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Monday, May 14, 2007

Critical Mass: "We are victims of you"

Anyone who can't see how this video, presented by the Bicycle Civil Liberties Union, is counter-productive to the people-powered, pro-bicycle movement of Critical Mass and the broader environmental point they are trying to make needs to take a step back.

(link/story courtesy SF Gate.)

Young, able-bodied protestors surround the disabled-placard-bearing mini-van of a senior couple, presumably after the driver did something aggressive towards them, and proceed to escalate the confrontation: placing bicycles under the tires, pounding on the windows, taunting the couple and sanctimoniously telling the driver's companion when she tries to, calmly, leave the van and talk to them, "We are victims of you." (@1:30 from end)

Let's get real, that's not how most people are going to see that video. Not in the least.

Critical Mass, the legendary once-a-month worldwide bicycle protest that is well into its second decade, has always had its share of incidents of violence or trouble, that's to be expected with street protests on some level. Critical Mass rides the line between its utopian, anarchist roots and the fact that the core of the protest involves a mass of bicyclists disrupting the flow of traffic for the commuters they encounter, ie. that's how they make their point.

In this case, it seems like the Berkeley protestors have forgotten what Chris Carlsson wrote in 1995, three years into Critical Mass, in Bicycling over the Rainbow:

Our flaunting of traffic norms (essentially red lights and stop signs) was designed to ensure the safety of the mass of bicyclists AND that of the isolated motorist who unexpectedly and suddenly finds herself surrounded by hundreds of boisterous bicyclists in what can be an intimidating experience. We also run lights and stop signs to keep moving and bring the minor traffic delay to an end that much sooner, since individual motorists are not our enemy.

Exactly.

The protestors make a point that there were children traumatized by this incident. I think that brings up something that gets to the crux of the matter. If the pro-bike movement is going to be broad and inclusive enough so that kids young enough to be passengers on a parent's bike are a part of Critical Mass, a part of spreading the message of the importance of sharing the roadway safely and with respect for all, then CM protestors have every obligation to conduct themselves in such a way so as to provide for the safety of those kids. Critical Mass needs to practice what they preach and put safety first even, if not especially, when something goes awry.

Escalation, piling bikes under vehicles, getting aggressive...in effect, hyping a confrontation, is not simply going to create ill-will and bad press, it's also courting a disaster.

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