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August 30, 2004

Critical Mass Pedals Dissent at Republican Bash

Regular readers of this Blog will recall my description of a Critical Mass Protest Ride at a previous Democratic Convention and how they led their fellow riders to disaster and arrest,

You will also recall my previous thoughts, and reports, on Critical Mass ( born in 1992 ), and how the actions of a few give non-cyclists a negative opinion of cycling, and bicyclists.

These pieces can be found in my new Critical Mass archive.

Well, it has happened yet again.

This time 264 riders were arrested, and I wonder how many participants, like me back then, went into this ride unaware of what they were letting themselves in for?

How many, like me, got away, and are now asking questions of those who led the protest.

From CNN: 264 arrested in NYC bicycle protest.

In the first major clampdown on protesters before the Republican National Convention, New York police arrested 264 people Friday night during a mass demonstration.

About 5,000 cyclists gathered in Union Square Park at 6 p.m. for "Critical Mass," a monthly bike ride around Manhattan, sponsored by environmental group "Time's Up!"

[ That's considerably more folks than showed up at the DNC event I attended. And what's this about this monthly ride being "SPONSORED"? 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 may be leaderless, but unorganized it surely isn't, especially when organizations set up and publicize a CM event. ]

Police started making arrests at around 8:30 p.m. in several locations along the bike route, including Madison Square Garden -- the venue for the Republican National Convention.

[ This many folks never even had a chance to get near the Boston venue, fellow political travelers be damned :-) ]

The cyclists caused "massive disruptions including of people trying to get to the hospital and so we took appropriate action," said NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, Paul Browne.

[ 5,000 bicyclists would be hard to keep under control under the best of circumstances, unlike folks on foot, and when you have some anarchists ( I'll be generous and say they may not even have been supported by the organizers ) in the group acting unruly, the Cops will not necessarily be able to distinguish who is who when the panic sets in as they try to take charge. ]

Cyclists said the bike ride was peaceful and the police acted unreasonably.

"It was a very peaceful, friendly occasion, like a parade," said one of the cyclists, Ellie Maxwell.

"Everyone was riding along when police suddenly penned us in and started picking people off," Maxwell said.

"The police actually caused more disruptions than the cyclists because they blocked off roads -- at one point for as long as an hour and a half -- whereas the cyclists were always moving."

Most of those arrested were taken for processing to Pier 57 and will be charged with disorderly conduct, an NYPD spokesman said.

[ The DNC ride was peaceful, and orderly, too, even as we chanted slogans, and followed the agreed to route. But there was an early warning signal I didn't catch at first as we gathered together, and then the ride was steered down the wrong direction by riders in the lead, and so the Cops had no choice but to react. ]

Police distributed flyers at the start of the ride in Union Square warning that anyone breaking traffic laws could be subject to arrest.

[ That courtesy was not done our small band, and I'm sure most participants of this ride tried to follow its instructions, if they even saw a copy of the flyer. One would hope that the organizers of this ride did what they could to make sure everyone behaved. It is interesting that the bigger, more publized, walk of 120,000 people had similar arrest numbers as this miniscule ( by comparison ) event. ]

The monthly bike ride drew thousands more than usual due to the number of people who wanted to protest against the convention.

"Critical Mass" takes place on the last Friday of every month to promote the interests of bicyclists.

[ 4600 Anti-Bush, Anti-Republican, Anti- War Against Terror riders + 400 Bicycle Activists is my, generous, rough estimate of the probable make-up. So much for promoting the "interests of Bicyclists". :-) ]

According to its Web site, "Critical Mass's aim is to make people take notice of cyclists as road users."

[ All this event did was add to non-cyclists negative impressions of bicyclists as having no business sharing the road with even the lowly snail. ]

"Although some obstruction of 'normal' traffic occurs," says the Web site, "we are only seeking to raise the profile of cycling, and put cycling and transport issues on the agenda so that they will not be ignored."

[ There is nothing "normal" about thousands of riders, many of whom obviously will get out of hand, taking over city streets, especially during rush hour, or in a city where the streets are a traffic jam all day long. ]

There are better, more constructive ways, I believe, to spread the word about bicycling, and one such way is what I'm trying to attempt with this site in my own small way.

However, I realize, now, that I should keep an eye on the goings on of the CM Movement, and others in similar activism efforts.

A couple of months ago several folks, in the movement, e-mailed me their thoughts, and suggested I find a way to read up more on Critical Mass, and proceed with my reporting on the movement from there.

I agree.

While my experience with CM, and a few other CM events I've read about and reported on, have given me, and the general public, a negative impression, I HAVE read of, and been advised of, a few positive CM related stories.

CM is not a movement without leaders, and organization.

While there may not be a single National, or World Leadership, there are folks, at the local level, in cities all across America, and the world, promoting CM in their communities, and doing some good things for Cycling as well.

I'm not averse to publicizing those groups, and stories, or adding a collection of CM related links to this site.

CM is used to being reported on by the mainstream media, used to being reported on by those who don't ride bikes and so, very slowly, I'll begin to join those few others in the mainstream cycling world who DO report on CM.

As I become more informed readers of this site will also.

So let's start with this, from the WorldWide Critical Mass Hub, concerning "Police vs Critical Mass":

Since its inception in 1992 police in cities all over the world have cracked down on Critical Mass. Sometimes these crackdowns have been outrageous, with police assaulting and injuring peaceful cyclists, and arresting and ticketing cyclists who were breaking no laws.

It's true that CM riders often do break the law, and we're not complaining about appropriate police response when that happens. We're complaining about the unreasonable police response: (1) ticketing and/or arresting the cyclists who weren't breaking the law, and (2) using excessive force to deal with peaceful bicyclists.

Documenting all the cases in which the police responded inappropriately to Critical Mass would be a big task, so here are just a few examples. [ Here you will find a view of the RNC event, along with links to 4 news reports, PLUS there is a report by a person arrested in the 2000 DNC event. If I hadn't been so alert to what was happening I would have been one of them. ]

Most folks, even my fellow Cyclists, don't realize it, but there are a ton of interesting, informative, and opinionated Bicycling websites on the Net, and while I will never get to all of them, I can have fun in making the attempt.

I can't guarantee I'll change my opinion of CM, or just how much I will if I do, but, hop on your bike, and come along with me for the ride.

Oh, and be patient. :-)

It's been a struggle to find time to post every day, these days, but the frequency WILL increase I promise. :-)

***UPDATE --8/31/04***

I have just received an e-mail from Michael, of Worldwide Critical Mass Hub, that sheds a little light on how CM supporters see the movement:

You must realize that just because
an organization promotes a pre-existing ride doesn't mean that they're
the organizers, or the sponsors, or that the riders are members of said organization. CM isn't any kind of coincidence, but that doesn't mean
it's not a leaderless, unorganized event. To wit, Critical Mass
existed in NYC before Time's Up took notice, and Critical Mass would
happen in NYC even if Time's Up didn't exist.

My site is just a clearinghouse, a directory of rides all over the world.
I'm the only one who runs it. It's hardly an "activist organization".


I, as an outsider, with a negative experience of CM, and my own views of what Cycling Activism should be all about, have one view.

Those who are active supporters of CM have another view.

Both can be seen as valid.

I hope that by exploring the CM Movement as best I can I can understand it better, and help non-participants do so as well.

***UPDATE -- 9/1/04***

I have written a response to a comment posted to this piece:

Thoughts on Reporting Critical Mass.

August 30, 2004 in Critical Mass | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 2, 2004 12:16:35 AM


The vast majority of Lefty protest groups are hateful, violent and disruptive. How did they fool you into thinking they would be other?

Posted by: Tom | Sep 1, 2004 9:03:12 AM

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