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FLOW: Feminist Library on Wheels

Dawn Finley and Jenn Witte first met at a reading group at the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles. What started as a conversation about how to build a collection of feminist literature and multimedia, quickly evolved into something more when Witte, in her excitement, blurted out, “And it can be on my bike!”

Now the two women are well on their way to making their vision — F.L.O.W. Feminist Library on Wheels — a reality. With an Indiegogo campaign underway and a local fundraising event this month, the two are working to build a custom bicycle that will transport their “multimedia collection of feminist texts, artifacts and ephemera” to a diverse audience throughout the Los Angeles area. 

Witte has been biking her whole life. “I learned to ride a bike the same year I learned to read,” she says. “I’d like to think that my reading life and my riding life have been running parallel to each other since I was five years old.” Growing up, she spent her time bombing down hills with her feet on the handlebars in the beach town of Cayucos, California or towing her sisters in a trailer around Kootenai, Idaho. “My riding has always been very real-world, very patchwork, fun and functional — I commute by bike,” she says. “I was scared to ride when I moved to San Francisco eight years ago, but I discovered the wiggle, learned a few rules and rights, and now I really have no fear. That’s a lie– I fear garbage trucks.”

Finley came to bicycling later. When her boyfriend moved across town she found herself arriving at his place in the evenings in a really bad mood after contending with tons of traffic while behind the wheel of her car, or dealing with the tedium of having to take two different trains across the city. To combat that, she became a full-fledged road rider. “I didn’t want the cute panniers and the cute cycling clothes,” she says. Biking the 17 miles each way, she got to know people and the city in a way she never had before. She joined a local cycling club and found herself physically and mentally healthier than ever before. 

The two women enjoy the fact that they are different types of bicyclists. “We like showing that it doesn’t matter what kind of bike you have and what kind of clothes you wear,” Witte says.

The goal of F.L.O.W. is equally inclusive. The rolling library “promotes a feminist approach in three ways: through the riders who participate; the character and range of the collection; and the use of a bicycle. Our hope is to spark inspiration to create change through the process of reading and gathering together in community. Los Angeles is a fantastically diverse and exciting place to be, with a growing population of cyclists of all kinds, and the city has a proud history of supporting feminist work. The world we live in is ready for a healthy chorus of vibrant feminist voices, bringing knowledge to the people one pedal at a time!”

Finley discussed how Women Bike’s resources helped assist them in clarifying their mission. “The Women On a Roll report put it well: In the United States, women from all demographics are recognizing and championing the bicycle as a simple solution to so many social challenges: economic recovery, community health, environmental protection, and neighborhood vitality. More than social good, bicycling also offers a quintessential liberty: not only freedom, but joy in our daily mobility — no matter where the ride takes us.”

“That quotation really helped me clarify some things about [how bikes and feminism intersect],” she says. “And there’s the historical precedent of cycling being a very real vehicle for women’s liberation, allowing women freedom of movement like basically nothing else. I also loved Jenn’s inspiration that this is a whole new way to become a card-carrying feminist — a way that allows so much room for self-definition and creativity. It’s not a card that tells you what feminism is, but one that opens myriad possibilities for learning what feminism is for you. That diversity is a natural partner with the different kinds of cyclists we’d like to support, and with the self-determination that cycling allows.”

While still in the process of working out the logistics of the lending library, in their short time developing their concept they’ve started to build a strong network of support. Joe Krennan of Pedal Positive out of Boulder, Colorado has agreed to assist them in the building of their Bike Library trailer at the end of August at a build event in Los Angeles. Krennan was responsible for creating the bike libraries currently in use by the Denver Public Library. 

They’ve also developed a great partnership with local L.A. bookseller Skylight Books, where Witte works. Skylight is providing books on F.L.O.W.’s wish list to sell at a fundraiser on August 12th, and have promised to donate 20% of the proceeds of the evening to F.L.O.W.

For those not in the Los Angeles area but interested in supporting F.L.O.W. you can purchase books through Skylight’s website, or give to their Indiegogo campaign. For more information about F.L.O.W. visit their facebook page or email [email protected]

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