Photo by Jeff Green and story by Sarah Greene
“What do you call a woman walking down the street?,” Alexander Waddling asks me. As he trains for and does media to promote the second annual Ride For A Dream, he's been expanding on his repertoire of on-bike activities, which include harmonica playing, snacking, and apparently, writing feminist standup jokes.
"I don't know," I answer, and he says, "nothing."
Waddling is a guy with vision and drive to spare. The 24-year-old Ryerson student started Ride For A Dream last year with his friend, Danny "Red" Surjanac, in support of the White Ribbon Campaign (the world's largest organization engaging men to end violence against women) with a charity ride from Toronto to Vancouver.
The team raised some money and awareness for the cause last year, but Waddling admits that year one was a learning experience - "big time." At one point in Northern Ontario, Waddling experienced serious knee issues and nearly gave up (he thinks this is due to either dehydration or not stretching enough, or both) but he persevered; and his commitment to the cause of ending violence against women and to long distance cycling seems to have only deepened.
This year, with financial support from Ryerson University and other donors, and with a documentary crew tagging along in a van, Waddling and Surjanac, along with two other cyclists (Micah Marson and Jason Rego) will ride from Toronto to St. John's over the course of June in support of The Schlifer Clinic, which offers legal help and counselling to women who have experienced violence (the clinic operates in over 90 different languages, including American Sign Language, through interpreters).
Already, Waddling's fledgling charity has grown considerably in both participation and in profile. In recent weeks he has interviewed Olivia Chow and George Stroumboulopoulos about the culture that surrounds violence against women (he interviewed them, not the other way around). He anticipates that at least 100 - 150 people will show up to the Toronto launch and that a lot of people will be "bunny hopping" with the group between towns (Toronto to Ottawa, Ottawa to Montreal, Montreal to Quebec City, etc).
Clearly, Waddling has invested a lot of time and energy into Ride For A Dream, so I ask him why he feels so strongly about ending violence against women.
“If I had to pinpoint one thing,” he tells me, “it would be my littlest sister – she just turned five and she’s really, really smart. I hate the idea that she would ever be limited by her gender or her sexuality. I feel like the dominant cultural ideology around girls being smart is that they shouldn’t be, and I have a big issue with that. Most of my best friends happen to be women. As it stands now, the highest incident rate for domestic violence is those who are 16 – 24. It’s usually portrayed as being 30-somethings, you know, long-term relationship marriage types. But no, it’s usually the first relationship a girl is ever in, and it sets the mentality for future relationships in a big way.”
Because of the high incident rate of violence against women in young people, Waddling thinks it’s crucial to reach out to the high school and university demographics – which the Ride For A Dream team is making an effort to do on this trip.
“We want to remind women, “This isn’t what you should put up with.” Waddling says. “But more importantly, say “hey guys, step up and be better men, but also call your guy friends out when they’re not being better men.” Because that’s a big part of it – for the most part, the majority of the issues are with the bystanders. You know, hearing a sexist joke, hearing street harassment and just brushing it off or even laughing along. It’s not necessarily the ones making the jokes, but the ones passively ignoring it; that’s the kind of people that we really want to be able to call out. If you think this is wrong – and you should – call your friends on it.”
Will there be women cyclists on the ride? Not yet, he says, though they are welcome to join and, he adds, the charity’s PR team and web team and documentary team are mostly women. “Consensual solidarity” is important to the group. “If men are engaging men [about violence against women] without women," Waddling says, "I'd feel like we’re doing something wrong.” Luckily, this does not seem to be the case! Next year they are talking about going all the way across Canada.
Ride For A Dream leaves Toronto this Saturday, June 1 between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. with a kickoff event at Yonge-Dundas Square. Participants are welcome to bring their bikes and join the riders for as far as they want to go (“whether it’s for five minutes or 50 kilometres). Click here to make a donation (Ride For A Dream is an available option on a drop down menu).
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