photos by Eden Ward
Washington Square Park is packed, but Sarah Wilson is easy to spot. She’s clad in a pair of white shorts stained red at the crotch and a jean jacket with a big patch that reads “ask me about menstruation.” She’s here rallying bike riders with the Sustainable Cycles team for the first There Will Be Blood bike ride through Manhattan. The goal is to decrease menstruation stigma and collect donations of menstrual products for New York City food pantries.
“We’re a collective of cyclists interested in menstruation sustainability and self-powered mobility,” says Sarah. “We’re here today because no one should have to check their bank account to have a stain free period. It is a matter of dignity that should be available for all despite income.”
The group started in 2011 when founders Sarah Konner and Toni Graige rode their bikes from Seattle to Los Angeles and held impromptu workshops about reusable menstrual cups. Since then the group has been riding cross country and holding local events to educate about reusable products and menstrual hygiene justice. This race is Sustainable Cycle’s first initiative to collect supplies for menstruators in need and bring their signature body positive energy onto the bustling NYC streets.
Cyclists flow (excuse the pun) into the park at around 2 p.m. Sarah hands participants flyers outlining checkpoints, which are local pharmacies where cyclers can purchase menstrual products including a range of pads, tampons, or reusable products. The race is divided between “light flow” and “heavy flow” trails depending on the ambition of each team. As the riders gear up the pack begins to punctuate the park with bright red apparel. Someone passes around a container of red war paint, which riders swipe under their eyes.
This is no isolated battle cry. 2015 was marked “the year of the period,” as NPR reports that the appearance of the word “menstruation” in national news outlets has nearly tripled from 2010 to 2015. In July mayor, Bill de Blasio, passed a landmark measure that will make New York the first state in the US to provide public schools, prisons and homeless shelters with free menstrual products. The Associated Press reported that the measure would supply approximately 2 million tampons and 3.5 million pads a year, and that’s just to homeless shelters. New York is also the sixth state to end the “tampon tax,” an increased tax on menstrual products due to their absurd status as “nonessential” or “luxury.” Numerous athletes have recently gone viral for menstruation activism. London marathoner Kiran Gandhi, for example, free bled while running the race. Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui’s mere mention of the menstruation’s effect on athletes was cause for national media coverage.
The year of the period has come and gone, and there’s still work to do to enact menstrual justice. Menstrual products are still one of the first items to go at food pantries, as they’re a vitally necessary item. That’s why organizations such as #HappyPeriod have partnered with Sustainable Cycle for the There Will Be Blood ride. The grassroots organization, which provides menstrual hygiene kits to homeless communities, is managing all donations collected at the event. Casey Harnett of #HappyPeriod joins at the starting line to send the riders off.
“Our presence here today is helping start conversations,” Casey said.
What’s next for Sustainable Cycles? First, the crew is going on tour to Austin, Texas for Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28. From there, they’ll ride to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Conference at Kennesaw University near Atlanta, Georgia in June. Sarah encourages cyclers of all levels to join in, as they’ll be hitting destinations such as Jackson, Mississippi and Birmingham, Alabama, with more stops to come.
“The beauty of Sustainable Cycles is that anyone who is passionate enough can contribute,” Sarah explains. “We are always looking for enthusiasts to bike with us (even for a day!) or hold workshops of their own in their town. I think people are implicitly looking for venues and spaces to process these tough and taboo topics, and we want this conversation everywhere.”
Visit the Sustainable Cycles site for more info and to join in on the next race and or tour.