In the late 1970s, a popular uprising known as the Sandinista movement overthrew the oppressive Samosa dictatorship in Nicaragua. The new government set up social programs for the impoverished Nicaraguan population including literacy training, hydroelectric power, and efficient wood stove technologies in rural villages. The Sandinistas established an inclusive form of government where women were involved in political organization, as well as the armed forces.
In the Cold War political climate of the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration denounced the people’s uprising as a form of socialist government that would eventually ally with communist forces; not to mention that American industries profiting from the extraction of Nicaragua’s raw materials were adversely affected by the fall of the Samosa regime.
Consequently, the United States government sold weapons to Iran and used the profits to arm the counter-revolutionary military forces in Nicaragua without public knowledge or Congressional approval. When these facts came to light, they became a rallying point for political activists.
On July 4th, 1984, one such Boston-based activist, Carl Kurz, traveled to Nicaragua with a vision of providing the people with bikes — not bombs. Kurz understood that in developing nations, when automobiles become the dominant form of transportation, many people wouldn’t be able to afford their own cars. Bikes on the other hand, if made readily available, would provide a safer, more accessible alternative. As a result of his visit, Kurz and fellow activists founded Bikes Not Bombs.
Through a partnership with the Organization of Disabled Revolutionaries, they began distributing donated bicycles, teaching bicycle maintenance, and establishing bike shops to create viable transportation infrastructure and economic opportunities for Nicaraguans.
Since their inception, Bikes Not Bombs has evolved into a multi-faceted organization, “using the bicycle as a vehicle for social change.” Their initial focus, working with international partners to collect used bicycle donations and ship them to the Global South has expanded to include programs here in Boston, which “provide skill development, jobs and sustainable transportation” for urban youth. The Bike-a-thon annual fundraiser garners support from the greater Boston community, galvanizing the collective efforts of diverse social activists and cyclists alike. If you enjoy hanging out with awesome people and getting involved with a worthy cause, check out a volunteer night from 7-10 PM every Thursday at their Hub location in the Brewery Complex of Jamaica Plain! –Scott Mizrachi