Monday, June 02, 2008

Al Sharpton comes to Critical Mass

Well the rumors were true, controversial leader Al Sharpton came to speak to the crowd of bikers at Critical Mass and then got on a bike and rode.

No one was sure if this was actually going to happen but standing on the steps of Union Square South it was clear people had already divided into two schools of thought, which is no surprise when the Reverend Al Sharpton is involved.

Some people had affixed this sign to their bags which made it clear how they felt. The other side of it was those who struggle to build coalitions and have critical mass be a more diverse crowd, something that constantly plagues leftist movements. It seemed like an ideal situation, to have the Reverend come to Union Square and speak about the same issues of police harassment that affect the black community, which the critical mass ride has been experiencing for more than four years. (not to downplay that for the black community this means constant stops and frisks and in extreme cases, murder.)

But before Rev. Al could even get to the podium, a group of about 40 bikers gave the call to ride and took off West on 14th Street. Its bad enough that the cops divide us, but when we do it to ourselves, it only plays into their hands. Despite what an individual feel about the granstanding tactics of Al Sharpton, we owed it to him to speak and to try and keep the ridership of critical mass together...Thus creating a MASS. This is a truly reflective of the harassment campaign the NYPD has been so effective at, dividing the ridership and scaring people off from even attending critical mass.

Here is a bit of Al's speech on the steps of Union Square South, from Gothamists own Jen Chung

The Reverend Al Sharpton Joins Critical Mass from jenchung on Vimeo.

Part of the problem was the PR war the ride is constantly fighting. This press release was sent out a few day before critical mass.

"The Rev. Al Sharpton has enlisted the help of hundreds of bicyclists to stage a traffic “slowdown” tomorrow — around the time many New Yorkers are heading home for the weekend — to protest the Sean Bell trial verdict."

With news like this, there was no wonder there was confusion and those who want to protect the nature of critical mass, felt it was being hijacked. Thats what critical mass is all about, different agendas, different tactics...anyone can lead it, speak about it direct it and scream..."We are all Sean Bell" at the top of their lungs. The ride must learn to work with whatever and whoever is there.
Part of the division lies in the fact that critical mass has had to define itself in an environment of constant police scrutiny. They've been fighting a PR war for many years trying to convince people that the goal of critical mass is not to go out and block traffic but rather to keep the flow of the ride going and thus...become traffic. This has brought up the issues of weather the ride should stop at red lights or not...its an ongoing battle.

Meanwhile two groups of around 40 bikers were circling around the Union Square area while Al Sharpton was speaking to a larger crowd of about 150-200 bike riders. These groups were getting broken up by cops and many were pulled over and ticketed for vague traffic violations.

Chris Ryan was able to put together this video of Al and the ride.

I'm not sure how this will all affect the ride in the future. My hope is that people continue to come out and keep up the pressure. Maybe we can learn a lesson here that patients is a virtue, that people should stick together and ride together.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was so annoyed and embarrassed by those guys who whooped and yelled for the ride to leave... now i wish i had said something more to them than "the ride always leaves late" to their snotty "why aren't we LEAVING!?" whines. thanks for covering this.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Nick Johnson said...

I was at Critical Mass, and I was among the group of cyclist who left before Al Sharpton finished speaking. I think it's totally reasonable that I did so. Here's why:

Critical Mass is not an organization, but a meeting of people who want to come together and bike for safer streets for cyclists, or for one of many other reasons. Just because he was invited by some bike organization---was it Times Up? Was it Trans Alt? I cant remember---does not mean that I invited him or even expected him to be there, nor does it change the reason why I came.

Again, I came to critical mass to demonstrate for safer streets for cycling, not to see Rev. Sharpton speak. Just because Al Sharpton showed up, doesn't mean that he and I are there for the same reason. So don't tell me that "The ride must learn to work with whatever and whoever is there," I don't go to critical mass to protest Sean Bell, and I wouldn't go to a Sean Bell Rally to ride a bike. Even if I went to a Sean Bell Rally on a bike, I wouldn't expect the other attendees to ride away with me.

Honestly, I couldn't help but feel like I had been co-opted. The scene made me feel like Rev. Sharpton used critical mass to make his demonstration look larger.

In case you are curious, I oppose the acquittal of Sean Bell's murderers (the cops). I think it was a disturbing ruling that opens the door for future police violence. Still, I think it's laughable to compare that huge injustice to the relatively minor injustice dealt to critical mass bike riders. Seriously, we get traffic tickets, some of us get beat up or lose our bikes, but that is a far cry from 50-some bullets.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

Bicyclists: NIGGERS of the roadway. I'll ride with Rev. Al ANYTIME, anywhere.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Sucka Pants said...

Thank you Nick for demonstrating that "selfish" thing. Although I agree with the poor taste of comparing ticketing to murder.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

i wish i was cool enough to wear a taped sign on my tote bag.

12:41 AM  

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