Black motorcyclists ride through Philly to turn out Black voters

Aaron Atchison of South Jersey attended a motorcycle rally at City Hall to encourage voter turnout. (Miles Bryan/WHYY)

Aaron Atchison of South Jersey attended a motorcycle rally at City Hall to encourage voter turnout. (Miles Bryan/WHYY)

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article indicated the rally was in support of Joe Biden. It was actually a nonpartisan effort to get out the vote. 

By day, Betty Foster is a humble bus driver for the School District of Philadelphia.

But after work and on weekends, Foster, 58, straddles her canary yellow, three-wheel Honda Goldwing motorcycle and transforms into someone else: the rider known as “Betty Boop.”

On Saturday morning, Foster joined about 100 other Black riders to rally in front of City Hall , in an effort to boost  voter turnout

“I’m excited because first of all I like to ride,” Foster said, through a mask adorned with her cartoon namesake. “And it’s for a reason: Biden, Biden, Biden!”

Betty Foster, AKA “Betty Boop,” called President Trump a “natural born fool.” (Miles Bryan/WHYY)

The meet-up was meant to encourage turnout specifically in Philadelphia’s Black community — after the rally, the bikers cruised through predominantly Black neighborhoods on the city’s north side. Democrats have long looked to Philadelphia, and specifically the city’s Black residents, to carry the swing state of Pennsylvania. Black turnout in the city fell in 2016, when Donald Trump carried the state by just 44,000 votes.

“Today, we are riding to say [that] not only are we going to vote, but we want young people in our community to see us out there,” said Mark Tyler, a pastor at Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel AME church who hosted the event. It was sponsored by the nonpartisan interfaith group POWER.

The bikers’ rally drew riders from all across the Philadelphia metro area — including some who had yet to decide who they were going to vote for.

Aaron Atchison, who lives in South Jersey and goes by the moniker “Ace” while riding, said he has yet to fill in his mail-in ballot but is leaning toward Joe Biden. The 64-year-old retiree is currently battling prostate cancer.

“The health care issue is very important to me,” Atchison said. “Trump says nothing about that.”

Atchinson had company on his maroon three-wheeler: two plush teddy bears, named Tasha and Teetee.

“It’s [preferable] to someone complaining about any bugs, or too much traffic,” he said. “This way, I always got company.”

Many of the riders had spent time in the military, or working in law enforcement.

Warren Parker — aka “Dancer” — served in the Marine Corps and worked as a Philadelphia Highway Patrol officer.

Parker, 76, isn’t enthusiastic about Biden but said Trump’s alleged derogatory comments about America’s fallen soldiers are motivating him to turn out the vote for the Democratic candidate.

“I think the president is a little punk,” Parker said. “I was in Vietnam, he wasn’t … how can he talk?”

76-year- old Warren Parker — AKA ‘Dancer’ is a retired Philadelphia Highway Patrol Officer. (Miles Bryan/WHYY)

Warren doesn’t endorse the push by some progressives to cut funding or reduce the size of police departments, but he said Philadelphia’s police department was in need of reform, pointing to his time on the force during the reign of Mayor Frank Rizzo in the 1970s as an example of a better way.

“We had rules: Once you handcuffed, you didn’t hit anybody. Once they are on the ground, you don’t do anything,” Parker said. “These cops out here [today], all they think about is shooting people.”

In general, those who had served time in the military or in law enforcement were not swayed by President Trump’s repeated characterization of Joe Biden as anti-police.

Philadelphia Deputy Sheriff Irving Smith said law enforcement needs to change. But for that to happen, he said, there needs to be a change at the very top.

“We will do anything necessary to get people to come out to vote,” said the 68-year-old Smith. “If this ride gets one person to come out and vote, then we were successful.”

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