Bikers march to the Capitol steps Monday morning. (Beth Cortez-Neavel)

Bikers Rally at the Capitol for Tougher Highway Safety Laws, Their Own Personal Freedoms

by and

More than 2,000 bikers overran the Texas Capitol Monday (not literally, they parked outside) to push for comprehensive motorcycle safety legislation: banning texting while driving, and a draft bill they’ve dubbed the “Motorcycle Crash Prevention Act of 2013.” The bill would, in part, boost funding for Texas’ Share the Road campaign, and cut out one legal pretense for cops to stop motorcycles on the road. Also on the agenda for many, separate from those safety concerns: protections for the biker lifestyle, including gun rights and helmet-free riding.

Members of Texas ABATE, the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association and the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents met Sunday for a legislative manners workshop in North Austin that detailed “working and walk the halls” and how to introduce a bill to lawmakers. The weekend’s agenda includes a warning to leave the weapons at home, lest they be confiscated at the Capitol metal detectors.

Monday morning, members from all over the state kicked up their stands and headed to the Capitol for a full day of motorcycle rights advocacy. They marched three abreast to the south-facing steps of the Capitol, most tattooed and clad in leather or denim jacket vests sporting various patches like confederate flags, NRA logos or polyester crosses.

Frank Dietz, with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, said his T-shirt and bandana with the Confederate flag weren’t meant to be racist. “This is not any kind of hate group. This is heritage, not hate,” he said. Dietz stood in a group of active military and veterans, not ten feet away from another biker group of black men. “This flag never once bought, sold, or traded the slaves,” Dietz explained. “The United States flag was the slave traders’ flag.”

Like some of Dietz’s group, many of the bikers were veterans. Marine Corps Pvt. Joshua Newcomer, carried an American flag at the front of the march to the steps, in uniform. “A lot of these motorcycle clubs started up after Vietnam,” he said. “You get out of the military and you start to miss the brotherhood and the camaraderie. These motorcycle clubs offer that.”

Jannina Johnson rides with the Devildogs—a Marine Corps installation—from Fort Worth. She said she came to the Capitol today in support of bikers’ rights, Second Amendment rights, and to “make sure that we also have our freedom to ride as we choose to, and not to let legislation tell us what we need to do.” Like wearing a helmet—she said the Devildogs embrace the individual rights to ride helmet-free. Johnson said she was especially looking forward to meeting with Dallas Republican Rep. Kenneth Sheets.

The mass of bikers, full of men with scraggly beards and women in bandanas, pledged allegiance to the Texas flag, stood for the singing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” before filtering into the Capitol to meet their legislators.

“Everyone is here for all sorts of rights that are being taken away, and we’ve come to take ’em back,” said Gloria King, who sang the national anthem.

Rick King, Gloria’s husband and chaplain for the TrueFew Motorcycle club, said their presence is not just about the freedoms that are being taken away. “It’s also to ensure we keep the freedoms that we have.”

The two are showing their support for House Bill 63 and H.B. 27, bills that would ban texting and other mobile phone use while driving. Rick King said many motorcyclists are involved in accidents by drivers who were texting and not paying attention—one personal freedom for which the bikers don’t have much sympathy.

Bikers rally at the Texas Capitol for motorcycle safety.  Beth Cortez-Neavel
Motorcycles lined the streets around the Texas Capitol Monday.
Motorcycles lined the streets around the Texas Capitol Monday.

Bikers at the Capitol Monday.
Bikers at the Capitol Monday.  Beth Cortez-Neavel

Bikers rally at the Capitol Monday.
Bikers rally at the Capitol Monday.  Beth Cortez-Neavel