portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article


critical mass: new tactics needed

discussing lessons learned and possible new tactics for critical mass.
march 4th: right before we left, i counted approximately 80 bikers, 20 bike cops, 15 motorcycle cops, 15 riot cops, and three horse cops. those were just the ones that were visible.

so after we left 23rd, we were soon corralled down and over the bridge. we tried to stop and walk our bikes through the park blocks and were told by the police that we only had one option, which was to turn around, go back to the street, and cross the river. i seriously doubt the legality of this move by the police; for those who can't remember the first amendment, it reads, "Congress shall make no law... abridging... the right of the people peaceably to assemble...." we were peaceful and obeying all traffic laws.

so, many people chose to be herded over the bridge. i chose to participate in "sidewalk mass" on second street with about 15 or 20 others. the police were directly trying to intimidate us at this point; one cop shouted at us, "you look scared! why are you running away?" while two other motorcycle cops tried to block us from walking on the sidewalk by driving their motorcycles in front of us (neither ever said that we couldn't walk on the sidewalk, they were just trying to intimidate).

everything pointed to the pressure that city hall has been receiving from the business alliance to get us to shut the fuck up downtown. as vera said, "downtown is open for business!" they wanted us out of downtown and over the river. unfortunately, most riders complied. all this points to our success at making the city aware of our strength, and the need to keep the pressure on.

based on this, i have a few points that i'd like folks to consider:

First, and underlying all of our other decisions, we should do everything in our legal, peaceful power to stay downtown. We should especially focus on the business district. Those at the top have directed the cops to keep us away from there. The cops have no right to keep us away from there.

Second, there is a a great deal of power in "sidewalk mass" to move around the police, especially if it's done in small groups with lots of exposure to the general public.

Third, whenever we split into small groups and break off, the cops freak out because they don't know which unit is going where. Whenever we stop riding and gather into a large group, the cops freak out (but they also get a chance to re-group). When these two things would happen, you could hear on their radios frantic discussions over how to split up and re-group, and how to force us over the river.

i'd like to propose that we set out an area of downtown (perhaps the 6 blocks immediately surrounding pioneer square) and that we urge everyone to stay within that area. critical mass is still a mass, but this time it's massing in one whole zone rather than a couple of blocks. call it guerilla mass. use sidewalk mass, or just calmly get off our bikes and walk along the sidewalk to the next street down, in order to bypass cops and keep the message alive in the heart of the city. split up into groups no smaller than 10, no larger than 20. never, ever, ever cross the river. try to stay away from bridges, as the cops mass near them and can be very effective at blocking all other routes. never confront the cops, just flow around them like water over rocks. as soon as confrontation happens, we've acknoledged their wall and their wall forcing us across the river becomes successful. most importantly, maintain a presence in the zone we want to own for the night.
We let them take away our rights. 05.Apr.2003 17:55

J. Dig

Thanks for your post. I whole heartily echo your ideas. I think we definitely need different strategies. The cops are employing different strategies, if we don't, we are letting them mute our voice, choose our route, take away our rights and lose our grasp on the whole thrust of the action.

I am determined to NOT get arrested but I will not let the cops treat me as a second class citizen because of my love of bicycles or my want for peace.

I feel it will be hard to organize these new strategies because critical mass is an action with no appointed leadership but if we don't do something different they will just herd us across the bridge every week like sheep. We will have the choice to let them or to use just a little strategy and little bravery to use our rights in the face of the rob-o-cop army.

I think Freddy is right, when we realize that they are starting to herd us east, which is fairly apparent, we must begin to splinter. This did happen a little last night and the smaller splinter groups were then followed by an out numbering amount of cops until they "made a mistake" and one of them allegedly breaks a law, then they are cited.


1) We need larger numbers than we had last night.
2) We need to begin to splinter when the herding begins, make sure you are legal or you will be cited.
3) We need to move our individual splinters to the "business district."

We must maintain our voice and our rights. We cannot let the machine squelch our demands for peace and for bicycle rights.

Let me hear some other massers thoughts on this subject please.

I love you all for your conviction, for your morals, for your vision and your hearts.

Let us not be silenced.

Leadership 05.Apr.2003 23:59


Sounds like we need to start getting a little more organized to have the impact we want to have. That means we need to have some leadership. Any chance of us setting up a meeting to get this started?

no no no 06.Apr.2003 04:21

mr coffee

not more control! more autonomy.

decentralize 06.Apr.2003 10:37

tipping point

yes. many very good ideas.

but centralized organization is a bad idea, because it will be less effective and also because it is against the original idea of critical mass.

instead, i suggest that before the mass starts riding, everyone form into small 10-20 person "cells", preferably people you know. stick together with your cell. each cell will then peel off from the main mass and behave as described above by freddy.

no more organization or meetings are needed than that.
the only thing we need, preferably, is some greater numbers. since many bikers aren't used to or don't know about the weekly masses, we just need to get the word out better. tell your friends, print up flyers and hand them out and post them.

Meeting Place 06.Apr.2003 23:56


I concur with Freddy but would like to add this.

What about meeting in the South Park Blocks, like across from the Schnitz and the Art Museum. A few more legitimate witnesses can't hurt and it's farther from the river and the bridges -- And closer to the Square???

---just a thought ---

no cells 07.Apr.2003 14:25

zig to the zag

perhaps the word "cell" is not the best to use. someday soon indymedia will be attacked legally (and put on parade for the public) and they will cite the use of words like "cell" to show the public we are "terrorists."

i've never looked the term up, but "affinity group" seems to me to mean a group of people with an affinity for the same idea. if you lose affinity for the idea, you move on and find affinity elsewhere by organizing or joining as you see fit for yourself. its autonomous. additionally, affinity groups with similar goals can practice actions involving cooperation and solidarity if the group continues to share an affinity for the matter being cooperated on.

"cell" diminishes what that is, and by proxy what we represent.

on the other hand, it pisses me off to have to be even remotely "politically correct"... say what you want to say. FUCK IT.

i just thought that particular perspective bore mention.