Monday, May 09, 2005

Sick and tired

So I got this comment recently from a bike blogger in California:

"I have gotten so sick of reading, and being told, that Critical Mass "is not an organization, it's an unorganized coincidence. It's a movement ... of bicycles, in the streets", and everyone is encouraged to show up, and just start riding, blah, blah, blah.

Can we stop with that BS for good now?

Time's Up is an activist organiztion, with a major focus on bicycling issues, openly promoting monthly Critical Mass rides.

CM is not leaderless, and unorganized it surely isn't, especially when organizations set up and publicize a CM event.

Time's Up does many good things on behalf of cycling issues, and is to be commended for that, but think for a moment.....

I mean, REALLY THINK....

I'm all for Freedom of Speech, and Assembly, when done in a peacable, non-threatening manner and, most importantly, legally.

And I think bad cops should be punished, as do most cops of my acquaintance.

However, isn't it possible that the reason the city is so focused on CM is that far too often those attending, and even sponsoring, such events, in the USA, and around the world, have agendas far different than the supposed "promoting sustainable environmental solutions" that ordinary "real cyclists" think they are attending these rides to promote?

If Time's Up, and other Bicycle Activism groups, did what was neccessary to ensure their sponsorship of CM kept Anarchists, and other disruptive elements uninterested in better bicycling, out of their events then maybe the rest of us would respect the movement, if not agreeing with its tactics.

CM supporters should use all that energy to make sure that their precious Critical Mass focuses on issues relevent to Bicycling, because as long as it does not entirely do so it does more harm than good to the cause of Bicycling, and the impression many car drivers, law enforcement, and government officials, have of cyclists in general.

The Cycling Dude
Costa Mesa, Ca.

Putting the ING in BICYCLING since January 2003!

Critical Mass coverage:

Here is my response:

Dear cycling dude,

I appreciate your comments and would like a chance to respond. I understand your frustration about defining critical mass, especially in this world of non-democratic hierarchical top-down prepackaged events. I would still have to argue that critical mass is a leaderless event. Just because certain individuals show leadership and promote the ride is no reason to claim that they are in charge and take responsibility for an event that happens in over 300 cities around the world. I do not understand why this sickens you so much? This issue about definition is really coming to a head here in New York City. The police seriously want a definition of critical mass…they are looking for a head in which to chop off. They want to claim Time’s Up is responsible for Critical Mass and they want them to apply for a permit. A federal judge ruled this out because he could find no validity in the cops argument. “Who would ask for a permit?” No one takes responsibility for the ride. I realize Time’s Up is the most prevalent in promoting critical mass, but it is also advertised in Time out magazine, on various blogs, on email list servs…should all those people be held accountable? Should I be held accountable if I go to critical mass and ride at the front of the pack and suggest everyone goes left at the next intersection? The police would love that. The police are so desperate for a leader that they are trying to sue 4 people as the leaders of critical mass, because the cops saw their names a bunch of times in article about Time’s Up. I doubt they will succeed in State court, but this hasn’t stopped them from putting 4 people through legal and financial hell just because they are in search of a black and white-tidy little packaged definition.

Like I say, your frustration is understandable…but what really disturbs me is your ignorance on the crack down of critical mass in NYC. I may have some expertise in this field since I have attended just about every ride since 2000.

This is not just a few bad cops wilding on a Friday night. This is a systematic crack down on descent and on people’s rights of free assembly. This has been going on ever since the twin towers fell. When President George W. Bush and the right wing republicans got a green light to label anything they didn’t like as either terrorism or on the home-front anarchism. This ism words have come in very handy for the police. Our police chief even said, “the ride was peaceful and then it got taken over by anarchists.” Who are these people? I know people who claim to be anarchists, they weren’t being violent on the ride. I’ve been to critical mass in at least five other cities and NYC has always been the calmest and self regulated. Besides this is NYC, if people go around punching SUV windows like they do in Portland Oregon, your libel to get shot. All of this manifested at the Republican National Convention when the same scooter cops who had been friendly and helped facilitate the ride for six years suddenly turned their mopeds into the crowd and started making arrests…violent arrests. 5,000 people attended this event. Was critical mass targeted because it got too popular? Right before the convention a document surfaced called “operation overlord II” This was a manual for cops to use during the RNC to handle large scale demonstrations…in it’s pages is a section on critical mass. So this bike ride has become part of the police’s checklist of things that are to be stopped at demonstrations. Part of there propaganda used to scare the rank-n-file officers, make them not understand that this is a peaceful bike ride and not a group of hooded anarchists breaking windows and hating the W.T.O. These are commands that stem from the mayor and chief of police who think it is an appropriate response to the bike ride to turn the city into a police state. Every Friday night since RNC in August 2004 it has been a terror to ride your bike. Never knowing if an undercover will leap off his bike and throw you to the ground or if you’ll be given a 200 fine for running a red light even if your no where near the ride. Not knowing that if you bike is locked up a cop may come an cut your lock and confiscate your property. This is the world we are living in. This is what should make you sick and tired.

I am so sick and tired of people scapegoating anarchists or ecoterrorists when the can’t just sit down and think about what it means to have a constitution and the fact that you don’t need a leader or a permit to ride your bicycle with a group of people on a Friday night.

Maybe this will help you think more about critical mass…I mean really think.

I pray the WTO, the IMF or the RNC never comes to Costa Mesa California, because all of your rights will be suspended and we can all blame it on anarchists.

Michael Green
Not the leader of critical mass


Blogger jmaus said...

great exchange...I've been following Cycling Dude's posts on getting his opinions on CM heard. While I respect his search for answers, I don't agree with blaming CM for anything. It is too convenient to find a scapegoat...and it's easy to blame "anarchists" and "ecoterrorists" because they are by nature guilty of something. I think this argument is an example of how hard it is for people to think outside of the box. A "movement" without a leader? how's that possible? no one has responsibility? that's crazy!

I don't understand how anyone can take the side of the cops on this. Even if you think CM NYC should be more well-behaved...that's really not the point. The point is that right now, in front of the world's eyes, the NYC cops are trouncing civil liberties simply because they can't figure out how to get rid of something they're extrememly opposed on a personal level yet is not criminal in any way.
-- Jonathan

12:52 AM  
Blogger jmaus said...

Sneakeasy (AKA cycling dude),
You keep saying CM is not the way to "sell" cycling to the masses...but that isn't what they're trying to do. There is no CM PR/marketing strategy being discussed in some board room. Everyone needs to just take CM for what it it, hate it, whatever, it doesn't matter. Again, the real issue is the police reaction...the fact that CMers love bikes and want more people to ride them is not the issue here.

If you want to criticize how biking is being sold to the masses you should complain to the big, non-profit advocacy groups like the League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong..and the bike industry itself for matter.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

=v= Cycling Dude talks about CM "evolving, or changing," but he hasn't presented an anti-CM argument that isn't at least a decade old and instead advocates things that peaked at least two decades ago. That stuff has its value, but it has run its course. That's why Critical Mass exists -- and thrives.

Insisting that CM has leaders and organizers is just an indication that he simply doesn't get it. As far as I know, NYC is the only location where CM is closely linked to an organization, but the connection is as Michael describes. There are other organizations involved, and other individuals, for that matter. If TIME'S UP! were somehow to decide not to promote CM, it would continue on. Indeed, others are already promoting it.

It's too bad that Cycling Dude doesn't get it, but there are plenty of people who do. That's why it's spread to over 400 cities. That's why the recent LAB conference in NYC was so obsessed by the issue. It's not going away. You can pretend it will or you can evolve and change with it.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

=v= Oh, one more thing, regarding the statement that CM "has lurked under the radar of most folks, most media, and most cyclists." I'd only agree with "most cyclists" with qualifications (most recreation-only cyclists, perhaps), but for the sake of the argument, let's say that's true.

Consider what that means. It means that thousands of bicyclists take part in this supposedly-disruptive event every month, all over the world, and nothing happens that makes the news. Given that the media is generally only interested when something bad happens, it's noteworthy that there's so little news to report.

This is a good thing. It means that thousands take to the streets and experience bike-favoring traffic, generally without incident.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im going to be a bit emotional and inarticulate to cyclingdude's peice. I strongly agree with all the comments and BikeBlogs response to his peice.
I want to say that NYC Critical Mass used to be the most "tame" mass ive been on after over 5 years of riding in them, in more than 6 different cities and towns.

In Austin we rode thru the Whole Foods, we rode thru the North Loop Mall on Buy Nothing day, held minutes long puppet shows on the Congress Ave Bridge, and were exetremely aggressive towards car culture. The ride there has suffered from it, and I was completely empowered and inspired by it.
Those were the most "aggressive" rides ive been on, and they weren't moments of "PR" for cycling but an opportunity to create a safe, "autonomous" zone for cyclists. I could care less whether the ride makes the news or not, its so many different things and has an audience on the street, the public sees it. And here in NYC they SUPPORT it. Every time i ride with more than a couple of people, pedestrians shout "is this critical mass?" And finish off with some gesture of support for us and bikes.
Because everyone in NYC KNOWs the cops are WRONG and ridiculous for criminalize the Mass rides and cycling in general. I find it absurd for someone in California to discredit the work that is being done by all the Bike org's in NYC and Critical Mass as a Demo(Protest, tactic, etc) without even experiencing the support that we have of the NYC public.
I also want to express a bit of an F.U. to Cycledude, cos if the rputation of C.M. was the fault of "Anarchists" and so called troublemakers, then things would be percieved exetremely different, we are few, and the cops in NYC are 35,000. They are the "disruptive element." People who share a philosophical affinity with me, involved in the rides, are not your enemy.
I ride at least 14 miles a day, to/from work. My bicycle is my main form of transportation, i demand an end to the destruction i see in Car Culture. I want cities to be drastically altered, where urban designs prioritize people and more communal interactions. So please keep your "red-baiting" out of the dialogue, its about the police tactics and not folks with radical philosophies & interests, it is about altering systems of power AND sustainable solutions. And its about a different thing for every single rider, so respect it.

and if the law, cos when cycling is made "illegal" in NYC who the hell will fight for YOUR rights, liberals, the cops? think again, and look for the real allies, you can be critical without being a cop.

1:50 AM  

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