of the comments suggested, in a cynical way, that it would be better if the cycling advocacy organization just declare itself to be an “es-de-dblju” or SJW.
The term SJW, it stands for social justice warrior, has a pejorative tone, seemingly follows the vigorous campaign on the social media to stigmatize those who criticize the government or, in the wider definition, those who fight for justice for the oppressed. This campaign has willfully ignored the fact, and accordingly misled the gullible part of the society, that SJW and the essential of its existence goes back a long way.
Actually, according to the existing chronology, the term social justice warrior was used early on in a positive connotation, as an attribution to those who fight for economic and social justice. In her column “How the Term ‘Social Justice Warrior’ Became an Insult” published on the FEE Stories website on August 13, 2018, Abigail Herbst wrote that the Washington Post first used it in 1991 to describe Michel Chartrand, a union activist from Canada.
Herbst explained that the term had since been used in the same connotation in various newspapers and articles until 2008 before the meaning changed, the cause of which and when exactly it happened are unclear. One thing is certain that, in 2011, it was used on Twitter to insult. And in the same year the negative definition of social justice warrior appeared in the Urban Dictionary.
Substantially, in the early meaning and in the context of Indonesia, it can even be traced back to the struggle of the independence period. Our leaders at the time of the fight against the Dutch colonial were actually SJWs. Without them, who felt compassion toward and moved by the suffering and dehumanizing of the colonized populations, we would not attain the state we have been living in since. And to this day their ethics and principles carry on, embraced by people or organizations that fight for causes that make society better.
That being the case, without disregarding the fact that there are those who act too “enthusiastic” as SJWs, it would be better to just ignore people who try to distort the role and the importance of SJW.
As far as I am concerned, since the beginning, whether it was realized or not, B2W Indonesia has been an SJW. When it just began, in 2005, the term was not big yet. As a civil society organization, B2W Indonesia declared itself as a movement with the aim of improving the quality of life in cities by way of bicycle use for daily activities.
That sounds simple. But in practice it is hard. The structural hurdle is huge. There is also fierce resistance.
In the effort to make the goal a reality B2W Indonesia, among others, has to fight against the inequality in the streets as well—that streets are built only for motorized vehicles; that even law enforcement agencies always prioritize motorized vehicles. And latterly B2W Indonesia also recognizes that such inequality is linked to various aspects.
The fact of the matter is, promoting bicycling cannot be done in a vacuum. It is related to other things, such as city planning, environmental awareness, industrial priority, public budget allocations, law enforcement, and government vision and policy. Thus, it should be understood if, through its social media accounts, B2W Indonesia touches issues that are not directly mentioned or specifically containing bicycling matters. At times, if not oftentimes, they contain issues related to politics. Why? Because behavioral, or cultural, changes need policies, which belong to the politics realm. In other words, the political aspect of the postings does not imply a practical politics—let’s say, for the sake of supporting a he/she or discrediting another he/she, or exclusively to fight for power.
On that account, I would argue, if there is someone who suggests that B2W Indonesia should otherwise become an SJW, it is very fitting if the proper response is this: “Thank you for the suggestion, but we have been an SJW for 17 years, and will continue to do so.”
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