The 25th Ecotopia Biketour has started rolling a couple of days ago. We will cycle for three months from Copenhagen to Helsinki, via Malmö, Göteborg, Oslo, Stockholm and Turku and visiting lots of ecological projects and political groups on the way. The route has been fixed day-by-day for several months already, and we have a huge list of possible projects and groups to visit in case our plans change spontaneously. So how is a tour like this organised?
The preparation process consists of three main groups of tasks: finding projects to visit and forming a route out of them, making sure that the equipment is complete, working and arrives at the starting place, and advertising the tour. There are several circular dependencies: In order to find out whether a project can host us, we need to have the dates when we want to stay there, which requires a fixed route, which can only be set when we know which projects can host us. In the end, some guessing is involved and the route is set starting with a rough draft that is refined bit by bit. A lot of e-mails need to be read and written, for the 2015 tour it has been around 1000.
Not much is known to us how it used to work in the 1990s and 2000s. Due to the fact that it is happening in a different part of Europe every year and that few people have the privilege to take several weeks off to cycle every year, the Biketour has a big fluctuation of participants. Most people join only once, some twice, and very few more often than that.
In the last years, each year two people stepped forward to be the coordinators for the upcoming tour. They would move to the area where the Biketour would happen and do all of the preparation. Usually, but not every year, they were funded as volunteers in collaboration with some local organisations.
Most of the time, it was difficult to find anyone who would take on this huge amount of work. In 2012 though, suddenly a large number of people was interested in becoming a coordinator, and the Biketour community had to pick two, as there were two funded volunteer positions available. This selection seemed so similar to the application process in a capitalist society that in 2013 some people put a lot of effort into “applying” to us, while others who would have been interested to be a coordinator were put off by this process in the first place.
An application procedure like this – and actually the whole concept of having 2 people prepare a tour for up to 100 people – does not fit the way we do things on the Biketour otherwise very well. The Biketour is all about rotating responsibilities and being participative, everyone is invited to do all the tasks, to learn from each other, to avoid knowledge hierarchies and to not put individuals in a position of power. In 2013, a proposal for a new preparation structure fitting these values was developed and was first applied in the preparation of the 2015 tour.
The idea was to have an open preparation group, where anyone interested could join and do as much as they would like. We would have local people involved who would help preparing the parts of the tour passing through their areas, which would remove the necessity of the coordinators moving into the area of the upcoming tour and thus also make funding much less necessary. An online platform would help to keep an overview over the tasks that need to be done, making it easy for people to take over small responsibilities, making it possible for a large number of people to get involved. We would have a regular online meeting to talk about the process.
It turns out that this concept sounds good in theory, but is really difficult to realise. It’s difficult to involve people in the preparation process who haven’t been on the tour before – as the largest part of the work is contacting projects, which requires some idea about how the tour works. But finding people who have participated in the past and are interested in helping with the preparation is also difficult – most people only have time/energy to join once or twice, and the Biketour has last been in Scandinavia in 1991, so it’s difficult to find locals who have participated before.
Only a really small number of people offered to participate in the preparation process, most of them not having participated in a Biketour before, which led to the majority of the work again being done by one or two people – only this time in their free time without any funding.
What will happen in the future needs to be decided this summer. Maybe the Biketour community needs some time to get used to a participative preparation process, or a tour of this kind is just not made for it.