Freewheel Collective's Blog

"The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man." -Iris Murdoch

Critical Mass Fizzles, Smarter Groups Sizzle

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The following is an editorial, the views expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of the Freewheel Collective, which by nature has multiple viewpoints.

“Hot down, summer in the city back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.” -The Loving Spoonful

It’s summer, it’s hot, and people are getting “testy”. When a clump of cyclists take to the road in protest form, as the riders of Critical Mass do on a monthly basis, tensions that built over time tend to come to a boil in the hottest part of the summer. Last week’s Critical Mass rides provided no shortage of supporting evidence, with altercations occurring in two cities, New York and Seattle, that often host the biggest CM rides in the nation.

In NYC, an overzealous NYPD officer and a bicyclist that took the brunt of his shove-tackle.

Watch the video below or from the links; the rider is your typical CM rider, and doesn’t appear to be doing anything out of the ordinary or specifically provocative. That wouldn’t justify the officer’s thug tactics anyways. The officer has been assigned to desk duty and stripped of his shield. The Critical Mass ride in NYC, once a joyous celebration of the bicycle and a playfully anarchic day of taking back the streets from the rule of motor transit, has become marred since the NYPD escalated their campaign of harassment at the opening of the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2004. This culture of aggression against bicyclist demonstrators has enabled unprovoked attacks by officers on citizens like this one

The officers actions are indefensible and thuggish. They don’t deserve to be dignified by questions about whether the bicyclist said or did something “off-camera” to justify the officer’s actions. But the battle of public opinion waged in the comments sections of the video and news items give one a sense of the vitriol fomenting from all directions. As much of this venom comes from opponents of CM as it does from CM participants or outraged leftists.

The righteousness of the goal’s of CM are muddied by events like the one in Seattle last week. A motorist hastily accelerated to get out from a group of cyclists and collided with some of them. The cyclists chased the driver down, surrounded him, punched him through an open window, and struck him again when he exited his car. The stupid violence of these antagonistic people, bicyclists and motorists alike, detracts from smarter movements to improve conditions for bicyclists and reduce our unsustainably heavy reliance on petroleum-based personal motorized transit.

When you’re not an organization, as Critical Mass maintains it is not, and when the event draws hundreds or thousands of people on a regular basis, the lack of order and the participation of reckless individuals preconditions the event towards stupid aggression like the incidents of last week.

Will cooler heads prevail? Passionate groups whose activities legitimize them to claim the title “organization” or “club” speak clearly in the affirmative. In Seattle, the Cascade Bicycle Club garners the respect and positive light of their local press (another article here). More importantly, this group is able to unabashedly organize, and make real, positive social change. In NYC, the group Transportation Alternatives provides the focused and organized action to make changes that improve quality of life for bicyclists and pedestrians.  The magnitude of change required to bring our actions and consumption closer in line with what our planet and global society can sustain requires more than massive action, it requires massively intelligent action.

The passion of these progressive groups burn just as hot as CM, they just know how to channel their energy much better.

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