March 24, 2003
My CRITICAL MASS Experience
My CRITICAL MASS experience at the DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION in, Los Angeles, Ca. August 2000:
In the aftermmath of this event I went looking for answers on the LACBC message board I was a member of.
8/16/2000: CRITICAL MASS was fun, but WHY did it end in a CRITICAL MESS?
A rowdy, orderly & peaceful 45 minute meander thru downtown ended in bottleneck, standoff, & arrests. Why? My sister is a LASD Officer so I can understand that the Cops were annoyed with our taking over the streets, & were counting Violations of traffic law, but I can't help but think the ride could have been ended in a different way as long as we stayed on streets we were supposed to stay on & had a final destination nearby.
Did we HAVE a final destination & were we supposed to be on WASHINGTON BLVD?
LATER IN THE DAY, after seeing no other 1st hand accounts of the event, but alot of posting of links to news articles & and decrying of the arrests by Police of bicyclists I wrote the following:
Yesterday's CRITICAL MASS
Since no-one important seems to want to give a first hand report of the ride, & more importantly it's aftermath (admittedly some folks won't be able to tell their stories untill they get tossed out of the hoosegow), I guess little ol' me, a 2nd time CM participant ( & last time, I might add ) will give my impressions of what I saw.
I arrived at the Library at 5pm when the riders were really beginning to gather. There were alot of reporters around talking to people, myself, Joe, & Ron among them about why we were riding in this event, & our concerns as Cyclists. L.A. Times, & L.A. Weekly were there, among others.
200 riders seems about right, but a bunch of media rode as well, so an accurate count of actual ride participants may be difficult to accertain.
At 530 someonr sttod above the crowd & made comments to the effect that this was a lawful ride on city streets & since this was during the convention we might all be spending the night in the pokie, or comments to that general effect, so , see this number on my arm? write it down in case you end up in jail, etc.....
Needless to say, most folks appeared not to write the number down or fully pay attention to this character.
His comments made me nervous, especially as the Bike Cops suddenly showed up & blocked our access to the street just as we were leaving, telling us to stay on the sidewalk. It looked to be about 50 cops in all.
I told the Times Reporter, that I was getting a little wary of the intent of this ride, & that if i felt the least bit uncomfortable about what was happening around me, I would without hesitation split the scene.
Except for Mr. Y'ALL MIGHT GET ARRESTED there didn't seem to be anyone in charge, or a hard & fast destination for the ride.
We just headed off south, then east on 6th, Cops in Tow.
At first, while in the east bound lane, we mixed with traffic, then got past them, & headed up Hill, then made our way to broadway, down to 7th, & then westbound.
We rode around downtown more than once, headed west of this area, & eventually on some small streets found ourselves East on Olympic to Figueroa & north again.
Let me say that for the most part, up to this point we didn't seem to be impeding or riding thru traffic. we were either ahead of or behind vehicular traffic.
Obviously we took up all lanes of trafic in the direction we were headed & as far as I could determine we were going in the correct traffic flow directions.
As we approached intersections, red & greenlighted, some riders made a point to sort of direct traffic & make sure we flowed thru the intersections, & even stopped if neccesary for safety & direction decisions.
The riders, spread out over 2 blocks at times, were loud & boisterous with their chants of LESS CARS, MORE BIKES & 2 WHEELS ARE BETTER THAT 4, among others, but stayed on their side of the street except for a few people here & there, & when we came to 1 way streets people spread out into all lanes.
Pedestrians & Drivers cheered us & waved in solidarity, the Cops followed, but did not interfere.
On Figueroa we found ourselves in amongst traffic & with a little difficulty, made our way past them back to 6th. we headed east to Grand, if I remember correctly, & headed South.
By this time I had pretty much figured out that no-one had the slightest idea where we were going to end up, & how long the ride would last. I kept hearing people mention something about PATRIOTIC HALL, but since i didn't know where that was, I just assumed we'd head west on Olympic to the Protest Area at Staples & end the ride there, slapping each other on the back for a successful & peaceful ride.
No such luck.
When we approached Washington Blvd. we turned to go west again.
And the spark that set off what happened next:
I didn't fully understand why until I saw a map in the TIMES this morning.
As we continued on our merry way, a long line of Motorcycle Cops passed us on the METRO TRACKS & got ahead to block our path.
Being near the rear of the pack at this point, I immediately suspected we had unintentionally ( at least I hope none of the "ride leaders" intentionally took us down the wrong path) done something to tick the Cops off, & was disturbed to see we were forced to go down a couple of small side streets, out of public view.
When Bike Cops came up behind the bottleneck & started yelling for us to get on the sidewalk, I had enough & rode east instead of west before the cops blocked the escape route.
I wasn't the only one either. We found out that many in the front escaped as well, & the word was to head back to Pershing Square.
Over the next half hour we pieced together, thru cell phones & walkie talkies the news of the stand-off & the possiblity of arrests.
I left at 7pm to meet some friends in Hollywood, so what happened next i do not know, & have no firsthand knowledge of events on Washington after I left the ride & headed back to Pershing
This morning when I looked at the TIMES MAP of Traffic Flow, I realized that WE WERE IN THE WRONG by heading west on Washington because the flow of traffic was EASTBOUND ONLY.
I do feel that a peaceful end to the ride at that point could have still occured without arrests & panic, but that may be only wishful thinking on my part because i do not know the further details of the confrontation.
I sincerely hope that we were not deliberately led to our doom by the ride leaders, & would like to know why we didn't just head west on Olympic instead, because i feel that the Cops would have left us alone unless we encountered other less peaceful protests as we neared Staples.
This ride did not have to end this way. No way, no how.
As a final note, I took a bunch of pictures (none on Washington, sad to say, because I was afraid I would be prevented under the circumstances), & will make a 2nd set to send to the LACBC to share with the membership or use as our High Muckety-mucks see fit.
This is just one participants account as he remembers it, & should be judged together with accounts of others who may decide to recount their stories.
I guess I'm just looking for some answers.
I kept at it for days, trying to get anyone to answer for what happened, but no-one ever did. All the attention went to the police tactics & those arrested.
Because CRITICAL MASS is so heavily invested in claiming it is a leaderless activity it is very easy for those who lead it to avoid identifying themselves, and answering for their actions.
CRITICAL MASS risks being lumped in with those Anarchists who disrupt Economic Summits & are now hijacking the Peace Protests against the War on Iraq.
All sensible Cylists should avoid CRITICAL MASS.
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