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critical farce redux (rethinking next month's critical mass)

as alex wrote in the last comment under the 'critical farce' post, there's a severe lack of defensive preparation for cm these days. i wouldn't even call what we've got going every last friday 'critical mass'-- a few times on this last one i was forced to answer the 'hey, what are you all doing?' question with 'well, it used to be called critical mass, but now it's called critical obedience'.
these days we're being corralled into one lane and kept there, split up into a dozen little groups, and left unable to offer solidarity to riders detained by police. i got a 175 dollar ticket, as did many others, supposedly for not stopping at a red light (witnesses were adament that in fact i hadn't run any red lights, and i was stopped past an intersection where there was no light at all.) and by the time i was free again the ride was long gone. the city has realized that this is all indeed a wonderful strategy of harassment, and is hoping, you can bet, that more and more of us become demoralized and stay home. this sort of thing seems to go in cycles (no pun intended), and i think it's high time that we turn this one around in our favor.
numerous friends of mine who used to ride regularly have given up on it because it's NO FUN and infuriating. i can't blame them, and i'm thinking about reluctantly joining them.
but first...
i propose that next month we start out by going west on burnside riding close together very slowly and simply refuse to move into one lane. yes, there will be some conflict and some arrests (hopefully with serious difficulty/consequences for the ppd), and maybe the cops will simply shut it down with brute force. but at least it will be highly visible immediately to pedestrians up around powells, and hopefully folks with video will be waiting around there for us. the power of a multitude of people refusing to obey orders in the initial stages of the ride should not be underestimated. once they have us effectively controlled it's just impossible to break out of it-- if we put THEM on the defensive initially, it becomes that much harder for them to control things.
i'd also like to suggest that if things do get violent, and/or the ride is severely inhibited, that we at least consider the option of taking over a major intersection (at least temporarily) in protest, and refusing to budge-- and SHOW SOLIDARITY with anyone who gets fucked with. hell, maybe we can embarrass kroeker enough that vera finally fires his ass. some of the cops reading this would probably appreciate that idea.
the bottom line is that we need to put the police and city back into a compromise position where they are forced to lay off of us (relatively, at least) again.
the original goal of crit mass was to TAKE OVER THE STREETS in a celebratory manner for a few hours each month in recognition of the magic of cycling and the insane domination and danger of the automobile. the authorities of this city need to be given a choice (til we get rid of them): let us sail joyfully through the city occupying all or most lanes--appropriate to the size of the ride of course--while corking at intersections and watching out for each other, or...
we resist and wreak havoc, causing much more in the way of disruption and media attention than the first option.
any thoughts, fellow riders?
hell yeah 28.Jul.2003 03:04


sounds good
i've been thinking the same thing lately

at the last mass, i was leaving the park on foot (b/c i didn't have my bike), and watchign the mass as i went, and the entire mass just stopped at a stop light
before, the cops had been forcing people to stop at lights by threatening them and physically coralling them, but this times THERE WERE NO COPS AROUND
it was the saddest thing i've seen at critical mass yet

i've been feeling lately that groups of 5-10 people can accomplish a lot more than a critical mass can
5-10 people can easily take over two, or maybe even three lanes of traffic at a time, especially since something like that can be done with no cops around

Leadership 28.Jul.2003 07:56

Skwirl ominous_squirrel@hotmail.com

You're missing the point of Critical Mass. It's not just about "taking over the streets". It's also not particularly difficult to get arrested by the Portland PD on invented charges, so, if you're so concerned about civil disobedience, one wonders why I didn't see you in the paddy wagon two months ago and why you were merely cited and released when you got your ticket at the last Mass. You talk about making Critical Mass fun again in one breath and confronting the police in another. In other words, you want other people to do your civil disobedience for you, right? So Mass can be fun again for you, right? That's not how Critical Mass works. Critical Mass is a xerocracy and not a republican democracy. If you want the Mass to do something, you don't bitch on indymedia. No, you pedal your ass to the front of the group and you lead by example. If the Mass happens to disagree with your example, you can't just go around whining about how it's not Critical Mass anymore. Critical Mass is about the individial freedom to choose to follow a complete stranger's passion and make it your own.

Critical Mass is a joke! 28.Jul.2003 11:09

Who cares?

Critical Mass doesn't do shit, but fulfill its own vanity. What has Critical Mass accomplished? Nothing. Except giving all of Portland bike riders a bad name. Critical Mass is an impish brigade of hooligans who have no idea of what activism is, or can accomplish. It's just my opinion though. Let's go run a bunch of street signs, so the whole community hates bikers. That is just so ungenious. Give it up Critical Mass, your lack of organization, and your "xerocracy" is what killed you. Real Activism draws more people to it, not less and less over time, to the point where people give up.

Ha, Critical Mass is a joke!

Suggestions Wanted 28.Jul.2003 11:43

Not A Bicyclist

And what would you suggest 'Who Cares?' The streets don't belong to just the cars and trucks.The streets belong to everyone which also includes pedestrians.It is easy to tear down and apart what others are building but the question is what would you suggest or offer as an alternative?RIDE ON CM!

Long Live Critical Mass 28.Jul.2003 16:34

CM Lover

Instead of attacking each other we should stand up for each other!!! One of the reason people ride CM may be to also raise awareness towards pedestrians. Have you tried crossing Hawthorne or Alberta lately?

DO NOT PAY tickets-resist attack and deter it too! 28.Jul.2003 17:08

Luke from DC

If people pay these tickets, it will encourage teh cops to issue MORE of them. I don't know how it is in Portland, but on the East Coast any consequences for this would be unlikely. Even if the issuance of a warrant woulod be LEGAL, that doesn't mean its the PROCEDURE, and it is even less likely that such warrants would ever be served or a person ordered held by a judge after appearing on another charge. Well known and targeted activists might be an exception, but this should be TESTED.

In most Northeast jurisdictions you CANNOT be sentenced to jail for running red lights, jaywalking, etc. Some ALLOW warrants, but when Guiliani tried to get and enforce arrest warrants for unpaid jaywalking tickets in NYC, the result was a national torrent of rage that forced him to back off. At the same time the legislature refused to consider his proposal to forfeit bikes ridden on sidewalks, calling it an outrage.

Also,if people ride in pairs or threes and are ready to run or defend themselves, cops will have a HELL of a time stopping them. Suppose one motorcycle cop tries to chase somebody, but two people run with him. No if they split up the cop has to choose, and if tehy stay together he may catch them out of sight of his buddies and be outnumbered two or three to one. A lot of the more streetwis cops don't like those odds and will back off unless help is available-which it may not be without pulling enough cops off the rest of the ride to open holes.

Finally, I still say a "deterrent" force ready to set up lockdowns or unattended barriers on bridges or other key arteries should kept on standby throught EVERY ride, and shopuld deploy if there are reports of harassment or if teh ride fails to check in at an agreed time. If motorists get the idea that they were two hours late to dinner because some bonehead police commander chose to hassle a peaceful bike ride there will be hell to pay for the city. When DC cops got wind of this suggestion(thanks to deliberately using a bugged phone to discuss it) we got some much-needed breathing room and the next ride was cop-free! Remember, this tactic REQUIRES that the cops know about it but not know WHICH strategic targets you intend to hit.

definitely not a Real Activist 28.Jul.2003 19:58


mr ominous squirrel (mostly),
i didn't say cm was 'just' about taking the streets-- there was actually some context there.
nor do i think of cm as being something like a republican democracy. i was just trying to offer some suggestions online in an effort to get people thinking about how we can act more en masse from the get go, rather than being coralled and broken up within a few minutes. yes, the nature of the ride makes this difficult if not impossible. but can't we discuss things like this online, in addition to all the talking we all do with our friends and affinity groups, and the spontaneous ideas that get offered (or not) on the ground?
no, i don't want other people to do my civil disobedience for me martyr-style. that's your own assumption. i just want to see more solidarity--when it's there it is much easier to stick together and ignore or resist police tactics. if i had laid down alone in the street instead of accepting my ticket, it would have had no effect at all. and how do you know that wasn't me in the paddy wagon a few months ago? couldn't it have been me if i'd gotten trapped behind the police line and said the wrong thing to the wrong cop at the wrong time? how do you know what sorts of things i have or haven't done or initiated in previous rides? (for example, remember the time we made a u-turn on 23rd? that was me in the front yelling "hey, let's make a u-turn up there!", just as your last sentence describes.)
isn't cm an act of civil disobedience by itself?
"If you want the Mass to do something, you don't bitch on indymedia." thanks for the instructions. i'll never ever "bitch" on indymedia again, i promise.
sorry to turn you into a patronizing asshole. you should try the lecture circuit.

"at the last mass, i was leaving the park on foot (b/c i didn't have my bike), and watchign the mass as i went, and the entire mass just stopped at a stop light
before, the cops had been forcing people to stop at lights by threatening them and physically coralling them, but this times THERE WERE NO COPS AROUND
it was the saddest thing i've seen at critical mass yet "

"Instead of attacking each other we should stand up for each other!!!"
yep, ideally so.

ideas for successful CM 29.Jul.2003 01:44


I don't ride much in CM these days because of all the police heat, and the lack of a good strategy at the moment for dealing with it. My personal take is that the best strategy would be to fairly rigorously follow the law, and make the cops break their own rules of engagement. If you document their foul play very thoroughly and make them pay in court (or at least in the court of public opinion) this would be an important victory that would help bring more people out to the rides. It would both encourage people who are demoralized by the police repression with hopes of some relief, and it would outrage people into action. Heavy handed repression can backfire, and actually energize instead of demoralize dissenters, but it has to handled in a very skillful, "jiu-jitsu"-like way.

If enough people are on bikes, you can legally take all the lanes of the road in a given direction. Only vehicles moving slower than the prevailing speed of traffic are required to ride as far to the right as practicable, but if bikes ARE the prevailing vehicle on the roadway, THEY set the "prevailing speed of traffic," as is only logical! Any other conclusion would be a patently heavy-handed and unjustified legal discrimination in favor of motor vehicles and against bikes. (To clarify, consider the following argumentum ad absurdum: a hundred bikes on a given stretch of roadway at given moment in time, and a single car behind them. Do you mean to tell me that the law says that the hundred bikes have to yield to His Holiness the Lone Motorist?! It would be the height of irrationality to interpret the law in a way that would admit of such a grotesque result.)

So... Take as many lanes as are warranted by:
1) the width of the roadway, and
2) the relative numbers of bikes and cars
in that order. (The first point is dictated by safety, because a lane can be too narrow to share with a motor vehicle even when there's only a single bike in the road, the second by "utility," ie, serving the needs and convenience of the majority in a given situation.)

gb, it's not about logic 30.Jul.2003 01:16


Logic doesn't matter in court. It's what the judge thinks that counts. The only way to address the unjust interpretation of traffic laws is to target and carefully violate only one, and take it into court again and again until the ruling goes your way. In case you haven't noticed, careful planning and CM are like oil and water. The democratic nature of CM, while responsible for it's longevity, makes it impossible to create a good civil disobedience setup.

I also question the wisdom of applying democratic process to an event which is usually about an inch away from absolute chaos. There is no time for thoughtful deliberation, and riders wind up reacting like a herd of scared gazelles. The real problem with this is that gazelles have evolved over millions of years to behave in an efficient way as a panicked herd. Humans on bicycles have been riding mass for eleven years and there's a lot more natural selection which needs to occur before CM can survive on instinct alone. I'm not advocating authority on the ride, simply observing the embedded flaw.