Spend some time with the members of the Lewis County ABATE and you’ll discover a group of people who care about each other and their community, who are politically active and aware and who like to joke around and have a good time.
But often, noted chapter treasurer Gary Knutter, Tenino, members of the public see their motorcycles and black leather and automatically view them as outlaws.
“There’s an opinion out there that bikers are just dirty riders but we have families and jobs, we just like to ride on two wheels instead of four,” said Knutter, a member of Lewis County ABATE since 2007. “We’re enthusiasts. It’s no different than any other hobby.”
ABATE stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments. The Washington branch of the 501c4 (different from a 501c3 because they participate in political lobbying) nonprofit organization was started in 1978. The Lewis County Chapter was one of the first 11 chapters in the state. Lewis County ABATE eventually became defunct but was restarted in 2004. Tom Knee, Chehalis, a charter member, said the group began simply with motorcyclists searching for other motorcyclists with whom to ride.
“Just giving money away and helping people and meeting other people to ride with,” Knee said of what he enjoys about the organization. “Bikers are the most friendly people you’ll ever meet.”
The primary goal of ABATE is focused on motorcycle rights. Members and involved with advocating for motorcycle riders themselves to be involved in the process of drafting laws that affect riders and also the research that is often used to make those decisions.
“There’s a misconception. People hear ABATE and they say ‘oh you’re against the helmet law,” said Paul Mordick, Chapter coordinator. “No. We want people to have a choice.”
Members of ABATE are encouraged to make contact with their local legislators on a regular basis but in particular when laws are being considered that affect riders. ABATE members from across the state participate in the annual Black Thursday at the Washington State Capitol, which this year happened Jan. 17. Mordick said their issues really have to do with being represented and having the freedom of choices and many non-riders, including his own wife, often join them.
“It’s a group of people that have a lot in common,” Mordick said. “We’re motorcycle enthusiasts but we have a lot in common wanting to speak up for motorcycle rights. You don’t have to own a motorcycle to be a member of ABATE and it doesn’t matter what style of motorcycle you own. We’re open to anyone 18 and older.”
Besides political action, ABATE is an organization of friends who work together on many other projects as well. One cause that is near to many of their hearts is the Down Riders Fund, which raises money to help riders who have been injured in accidents or the families of riders killed in accidents.
“I like belonging to an association with a family-like environment,” Knutter said of what motivated him to join ABATE. “Outside of the organization we’re all still friends and we all still communicate regularly.”
Lewis County ABATE is also focused on helping their own communities. During two weekends in November, members participate in a food drive that annually collects about 2 tons of food for the Lewis County Food Bank Coalition. Lewis County ABATE riders also participate annually in both a local and a statewide toy drive at Christmas time. Last year, the local drive received enough donations to give toys to 55 children.
The chapter’s upcoming kickback campout, happening Aug. 16-18, is another way the group gives back. The 21-and-older event in Ethel includes camping, bike games, a horseshoe tournament, cribbage tournament, vendors and live entertainment. The event, started in 2001, raises money for $500 scholarships given at eight Western Lewis County high schools. The Elk Country chapter of ABATE covers scholarships for the East County Schools. The scholarship is given to a student with at least a 3.2 GPA attending Centralia College or a technical college.