By Brian Lange, Legislative Affairs Officer, ABATE of Washington
Photos by Brian Lange/ABATE of WA
By the time you read this, ABATE of Washington’s annual ‘Black Thursday’ legislative advocacy day January 17th at the Capitol in Olympia will already have gone successfully into the history books. For nearly forty years ABATE of Washington has gone to the Capitol and fought to protect the “Freedom of the road” by promoting legislation that allows choice, safety, and awareness of the motorcycling community. All while building relationships with legislators to help defend motorcyclists’ rights in Washington State. This year was no different. Yet, in some ways it was better than usual as well.
Appointments with legislators began shortly after 8:00 AM, and continued on until after 4:00 PM. As always, members of ABATE and the rest of the motorcycle community had previously made these appointments to discuss issues and specific bills with their legislators. By the time the Council of Clubs-led motorcycle “Ride-In” departed the Hawks Prairie Casino and proceeded down Interstate 5 to the Capitol, many of the attending motorcyclists who had already held meetings were enjoying the Brotherhood in the Columbia Room over coffee and donuts waiting for the other riders to arrive. As the participants in the COC-led ride pulled through the tunnel across Capitol Boulevard from the Capitol Campus, it amplified their exhaust announcing their arrival for all to hear. Over one hundred motorcycles participated in the annual ride on this cold and damp January morning.
This has grown into one of the most popular parts of Black Thursday, leading to the rally on the front steps of the Legislative Building. It is here on the steps that everyone gathers and listens to speeches. Such as the one given by Representative Brian Blake from the 19th Legislative District supporting the efforts of the motorcycle community and ABATE to get legislation passed to protect the rights of motorcyclists in Washington. After the speeches, the opportunity to participate in group photographs on the steps of the Capitol was again taken and then everyone quickly moved into the Columbia Room for hot coffee and something to eat.
There were the usual members of the cruiser and touring communities, as well as several sport and dual sport bike riders. Black Thursday is becoming, after nearly forty years, a truly broad based event. It is no longer just a bunch of Harley riders trying to fight against helmet laws, but a diverse and complex blend of riders. The broader motorcycling community is coming to understand that laws passed in Olympia affect everyone who rides, no matter what type of bike they ride. Several first time attendees were amazed at the turn-out, and how wide the range of issues being discussed with legislators was. I spoke with a couple of young sport bike riders who had always thought ABATE was just the “no helmet guys.” After the discussion of the various issues, they both said they were coming back next year, and would be bringing friends with them. I was glad to learn that by the time they left, their minds had been changed about what ABATE was truly about.
It’s not just the minds of motorcyclists that can get changed on Black Thursday, but legislators’ minds too. One of these legislators is a prominent member of the Democratic leadership in the House. It seems his son is a motorcycle police officer in California, and his son had been telling him of the benefits of lane splitting from the perspective of law enforcement. His son had opened his mind to the benefits of lane splitting in phone discussions, and now he had a much better understanding of the issue, and found himself in a much more supportive place than previously.
After meeting with ABATE members on Black Thursday, it was not long before word began to filter back to the Columbia Room in the Capitol that this legislator who had previously been opposed to some of our community’s issues was now either on the fence, or moving closer to coming “on board.” It was a matter of the riders themselves explaining to this legislator face to face on previous Black Thursdays that led to him discussing lane splitting with his son, the motorcycle patrolman in California. If ABATE and the rest of the community hadn’t repeatedly expressed the desire to legalize lane splitting in Washington, this legislator would likely have not asked his son about it.
After the final meeting of the day and after the Columbia Room had been vacated, the second phase of Black Thursday began. ABATE members and others in the community moved down to the Governor Hotel just down the street for a gathering to celebrate the day. With pizza and a live band, it was an enjoyable evening. Especially when about a dozen or so legislators and even a few of their staff members joined us. The more casual environment allowed for the building of relationships with legislators that couldn’t have been done in the same way, or as in-depth, at the Capitol. With each year, ABATE of Washington and the motorcycle community is able to build a working relationship with legislators that can help to not only pass bills, but also to prevent some bills from being passed that would adversely affect motorcyclists in Washington. That is why Black Thursday has seen such success over the years. I hope that next year you will consider participating in the event as well. After all, if you ride, then it is your rights that we are fighting for.
Catch you on the road sometime…