Monday, October 10, 2005

London Biker speaks about their Critical Mass

Here is a little Q and A I did with a concerned Mass rider in London England. On their September 05 ride they were handed a letter from the Metro Police with some BS about having to inform the city about their route. The local bikers have vowed to make the October ride the largest in UK history. Seems like we should have a similar response.

Q: How many cities in the UK hold Critical Mass?

A: Not many. I can list them.
Central London (Only this one is under threat so far)
North London (separate ride in summer months)

Q: When did critical mass London first start, how long has it been going for?

A: CM London started in April 1994 around the same time as Reclaim The Streets and the anti road-building demo's. We get around 200 people in winter 350 in Spring & Autumn an around 500 - 800 in the summer. It used to attract around 1000 in the summer but we only get near that number on the birthday ride each year in April.

Q: Is this the first major crack down of the ride?
A: Yes, normally the police turn up (uninvited) and ride with the mass on mountain bikes resolving any problems with motorists always taking the cyclist's side, their orders it seems have been to get us through London as fast as possible, they were even apologising as they explained why they were handing out the letters, they told me "I'm just the messenger, this came from above" and "I've been policing the mass for three years on a bike and look forward to it each month".

Q: Are the police acting alone and does the city take a similar stance or no stance at all?
A: It seems Superintendent Gomm (Who wrote the letter) is the only person against CM, although a quick google search reveals he is quite high up in the police force. The city GLA (Greater London Assembly) are actively promoting cycling as a form of transport, it would be unusual for them to comment on something like this, we hope the mayor will help us though.

Q: On what grounds do the police all of a sudden need to be stopping CM?
A: They say it is due to the new "designated area" around parliament which does not allow demonstrations of any size or type into a 1 mile radius, this law was designed to remove a long standing protest against British involvement in Iraq, however the protester Brian Haw won a case in the High Court to remain at his protest camp overlooking parliament. we may have to seek protection under the same clause (that the demo predates the new law) although because we are not a demo we should be exempt anyway and most people do not want Critical Mass labeled as a demonstration.

Q: What is the reaction in the local press if any?

A: There has been no reaction from the London Evening Standard (biggest selling London newspaper) they are very right-wing and have never reported on CM, I would doubt it could do us any good contacting them.

The Guardian Newspaper (National) ran a very short article, they got a lot of the facts wrong such as the number of cyclists on the mass, you can view the article @,3604,1586675,00.html although they got some facts wrong they will probably be sympathetic to our cause.

The local BBCtv news have suggested they are likely to have a report live from the start point of the mass and will record interviews with cyclists to go out on the night of the next mass.

Also The Big Issue a magazine sold by London's homeless is carrying a story on the mass and the police letter's impact on the community, in their next issue.

Q: Any reaction from the public on the recent threats?

A: It's hard to gauge reaction as CM tends to be overlooked by most people not involved, people often say oh you do that bike thing I saw that once, we don't have much of a profile outside of the activist and cycling communities.

Q: What is the take from local activist community?

A: Huge! Everyone I have spoken with since the letters has been telling me they will be on the mass and are bringing everyone, People are horrified that the mass has been threatened. I've spoken to people who have not taken part in 5 or 6 years and they are disgusted by the letter and will be on the ride.

Plenty of activist groups from samba bands to film groups are planing to join the ride or organise events around the next ride.

So we should see a return of CM bike samba!

Q: Is there two movements in London as far as bike activists...Those who promote bicycling advocacy and work with the city and those that believe in more direct action, as it pertains to CM?

A: Yes that's it exactly, we have the London Cycling Campaign, they tend to refuse to acknolege the existence of CM although many of their riders take part in the mass, most activist riders do their own thing but recognise each other from the mass, we don't have much bike culture outside of LCC supervised rides (normally outside of London) the couriers and the Mass.

Q: How is CM been tolerated by the public?

A: People love the sight of us riding down a street, motorists hate us, generally without exception. Taxi (Black Cab) drivers would like to see us dead.

Q: Does London CM suffer from the same identity crisis as NY...protest vs. just a fun bike ride?

A: Yes, but massers tend to understand this difference of opinion exists and just accept it, we don't get many massers arguing, and people want to keep CM a positive experience, motorists in London seem to see all bikes as being in their way, once a month we get to relax on the road, we keep it fun!
Do the London police claim the ride has been taken over by anarchists?

Not yet they haven't, it's early days the police told us on the last ride they had not been given new orders, we will see what happens at the end of the month, I do believe they will try using something like this.
Have there ever been arrests at CM before?

In my 7 years on the mass I have only heard about 4 arrests, one was a fight between a cab driver and a cyclist and the others were for drinking on the street in Westminster (which is arrestable if you refuse to hand over the alcohol when asked by police).

I have seen numerous cab drivers handcuffed over recent years for arguing with the police on the mass but never arrested, they tend to be handcuffed if they become violent towards cyclists then when they have calmed down they are released.

Q: Any sympathetic local politicians who are expressing concern and promoting the value of the ride?

A: Yes Jenny Jones (No not her off the telly) the Leader of the Greater London Assembly Green Party group, She was the deputy mayor until recently and serves on the Metropolitan Police Authority (a government watchdog on police activity in London) she has joined the mass a few times in the past and has written a letter to the Police Commissioner, quoted below.

We have also attracted the attention of a lawyer from the human rights group Liberty, I couldn't find out any details on this though.

I'm hoping to get the mayor of London Ken Livingstone involved, he is spending a budget of millions of pounds this year promoting cycling as a form of transport,

Q: Who are the leaders of CM? (Just kidding...that one was obviously a joke)

A: I'm just riding my bike in the same direction as all these people! =^)

The letter from Jenny Jones
Jenny Jones has sent the following letter to the Commissioner of the Met Police, regarding Critical Mass. She and Darren Johnson will attend the next ride to show solidarity with fellow cyclists. They hope that others will do the same.

Sir Ian Blair
Metropolitan Police Commissioner
New Scotland Yard
Tower Block

Dear Ian,
Critical Mass Bike Ride

I am writing to outline my concerns about plans to label the Critical
Mass Bike Ride as a demonstration and therefore require it to have
permission from the police as well as permission to travel through the
restriction zone around Parliament.

1) Many people do not see Critical Mass as a demonstration, but more
like a hundred people getting on the same train at London Bridge.
2) According to the public order branch of the MPS, Critical Mass
would not meet the definition of demonstration set out by the Serious
Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The bill requires that the protest is
static and has a political message.
3) Critical Mass has operated peacefully in this country for 11 years.
There is nothing to suggest that this is likely to change and the
heavy-handed application of the Serious Organised Crime Act and other
legislation is surely unnecessary.
4) Given the fact that Critical Mass has been happening for so long it
may be the case that it does not need permission under the Serious
Organised Crime Act.
5) Operational issues may arise in attempting to arrest attendees at
Critical Mass. How will the police distinguish between ordinary
commuters who are going about their business and those who are attending
Critical Mass?
6) I shall be attending the next Critical Mass as a direct response to
attempts by police to ‘crack down’ on it. I can only imagine that
dozens of other Londoners will feel similarly obliged to stand up for their
right to cycle around London.

I urge you to review this situation and allow Critical Mass to go ahead

Jenny Jones
Green Party Member of the London Assembly
Mayor’s Road Safety Ambassador
Member of the Metropolitan Police Authority


Blogger Jim N said...

The bit about not being a demonstration is ineresting. That wouldn't work in New York, but distinacing CM from the activist community, with the exception of a few exceptions like TransAlt, is a good idea. It was a lack of one clear message that started all this trouble in the first place.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We don't have one clear message I was only speaking my view and the views of people I know on the mass.

Most people seem to be backing the celebration angle rather than the deomonstration one, CM London has always been a fun good natured mass.

12:17 PM  
Blogger peakguy said...

If they do crack down, then expect the character of the ride to change. The "fun folks" will either quit or become radicalized. The people who do show for the first time will be VERY radicalized and will come more for the fun of the chase and confrontation with the police. Repression breeds resent and conflict. This is totally a lose / lose. No one benefits except the fringes.

7:27 PM  

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