A group of anti-fascist activists have announced a public boycott of Citybikes because they accuse its founder and president, Tim Calvert, of holding anti-semitic views and organizing for racist causes. Rose City Antifascists (RCA, also known as Rose City Antifa) have also sent Citybikes employees a list of demands — including firing Calvert — they want enacted prior to lifting the boycott. This increasingly public pressure on the shop has put a major strain on Citybikes employees, causing two of them leave the co-op and causing others significant personal stress.
Adding to the complexity of the situation is that Citybikes is a worker-owned cooperative that holds freedom of expression of its workers in high regard and is not able to simply fire a fellow employee-owner even if they wanted to. One former employee I spoke with (who wishes to remain anonymous), said he wishes Calvert would step down from his role at Citybikes. The former employee — who says he left specifically because of stress caused by these accusations — said that even if Citybikes wanted to force Calvert out, they would be open to legal action (because their own bylaws prevent it) and defending themselves would bankrupt the business.
All of this first came to our radar screen in the summer of 2009, when Rose City Antifa (a member of the Anti-Racist Action Network) began (anonymously) posting accusations against Calvert on Indymedia, on the local Shift bike group email list, and in comments here in BikePortland. The Citybikes Board of Directors responded by saying they supported Calvert’s right to free expression and Calvert himself called it a “smear campaign.”
The 2009 dust-up revolved around Calvert’s hosting of a controversial white separatist Valdas Anelauskas at a local bookstore. Calvert ultimately apologized for hosting Anelauskas and distanced himself from the Lithuanian-born activists extreme views about race and other topics. The issue died out, but it has now come roaring back. RCA points to a recent picnic organized by Calvert that included a guest the group calls, “an individual deeply connected to antisemitic, white nationalist, and militant anti-choice organizing.”
With the issue back on RCA’s radar, Citybikes employees are concerned that it is putting an unnecessary strain on the business.
“I am frustrated and upset, and hurt that one person’s activities outside the shop are affecting me… Free speech is a protected right, but it can turn incendiary.”
— A current Citybikes employee
The former employee who called me yesterday, said he/she and one other friend both left the shop because the recent accusations were causing “too much stress.” The employee sees no good ending, unless Calvert simply walks away. “If [Citybikes] were to be sued [by Calvert, for forcing him out], they would go out of business. If there is no lawsuit and he stays, more people are going to leave… It’s become a bad situation. Either way, it’s a shame.”
I was also contacted yesterday by a current employee who is actively involved in internal discussions and meetings about this issue. This employee is torn between her love of working at Citybikes and the “highly stressful” situation Calvert’s activities and the accusations have caused. Speaking personally and not as a Citybikes worker, the employee — who refers to him/herself as a “person of vulnerable minorities” — said he/she has never had any problems working with Calvert; but that he/she’s “frustrated and upset” at the situation. Here’s more from his/her email:
“I strongly support individuals and organizations who work to prevent hate, and who protect vulnerable peoples – and yet here I am trying to work in a shop, earn my living, and now I feel threatened and unsafe by Antifa, which feels highly counter-intuitive to their intent. It is frustrating and disheartening to not be able to have open dialogue with the organization or individuals leading this cause. These are serious allegations to make without any input from anyone, or the shop. I feel oppressed by Antifa’s demands and tactics, and I don’t ever use that word lightly.”
The current Citybikes employee I spoke with said RCA has not been willing to sit down with Citybikes and have a face-to-face dialogue. The employee also shared that a member of RCA called the shop offering to support the staff. “They offer me support,” the employee said, “but then ask people to boycott my livelihood. I’ve seen the shop work so hard to support it’s workers without going under, to create programs, policies, etc which support the community, and now I see all this work being publicly discredited, I honestly don’t know how to handle the pain of that.”
While the current Citybikes worker I spoke with isn’t happy with the tactics of RCA, he/she seemed to have mixed feelings about Calvert as well:
“I am frustrated and upset, and hurt that one person’s activities outside the shop are effecting me, and Tim has been made aware of this (again). I struggle to understand where the line is. Free speech is a protected right, but it can turn incendiary.”
When I asked Calvert to respond to concerns from current and former Citybike workers, he acknowledged that, “These renewed attacks are definitely causing turmoil in the shop.” But he also added that, “I have seen no business impact from the attacks of this group.”
On September 18th, Calvert emailed Citybikes staff a note of apology about his actions: “I am sorry that once again my political activity has drawn the coop into the spot light. The accusations against me are politically motivated and false. I have been a lifelong activist for peace and justice and “hate” no one.” To take off some of the heat from RCA, Calvert told Citybikes staff he had resigned from a controversial 9/11 truth group he was a member of.
But that doesn’t seem to have appeased RCA. Yesterday, in an email to Citybikes, they detailed their demands:
“We wish to clarify what it would take to end this dispute at present:
(1) Calvert fired;
(2) Citybikes issues an adequate public apology for its prior mishandling of the situation. The text of the Citybikes apology would have to be
agreed to by our organization. The public apology will be placed prominently on the Citybikes website, and also circulated as a Citybikes
advertisement in Portland media.
(3) Citybikes will create and enforce a meaningful anti-oppression policy for the cooperative. (Given the circumstances, we cannot admit any current
CB anti-oppression policy as meaningful.) Citybikes will also create an anti-oppression internal education curriculum for its co-op. Both the anti-oppression policy and the internal education curriculum will contain sections on antisemitism.”
The Citybikes Board of Directors is meeting about the issue this week and is expected to issue a new statement about Calvert’s activities and the demands being made by RCA.
Whether or not Calvert can continue his activism outside Citybikes without hurting the shop he co-founded 23 years ago, remains to be seen.
“We wish that he would step away from Citybikes and start his own extreme bookstore,” said the former employee I spoke with, “it seems that’s where his interests lie instead of the bike store.” If Calvert did step away, the former employee said, “Maybe I’d go back.”