EMAIL FROM Chris Carlsson 08 Apr 1995
Dear Thundercom... I got your missive on a hard copy from a friend and thought I'd respond. I saw the news that night, actually channels 2, 5 and 7. I donít really put much stock in how Critical Mass plays on the news, but I am curious, and a student of the spectacle, so I checked it out.
I thought they actually represented a curious spectrum. Ch. 2 had a jaggy, MTV-camera with little narrative wraparound to basically a pro-bicycle slant, allowing a good minute plus to angry bicyclists who made it clear that it was the cops who were causing the problem. Channel 5ís reporter was absolutely glowing with that typical Critical Mass euphoria and really raved about her experience of it, but was no doubt admonished by her editors in the studio to present the "disappointment"-that-the-"incident"-had-to-happen line. Nevertheless I thought the Channel 5 coverage again made the police look really petty and irrational.
I realize Iím a bit biased in how I read these things, but honestly I didnít think bicyclists came off badly at all. Of course the ultra-rightists of Ch. 7, who were aggressively seeking out the route hours before the ride, didnít even send anyone on bike, and just drove around in a van and followed the police lead. But thatís to be expect
I donít know how you could imagine Critical Mass setting the "cycling rights movement" back 10 years, when itís at least in part because of CM that bike advocacy is getting the attention itís getting. Anyway, Iím pretty skeptical of the ultimate results of the insider, lobbyist approach to social change, and letís face it, to really make a bike-friendly world implies a major break with powerful institutions running the show now. Rational argument doesnít seem to matter much in the real world of governments and politicians, so being right, or efficient, or smart is less important (way less) than playing the game with the right people.I strongly agree with your frustration and anger about the pointless stand-off at Sutter St. That was the policeís game, not ours (well, unfortunately, itís also Jungle Jonís game, heís a strong believer in nonviolent sacrificial arrests as media devices... a rather old and naive strategy in my opinion). We have to keep moving. If people find an obstacle, especially a bunch of posturing macho soldiers with guns, hey, no problem, we can take a different street! Whatís the big deal? Of course theyíre wrong. Of course itís ridiculous to give in to blatant injustice. But itís too much of their game, the script is written and frankly, itís a dead-end when you get sucked into the legal system, even when you "win." Iím curious about your anger about splits in the "movement." What exactly are you referring to? People who like to ride fast vs. the slow? Confrontational vs. institutional? Peaceful vs. violent? Thereís so many possible fissures to explore, far more than any bland unity that may exist around "bikes good, cars bad." Iíve always been more curious about the various/numerous organic communities that are forming within the space opened up by Critical Mass. I think we have to fight to preserve that space, while embarking on initiatives flowing from that experience, perhaps extending it into new arenas... Yes, we should have laughed in their face and gone on, which a fair number of riders actually did. We did have a good chortle when the troops seized California Street as we passed northward on Polk. We thanked them for doing such a fine job of protecting the intersection And wished them a nice night, laughing derisively throughout.
The split between frenzied and mellow, as I understand it, arose from the problem of fast riders dragging the ride along too fast, while others couldnít really keep up. So rather than keep trying to police the fast riders (of course the cops were also doing their best to hurry it all up, by policy), it was thought to give them something more challenging and long to do, while the rest of us had our meandering conversational rolling space. If the police would just admit that they have no reason to be "supervising" us and leave us alone, there would be no problems! Hell, the "frenzied" ride goes to obscure hilltops and such, it certainly wouldnít have much impact on traffic. But splitting the ride doesnít work if one part gets criminalized and seriously hassled. Those who want to extend the effort to stage a simultaneous but different ride will have to think of a more discreet and clever way of pulling it off, probably depending on last minute word of mouth. The main body of Critical Mass seems pretty solid at over 1,000 a month, and the magic is still in the actual experience. If you try it, youíll probably really like it. Itís almost certainly not like any other common social experience in this society. Well thatís it for this blast.