I live just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Twice a year, in April and October, the LDS Church, which is headquartered in SLC holds their General Conference. People from all over converge on downtown SLC. Most to hear the leaders of their church, some to scream and yell, and spit hatred at them from the sidewalks around the conference center. These people who come specifically to yell at and deride the conference-goers are protected by the rights of free speech, and as long as they don't physically engage, or make legitimate threats of violence against the conference-goers, they can say pretty much whatever they want to.
I'm sure their anti-Mormon ranting and propaganda don't convince the vast majority of the faithful that their belief is wrong. Most do their best to ignore them as they make their way into the building, but every so often, someone will stop and try to reason with them - which I'm sure is very much like trying to talk calmly to a rabid pit-bull. And then, once in a great while, their ranting will become too much to bear, and someone will loose their cool, and start yelling back at the protesters or even completely loose it and physically attack them. That almost never ends well.
What brought this up is all the talk going around about the anti-cycling Facebook page.
When I first heard about this page, I was immediately outraged that Facebook would allow someone to promote hatred against another group in such an open manner. Don't get me wrong - I'm still completely against this page and any others like it that openly decry hatred and violence against any minority. But giving myself some time, and listening to what other people have to say about the situation has changed my reaction.
Even if we get Facebook to shut down their page - and take away their voice, we haven't taken away their anger or changed their opinions about cyclists. Going toe-to-toe with a protester isn't going to do much to change his belief system, all it is going to do is make him dig in harder. As cyclists, we can understand that. When someone yells at us to get off the road, we dig in and come back with the tried and true "we have as much right to the road as you" - or something like that. When the anti-cycling facebook page was discovered, the Facebook equivilent of the statement "We have as much right..." was quickly created.
All of us - myself included- have had the uncontrollable urge to yell at, or raise a finger at motorists who we feel invade our space on the road. Some of us even start our rides with a chip on our shoulder, anticipating a potential "run-in" with the other users of the road. Has our actions made the motorist change his evil ways? It's doubtful they even looked back after passing us - if they even saw us in the first place. (that's a whole other post) And if they did see us, pur actions may adversely affect the next cyclist this motorist comes across.
We need to remember that when it comes to the roads, we are still a minority - a very small, fragile minority. We aren't going to change anybody's mind by stooping down to their level. The best way we can show the protesters that what they are saying doesn't matter is to ignore them. The people who started that Facebook page, and those who added their names to the list are looking for a fight. As much as we want to go toe-to-toe with them, we are just giving them what they want. The best thing we can do to get to them is to ignore them.