A Word from America Walks’ New Executive Director Mike McGinn
Both the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide protests against police brutality emphasize the need to transform our places to make them truly safe for everyone. In an era of social distancing, the traditional advocacy focus on infrastructure – how much street space do we provide for walking, transit and public life – is more important than ever. But that focus is not enough to truly provide safety. We also must take on the attitudes, policies and practices that exclude or unduly injure or kill black and brown people in public spaces. Put simply, sidewalks cannot make a walkable community in the absence of racial justice.
Racism in land use and transportation have always been present – this moment of public consciousness presents the opportunity to transform attitudes and policies. It is the commitment of America Walks to be an anti-racist organization and we will be asking for your help in that work.
We are in a time where it feels like crises are layered on top of each other. My own engagement with walking advocacy 25 years ago started for simple public safety reasons. I thought I should be able to walk with my kids to the local grocery store without risking their lives. Today, pedestrian deaths from automobiles have gone up 53% in the last decade.
One cannot meet climate targets without addressing emissions from transportation – 30% of all emissions nationwide. That means allowing more people to live in communities where they can meet their daily needs with walking, biking and transit. And of course one doesn’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to see that how we built our streets and communities have profound economic, racial and social justice impacts.
Those realizations led me to start a non-profit, Great City, focused on place based advocacy for the environment, equity and social justice. It then led me to run for and win the job of mayor of Seattle. I’ve seen the entrenched power that frustrates progress – indeed that has increased inequality and injustice and that threatens us with a climate catastrophe.
But I have also seen how passionate individuals can organize with others to create change. How people can grow from their first halting steps into public life into dedicated community builders. That was my story, and that’s what draws me to America Walks. It was explicitly founded to support local advocates working to create walkable communities.
One may question whether organizing is enough in the face of all our challenges. But I will submit to you that our cascading crises are not going to be solved by a clever policy change, or electing your favorite in the next election (although please work on those!). We are talking about culture change – and that requires people across this country speaking to one another, changing minds and building public demand for truly inclusive and just communities. That takes organizing. And America Walks has the opportunity to work with local advocates and leaders across the county to empower those advocates. To recruit new volunteers to the cause and train them. To collaborate with other national organizations that share our values around inclusive communities.
It’s a big mission, and a worthy one. And I am really excited to be on this journey, at this time, with folks who believe we can make a difference. I hope you’ll help us with this work.
Learn more about Mike’s background and accomplishments by clicking here.
Watch Mike’s welcome video here: