Finding Our Feminist F.L.O.W.

Since “feminist” is the first word in our name, maybe that’s a good place to start in introducing ourselves. A core part of our mission is eloquently described by bell hooks, in Feminism is For Everybody: “Imagine a mass-based feminist movement where folks go door to door passing out literature, taking the time (as do religious groups) to explain to people what feminism is all about. . . . Most people have no understanding of the myriad ways feminism has positively changed all our lives. Sharing feminist thought and practice sustains feminist movement. Feminist knowledge is for everybody.”

We want to redefine what it means to be a card-carrying feminist. A F.L.O.W. library card doesn’t tell you what feminism is, but it acts instead as a tool you can use to choose what feminism means for you, how you can use it, maybe how it can be changed for the better. Jenn Witte, whose inspiration created F.L.O.W. in the first place, and I don’t have the same relationship to feminism, but we both see it as a positive force for change, as a way of creating a more peaceful and congenial world for everyone.

Jenn began talking with the Women’s Center for Creative Work about building a feminist library for them in the spring of 2014. In June, she shared the inspiration for making it a mobile library, powered by bicycle, with the feminist reading group we both belong to. Something about that intersection--between books, bikes, and feminism--powerfully appealed to me in ways I couldn’t quite describe at the time. We met and talked one evening, sharing pieces of a vision, questions we both had, people we knew who might be able to help us locate the tools and knowledge we needed.

As the weeks have gone by Jenn’s dream has become my dream, too. And we have both been amazed and thrilled by how much the Feminist Library On Wheels speaks to people--it seems to bring values and possibilities into being that people we know, and people we may never know, find as exciting as we do. We’re eager to start learning more from the generosity of spirit we’ve been meeting in our early life as an organization.

The momentum we are building feels deeply connected to the best things about literacy, cycling, and feminism: freedom of movement, inside and out, for individuals but also for communities.

One of my favorite events in Los Angeles is CicLAVia. And each time I’ve gone, I find myself pedaling through a boisterous, peaceful crowd, with a few tears falling down my face. It sounds sentimental and corny, but I’m completely sincere--seeing stress and danger and congestion and pollution transformed by a gentle wave of bicycles, and by so many people who might not otherwise enjoy the same space together, feels downright magical.

Reading is a way to foster transformation too. And the feminism we want to nurture through F.L.O.W. shares that fluidity and openness. In the same way riding through a street that’s usually filled with cars, as part of a stream of bicycles, brings a feeling of liberation, so has being able to talk about the power of stories and ideas on paper, and being able to keep saying the word “feminist” out loud--even if it’s tucked gently into our acronym.

Right now we’re hard at work to get our first bookcycle built, and push our Indiegogo campaign past our goal. This is a project where we truly can do more with more resources: we can rent a storage space so the collection and the bookcycle are secured in a central and neutral place; we can provide all manner of programming, especially for children but also in partnership with other groups; we can get an iPad to help us tweet our locations up-to-the-minute for potential patrons; provide our volunteers with ample support and special activities; invest in materials for special events, and so on. Every day I wake up with a new little package of ideas to unwrap. Jenn and I have complementary but different talents, and this project is helping us flourish.

We’re different in a lot of ways. That’s okay. We want to encourage the representation of as many voices as possible. Lots of different kinds of riders can volunteer to steer our bookcycle--we’d love to organize special rides for them, say to various libraries around Los Angeles, to literary events, independent bookstores, important locations in the history of feminism, and more. Our library reflects donations from different people, with differing relationships to feminism. We hope to put the books in our library into as many different hands as we can.

There are so many ways people can get involved! We would love to receive donations of books; suggestions for our wishlist at Skylight Books; online donations from the wishlist; offers from individuals or businesses to serve as drop-off locations where patrons can drop books for us to pick up, on a regular schedule; or donations to our Indiegogo campaign. Connect to us on Facebook, twitter, tumblr, and Instagram (@feministlibraryonwheels), and help us spread the word! You can also email us directly at feministlibraryonwheels@gmail.com.

It’s hard to find a way to express the gratitude we feel for all the gifts we’ve received already--we are tremendously grateful, and we know there are countless readers, riders, and feminists out there who will be too!