Sometime in the mid-Nineties of the last century, I was among a group of people who founded Tel-Aviv Bicycle Association, a pressure group dedicated to bringing bike paths to Tel-Aviv. For some years now it has been managed by Yotam Avizohar, a talented former architect, who renamed it the Israel Bicycle Association and has master minded its transition to being Israel’s most influential bicycle advocacy organization.
Yotam is very good at political lobbying and has helped protect cycling from negative Knesset Member actions. His management of IBA has been marveous except that he is completely focussed on bike paths.
Where Yotam has failed has been in maintaining and managing membership and ultimately political influence comes from numbers and not just from individual schmoozing. Maintaining membership is essential to finding volunteers as well as to raising money and running projects.
The Israel’s bicycle association’s Facebook page has provided an alternative for membership and a place for sounding out support. While this is very useful for quick contact with supporters it is no substitute for a genuine committed membership.
About a month ago I attended the organization’s AGM which started at 9:00 am on a Friday. I took my daughter to kindergarten in North Tel Aviv and then cycled 10 kilometers in pouring rain to the organization’s offices in South Tel Aviv. I spent the next three hours hearing lectures on bike paths and Knesset advocacy. It was interesting but in my view was also designed to prevent meaningful discussion about how the organization functions. By 12:30 I had to leave, to cycle back to North of the Yarkon river and no discussion had taken place. I know nothing about the finances or how Yotam raises money.
While I respect and admire Yotam, I feel we need more engagement with the membership issue.
Incidentally, I think what is happening with Israel Bicycle Association is something happening in Israeli politics in general. We have people looking for quick-fixes instead of building up popular support though hard work and membership drives and so we get parties with no real membership just a lot of policies and bluster.