City Critical Mess
posted by July 28 at 13:38 PMon
Reading comments about the Critical Mass ride is like watching piranhas fight in a meat grinder. Everyone is predator and prey: The driver, who allegedly plowed through cyclists; the riders, who allegedly beat an unarmed driver after he got out of the car; the police, who portrayed the driver as an innocent victim; and the mainstream media, which regurgitated one-sided swill. But what does it mean for the future of Critical Mass? Whatís it mean for un-permitted protests?
The problem is Fridayís fracas should have never happened. And by that, I mean, Critical Mass should have never let it happen.
Civil disobedience (i.e., breaking the law to piss people off and make a point) has a rich history in democracies: The Boston Tea Party, civil rights protests, the pot-smoking events in Seattle. Cycling through red lights isnít about human rights, of course, but it’s essentially the same form of political advocacy. Even the crazy Christians with their batshitcrazy signs will trespass, and they will let people get in their face, and scream and threaten them—but neither the insaner-than-though Christians nor the successful movements that used civil disobedience in the past let the temptation drive them to violence.
Breaking traffic rulesócorking, running lights, blocking carsócould be a virtuous act. It could draw attention to the fact that cars often hit riders because drivers are oblivious to cyclists, cars are atmosphere hogs, and we should rely on them less and ride bicycles more. Taking over the streets once a month demands attention and hamstrings the almighty gas-guzzler. The idea is a good one. However, it comes with great responsibility.
Since Critical Massís methodójamming traffic on Friday rush houróis clearly aimed at getting attention by pissing people off, and since they do this every month, and since itís quite predictable that drivers are going to flip out from time to time, the onus is on Critical Mass to be prepared with some leadership and widely understood procedures when they actually succeed at the goal: pissing someone off.
But at that critical moment, Critical Mass made its critical error.
What if the story was about Critical Mass riders showing restraint? A driver gets irate at calm protesters, backs over two bikes, and hurts a rider. It would have underscored the need to raise awareness about urban cyclists. The riders still could have kept the guy accountable after he got out of his car (taking down his name and license-plate number).
But the posse of riders, rather than demonstrating self-governance, showed a total lack of preparedness. Thatís a violation of the trust we give them to ride through the city streets breaking the law. Drivers, pedestrians and ordinary cyclists will be wary of Critical Mass from now on. Sure, maybe the ordeal escalated due to just a few hot-headed riders, maybe they were caught up initially (thatís no excuse for attacking the guy, who allegedly started the entire thing, after he got out of his car), but they need to demonstrate a preferable alternative. They failed. Seattle is right to be critical of the Critical Mass rides from now on. I just hope that they havenít screwed it up for the good riders, the good message that was marred by poor planning, the good protesters, and Seattleís heritage of civil disobedience for social change.