Fighting to be seen
by Emily Gallagher
Apr 03, 2019 | 749 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Monday, I was riding my bike to the 7 train and needed to turn off Greenpoint Avenue to head toward the Pulaski Bridge and the bike route. I was in the front of traffic, so I slowed down and signaled I was about to turn. My lights were on. My helmet was on.

As I went to signal a left turn, my hand narrowly missed an SUV passing me at such close proximity that my bike rattled. I screamed at the car as it sped off over the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge.

I was trying to be careful and trying to be seen. I was shaken by the carelessness that I experienced. It was a beautiful sunny day, I was following all the rules, but it didn't matter. I was still so close to being hurt. I waited, I stood on the sidewalk, and I crossed the street and began my ride again.

That night, on my friend's Instagram, I saw another cyclist in another city was killed, this time by a drunk driver. It seems every week my friend's friends are dying, not from gun violence or drug use, but from trying to exist on the streets of their own cities.

Some friends refuse to ride now. "Why risk it?" they say. They stuff themselves miserably back onto buses and subways, doubling their commute times, halving their exercise, and adding stress and chaos to their lives because on a bike they are an underdog, and the underdog rarely wins.

When a bike ride goes well, which it usually does in part because of exercising endless vigilance and caution, it is an exhilarating thing.

My day job is near Central Park, and there is nothing better after a long summer day than riding down the bike path at dusk, looking up at the stars and the city skyline, smelling the plants and fresh air and noticing the changes in temperature on my skin as I move from one neighborhood to the next.

Watching the landscape and the people change is a humanizing experience, time spent away from a screen and with my body and nature and the city. When I do it, I feel free.

There is nothing wrong with biking. What is wrong is what and who we allow to be visible in this city. Cycling is just one example.

My struggle to be seen as an equal commuter on Greenpoint Avenue is echoed by my struggle to be seen in city and state government and beyond. As a woman, as a tenant, as a person with a modest income trying to get by, as a worker advocating for educational opportunities low-income students, so frequently my own personal experiences and needs, as well as those of my peers, are very difficult to amplify.

There are others who have an even greater struggle. Those with mobility challenges trying to get down the subway stairs at rush hour when they really need a clean elevator. People of color whose communities are vanishing around them because of gentrification.

Homeless individuals and families trying to get opportunities without any stable place to rely on, moving around the city and in and out of the school system, unable to secure enough savings to rent a home.

Trans people trying to be accepted and acknowledged as their own selves. Delivery workers and other low-wage earners trying to hold onto the e-bikes they need to make any wage at all. Women trying to walk down the street without experiencing harassment and fear.

We bother because we have to. For so many of us, to be seen we have to scream until our voices are hoarse, we're tired, and we start to feel self-conscious about our ceaseless badgering for some simple provision that would allow us to live safely and with greater ease and prosperity.

This week I had two friends write about how, with stable full-time jobs, they could not manage to find even a room in an apartment they could afford. Some of these individuals even work for the government.

And yet we are told day in and out in the news cycle about the development of affordable housing, which seems to be aimed only at the highest of white-collar earners, a group of people who shouldn't be struggling to find housing.

We scream as tenants because we believe we deserve a place to live and enough money to build a future.

When elected officials say they see us, but what they do in private in their chambers is not in accordance with our needs, it increases our invisibility.

When elected officials fight for the already comfortable over the vulnerable because it's easier or it will win them votes or donations, it makes our efforts to be seen feel fraught and pointless.

I don't know about you, but while I'm here on this planet, I want to be seen. I spent too long believing that my needs weren't important, that the fight for them was insignificant. Now I know that protecting, supporting and changing our culture to one where every vulnerable person has a place and has security in their daily interactions in our city, that's what it's about.

The fight for visibility is draining. It is exhausting and frustrating and emotionally depleting, but we are not ghosts. We are real and we matter. I dream of the day when our lives are worth more than someone's impatience, someone's convenience, someone's popularity.

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