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November 13, 2005

Making the case for Critical Mass at 13 and Dissecting it

Critical Mass, as a movement, is now 13 years old, and yes, that is cause for notice.

Even as non-cycling elements co-op many events, and cause problems that call for police intervention, thus allowing the Mainstream Media to show the world that "CYCLISTS" who protest are a dangerous lot, and many in the CM Movement don't mind being associated with these causes, there is some reason to praise the good that the movement has accomplished.

As much as I've reported on the troubling aspects of CM, and express reservations about how the rides are carried out, and their effectiveness, in the face of angry car drivers in disrupted rush hour traffic who thus take away negative images, and develope negative opinions about ALL cyclists, I am not averse to sharing one writers essay of celebration.

And dissecting it from handle bar to rear reflecters.

And boy, does it need dissecting!

Read on, and educate yourself.

But be warned! It's long! ;-D

So here is Chris Carlsson last month on Indybay:

Amazing to think it's been 13 years since the first “Commute Clot” brought together about 50 bicyclists at “PeeWee” Herman Plaza at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco. Within a few short months it had gained the moniker “Critical Mass” and the excitement and euphoria and sheer novelty of an “organized coincidence” that fills the streets with bicycles instead of cars was rapidly reproducing itself across the planet....

Now there are websites galore documenting Critical Masses in towns everywhere, from Australia to Italy, Chile to Canada. Of the more than 400 places where Critical Mass rides have taken place, hundreds continue to ride every month....

Hundreds of rides occupy the streets of US cities on the last Friday of each month, from big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, to the smaller burgs in the hinterlands like Cincinnati, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Portland, Oregon. And of course thousands of us are still riding after all these years at the birthplace here in San Francisco....

Ok, enough with the celebration, on with the analysis about why cops, and others in authority, express "anger, and belligerence" toward an innocent "simple crowd of Bicyclists"....

A lot of cyclists, when confronted by the curiously vitriolic anger and belligerence of the police (not just in New York, either, but in SF, LA, Portland, Minneapolis, Austin, and more), are puzzled. Why do the police react so strongly to CM? Why does a simple crowd of bicyclists seem to inspire such fear and loathing on the part of the authorities? We have to take a deeper look to understand it.

When you have thousands of cyclists disrupting traffic, and many of them are anarchists, and other troublemakers, with agendas other than cycling, why wouldn't the cops take strong action to police a supposedly "un-organized, spontanious" event?

Not to mention the fact that these same type of troublemakers run around on Bicycles at non-CM protests, thus fueling further the negative impression of cyclists.

Granted, Cops have sometimes over-stepped their bounds, but such actions are not the every day occurance the Left would like everyone to believe.

Individual police are usually people who more or less blindly believe in the “American Way” of life.

And what the heck is wrong with that? if you don't believe in America, and its freedoms, then why live in this country?

There are plenty of Communist, and Socialist, nations in the world that share your views of America, Democracy, Freedom, Capitalism, and more, so, please.... explain to me why you would rather live in the United States.

Could it be because "The American Way of Life" allows you to express your misguided opinions, ride a bicycle with a crowd, in rush hour traffic, and live a life in various stages of comfort, and those other countries would not?

That means they've literally “bought in” to the automobile/oil debt cycle for themselves and think that embracing the bicycle as alternative transportation is childish and immature.

NOT TRUE! I know of many Cops, and there are certainly many Pols, and ordinary people, who are Conservative, who also ride bicycles for recreation, if not maybe for commuting as well ( This Conservative does both ).

They believe that the way things are in the US is truly the “best of all possible worlds.”

And the African Continent, Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, much of Europe, much of South America, and much of the Middle East ARE?


Why do you think all them Mexicans, and South Americans, sneak across our border, and Chinese hide in cargo holds of ships, just for the chance to live here illegally?

Why do you think so many Cubans turn Chevy's into boats?

Why do you think England, and Europe are full of immigrants from their former African Colonies?

NONE of these desperate people are fleeing Paradise.

They are coming here for the same reason my Father did, from Communist Yugoslavia in 1951.

They are coming here for the same reason people have come here for centuries:

To build a new life, in freedom, in a land where the life they build for themselves, even a humble life, will be 100 times better than what they left behind.

They find it deeply disturbing (as do some motorized citizens) to encounter an amorphous crowd of people on bicycles rolling through town (and stoplights), talking and laughing, tinkling bells and generally having fun while suspending the “normal” (anti-)life that predominates on the streets.

What they find disturbing is the disregard for the rules of the road, and safety, that many folks on these rides display as they pedal along blocking, and disrupting, traffic.

Police officers, who are not instructed otherwise, feel it's their duty to punish these scofflaw cyclists and to impose a price on them for their ostensible pleasure.

When the basically innocent cyclists protest being ticketed, manhandled, and otherwise abused by the police,

Why is it so hard to admit that such cops are a miniscule minority?

And sorry, but, while I feel for the innocent, and join in the general displeasure at mistreatment, I believe that most tickets given out are deserved, as are most arrests made, and don't feel too sorry for some hate spewing, anti-American Slogan waving, MASKED ( or un-masked ) Asshole who gets bopped on the noggin as the cops try to keep control of an unruly mob.

Like me, at the DNC CM in 2000 in Los Angeles, most innocents will pedal their asses out of harms way, or leave on foot, when the troublemakers cause things to get out of control.

it only fuels the rage simmering inside the locked-down, uninspired, uncreative brains of the boys and girls in blue. In other words, these moments become a front-line confrontation in a vast, confusing and inchoate Culture War that is in some ways reproducing historic cleavages that divided Americans during the Vietnam era, and even longer ago during the Civil War era. Vicious racism and manifest destiny (white man's burden) imperialism are underlying forces driving the conflict between those who would “progress” to an era of cooperation, mutual aid, peace and tolerance against those who fear change and cling with violent intensity to a world palpably collapsing around them.


The Culture War, such as it is, has been going on since the drug-induced haze of the 60's as the Left has infiltrated Academia, and held sway in the Halls of Power.

Since the Reagan Era Americans who don't care for the future the Left envisions for their beloved Country have been slowly, actively fighting back and, as seen by the behavior of the Bush Haters, Conservative Despisers, and America Bashers since the start of the Bush 2 Presidency, the Left can't stand it, and has no answer to their eventual defeat.

I used to be just as misguided, but eventually came to my senses.

People who embrace cycling and come out to ride in Critical Mass come from all walks of life, widely varying incomes and housing situations, and cannot be characterized accurately as part of a “class” as it is commonly understood. Also, the folks stuck in traffic in cars or on busses are clearly more like than unlike the riders who are temporarily altering the rhythm of urban life by seizing the streets on bicycle.

True on both counts. With regards to the cyclists, however, many of them come to some CM events with kids in tow, expecting a family event, and are horrified when when things turn out differently, and ideas, and behaviors, they would prefer not to expose their kids to occurs.

They then realize that CM is not the best way to fight for Cycling causes.

Nevertheless, Critical Mass cyclists are the most visible practitioners of a new kind of social conflict. The “assertive desertion” embodied in bicycling erodes the system of social exploitation organized through private car ownership and the oil industry. And by cycling in urban centers in the heart of the Empire, we join a growing movement around the world that is repudiating the social and economic models controlled by multinational capital and imposed on us without any form of democratic consent.

I thought CMers were a spontanious gathering of fun loving folks out for a friendly evening bike ride without a care in the world other than showing everyone the joys of cycling?

Then again the San Francisco "Critical Mass Website", Talk Fast Ride Slow, on its F.A.Q. page puts the lie to this"

Critical Mass is a grassroots bike event wherein bicyclists organize themselves and collectively occupy the streets in a fun, celebratory reclamation of public space.

The only folks "Practicing" anything are people using the excuse of a CM event to  try their damndest to foment trouble as they try to build "a growing movement around the world that is repudiating the social and economic models" of Western, Democratic, Capitalist, mostly Christian, Civilization.

As for "Democratic Consent"... If you are registered to vote then do so.

To all of you who stayed home, and didn't exercise your right I can only say:

Don't complain if a law you don't approve is passed, or a politician you disagree with is elected.

You had your chance to have a say, and you blew it.

You change the world around you for the better by LAWS, not anarchy.

Peaceful Civil Disobedience can, and has, led to change through new laws, but riots in the streets by people determined to destroy, and not build, accomplishes nothing.

This mass seizure of the streets by a swarming mob of bicyclists without leaders is precisely the kind of self-directing, networking logic that is transforming our economic lives and threatening the structure of government, business, and (as more imaginative military strategists are coming to understand) policing and war-making too.

"Without leaders" my Ass! That is, and always has been, a convenient fiction that is used by individuals, and organizations, to try to absolve themselves of responsibility when things go wrong.

Oh, and how can a "spontanious" gathering be "networked"?

The above mentioned website, when answering the question of whether they are in charge of CM answers this way:

No! Well… Yes! Critical Mass functions on a decentralized basis, with no leaders, central planning, or corporate sponsorship. There is no one in charge on Critical Mass – which is really a way of saying that everyone is in charge!
That said, we plead guilty to having played a crucial role in helping create and maintain Critical Mass over the years. Several of our members are founders of Critical Mass and have created flyers, invented tactics, planned strategies, and otherwise helped organize the ride in an organic, participatory, non-coercive manner.

Thanks for making my case. :-D

So the local police and authorities often respond with great frustration and confusion to the eruption of a tactical flexibility for which they're simply unprepared.

"tactical flexibility" in a spontanious, unplanned bike ride?

And in classic patriarchal fashion, they lash out with physical punishment as best they can, trying to repress what they cannot understand or control. But like the insurgency in Iraq, or any guerrilla war, when a blundering monster attacks in classic old-style ways, the new, mobile, decentralized networks just vanish, leaving the attackers swinging at air (perhaps they “catch” a few individuals now and then). The structure that is threatening them remains intact and often grows stronger—just like Critical Mass has in most places it has been attacked.

Finally! I was waiting for a comparsion of the Critical Mass Movement to the fine upstanding terrorists in Iraq.

Read my lips! Al Quada, and its foot soldiers, are TERRORISTS. They do NOT have the best interests of their fellow Muslims in mind , and they, and their comrades in other movements in the Middle East, have been fighting the Great Satan, the Jews, and the liberalizing of their homelands for over 40 years.

To compare CM to the actions of TERRORISTS is unconcionable, and does an unpardonable disservice to bicyclists everywhere.

Especially those working through peaceful, legal, means, to bring about change in the world around them.

These TERRORISTS see the dissent in this country against waging a war against their insidious behavior, as weakness, and are encouraged in their efforts.

They can't abide the fact that Democracy is replacing Dictatorship in Iraq, and the slow liberalization of other Middle Eastern nations.

The fact that Iraqis, and Jordanians, are targeted by bombings, and The Palestinians are such a mess after all these years, shows that these "insurgents" don't give a rats ass about their own people.

So on our bucolic 13th birthday ride in San Francisco we should take some time to reflect on the larger national and international dynamics of which we are a small part. We can be thankful that our local police have been taught to tolerate us, but that gift to us comes with an interesting obligation: to extend the logic of our resistance and innovation into new areas of contestation, to link up with people elsewhere who are not so lucky and provide material aid and strategic support whenever we can.

"Taught to tolerate"? How condescending is that?

As for that "obligation"....

So much for Critical Mass being someting that is spontanious, and unorganized.

Too often it is just one more tool in the arsenal of Leftist, Socialist, Propaganda.

But smart people, with more time, and resources than I, have been telling the world that for 13 years.

*** NOTES***

The Article: Critical Mass is Thirteen: The Culture War is Older (and far from over)
By Chris Carlsson Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005  on Indybay.

Chris has a Blog called Attitide Adjuster.

On it he writes about cycling on occasion.

He also links to Blogs of a decidedly Liberal, Left leaning, Anti-Bush bent.

Just as I have a link on this blog to my OTHER Blog, and its disgusting collection of links to a shitload of Rightwing Hacks.... ;-D

Alongside more refined links of a non-political nature, of course. ;-D

There are a lot of CM related cites online, and I hope to find time to visit, and write about them, and add some links to the CM list in the side bar.

As I've done before I'm not averse to sharing positve stories about CM, but will not shy away from the negative either.

If that upsets some CMers, and Lefties in general, then so be it.


My previous coverage of Critical Mass. ( Including the 7 consecutive entries in this series, that followed this entry. As a result of this series, I will no longer be covering the subject of Critical Mass on this Blog ).

***END NOTE***

November 13, 2005 in Critical Mass | Permalink


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