RFJ and ABATE
This article is being written in response to the ďRFJ or abateĒ article that appeared in the Notes and Quotes section of the November, 1999 RFJ newsletter.
First of all, Iíd like to make it clear that I do not speak for ABATE of Colorado. I no longer hold office in the organization, and therefore have no right to do so. However, I believe many ABATE members, and hopefully RFJ members as well, will share the sentiment of this article. By way of introduction, for the past five years I have been the president of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF), a Washington, DC based bikerís rights organization. Prior to that, I served as the State Coordinator for ABATE of Colorado, a position I held from 1990 through 1994. I became involved with ABATE in 1987, and held various offices with the organization. As such, Iíve seen a lot of the RFJ versus ABATE situation first hand.
Although RFJ and ABATE do have philosophical differences, I disagree with the assumption that the two organizations canít work together. In fact, we have worked together, albeit in a very limited sense, in the past.
We havenít had a serious helmet law threat in Colorado for several years now, but there was a time not so long ago when it was common to have several helmet bills introduced in a given session of the legislature. Iím sure we all realize itís only a matter of time before we find ourselves in that situation again. During those years, even though RFJ and ABATE did not talk to each other leading up to committee hearings, we would meet in the basement of the capitol on the day a bill was to be heard to discuss testimony and strategy prior to going into the hearings. We also shared with each other information regarding legislators on the committee (how we thought they would vote, commitments those legislators had made to one organization or the other, etc). By doing so, we made sure that we were covering all bases and coordinating testimony so that Colorado bikers would be well represented. Despite opinions to the contrary, as someone who was heavily involved with ABATE during those years I can assure you that both ABATE and RFJ were working the issue, and both played significant roles in defeating those bills. When we won, which of course we always did, weíd shake hands and congratulate each other (once we even went out and had a few beers to celebrate). Then weíd go back to not talking to each other until the next legislative session.
Perhaps that is as close as the two organizations can ever be, and if so, thatís not the end of the world. At least we werenít working at cross-purposes when it came to defeating helmet bills.
Still, I have always believed that organizations such as ABATE, with a more moderate approach, and RFJ, with a more radical approach, can compliment each other. A real life example of this is the relationship between the MRF and the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA). The MRF - in the eyes of the motorcycle industry, the legislature, and federal agencies - is seen as a more radical group than the AMA. Rather than MRF attacking AMA for not being as radical as weíd like them to be, or AMA attacking MRF for being too radical, both organizations use the situation to play good cop, bad cop. Obviously, by working together in this manner MRF and AMA make a potent team.
MRF and AMA donít always agree with each other, and at times weíve found ourselves in opposite camps on issues. Despite those differences of opinion, the relationship has worked well because MRF and AMA have the ability to sit down and talk with each other and come up with a strategy that both organizations can live with. That level of communication is, in my opinion, what is lacking between RFJ and ABATE.
Frankly, I doubt that RFJ and ABATE will ever have a close relationship given the different approaches the two organizations take to protecting bikerís rights. Still, I think we could find common ground on certain issues if both organizations were willing to sit down and talk to each other on a regular basis. Thatís not to say that RFJ and ABATE need to be closely aligned, or that the two organizations need to agree on every issue. It simply means that if we could agree to disagree of some topics, and agree to work together on others, Colorado bikers would be better served.
When we talk about philosophical differences, we should keep in mind that some issues can be showstoppers, while others can be managed. For instance, RFJ believes that helmets are inherently dangerous. ABATE feels that helmets can, in some instances, cause serious injury or death, and in others can actually help protect the rider. ABATE has always encouraged its members to make their own choice regarding helmets (hence the credo ďLet Those Who Ride DecideĒ), while RFJ has encouraged itís members to not wear a helmet under any circumstances. Despite these differences, both RFJ and ABATE will do all they can to stop a helmet law from being passed in Colorado. This, to me, is a manageable difference of opinion.
There are other philosophical differences between the groups. RFJ has decided that part of its mission is to actively work for 2nd Amendment rights. ABATE does not actively engage itself in issues other than those directly related to motorcycling, but encourages members who are concerned about their rights as gun owners to join and become active in the NRA or another group that lobbies in favor of our 2nd Amendment rights. ABATE is directly involved in rider education, while RFJ is not. RFJ does not involve itself in charity work, while ABATE does. Are these issues showstoppers, or are they manageable?
It is important to note that Colorado is not unique in this regard. Several states have more than one MRO, and many of them have a past that closely mirrors the relationship between RFJ and ABATE. Some of these groups have been able to put the past behind them and go on to work in a cooperative manner. Others have not.
Whether we like it or not, both ABATE and RFJ are responsible for protecting the rights of bikers in Colorado. Both organizations do exist, and I for one hope that both will be around for many years to come. We donít have to be friends, but we donít have to be enemies, either.
The bottom line is, if the current leadership of RFJ and ABATE of Colorado can find a way to work together, I believe we owe it to the bikers of Colorado to do so. If we canít, we run the risk of losing even more of our freedom.