[*BCM*] Critical Mass as a demonstration

Adam Shoop Adam_Shoop at emerson.edu
Fri Jul 30 10:01:10 EDT 2004

Some thoughts on recent matters.

First, I was unable to make it to yesterday's early morning ride because of work, though I might not have come anyway, speculating the nature of the ride. From the coverage I've seen/heard, my assumptions turned out to be partly correct. I mostly turn up to the regular CM rides because it's fun and not very confrontational.

russell a willis iii writes:

>This is the same difficulty many people had a couple of years ago with
>the ANSWR protests against the escalation toward the Iraq war: the
>"organizers" had a very strong anti-Israel agenda, and this kept some
>people away from their demonstrations.  I am inclined toward Jeffrey's
>view on this: everybody bring their own message, and don't worry about
>someone else's message.

I don't think the analogy is quite correct. First of all, the statement "anti-Israel" contains little to no content whatsoever, or about as much as a commisar in Russia accusing a citizen of being against the state, deflecting criticism by means of power. I don't mean to be overly critical, because some of what I saw at the large and small Boston gatherings, and the two major demonstrations in DC (I missed the global day of protest in NYC), there are some opinions expressed on signs, or perhaps even in the talks, that are what I would describe as racist towards Israelis, and I disagree with them.

Whatever ones beliefs on the matter, the issue of Israel/Palestine _is_ a related concern for Arabs, and more broadly, members of the Islamic faith. Seeing as how the invasion of Iraq was being prosecuted as part of the "war on terror", it seems that an effective counter-response might be to offer other alternatives to reducing the likelihood of terrorism (even on the narrow grounds of protecting our own interests). That's the sensible alternative derived in a survey of even well-to-do, typically "pro-Western" Muslims in the Wall Street Journal right after 9/11: "Many Arabs and Muslims feel ... the U.S. has propped up oppressive regimes. [And they see the US] defending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands while continuing to hit Iraq with economic sanctions and military attacks." (The Question in the Rubble: Why Us?,” WSJ, 14 Sept 2001, Sec. A, Pg. 6). Now, whether you think the US ought to address those concerns (I happen to think they play a large role in making them worse), is to be asked, though it ought to be carried on some place other than this list.

Now, as a matter of making an effective demonstration, and whether addressing two issues at once is sensible in terms of what is hoped to be accomplished, that should be debated as well. Further comments below.

Ari writes:

>I have no problem with inclusion, but I think it dilutes the whole message
>of Critical Mass a bit when people "piggyback" totally unrelated causes
>onto the ride. "Down with the government" is slightly different than "ride
>a bike." It's not like you see pro-choice signs at an anti-war rally.

I find this analogy to be a bit better than the aforementioned. CM is a different kind of demonstration, namely because it is not organized, at least not in any comparable sense in terms of anti-war demonstrations, etc. And it couldn't ever really be, unless there were some discussion or planning before the rides, or as the mechanism behind "the new power on the streets"--never before seen global demonstrations against a war that hasn't begun--the internet. 

Lee Peters writes:

>If I go on another do-gooder's ride like 'Bikes not Bombs', I see a
>group of totally different people.  This bother's me, but I won't give
>up my chance to ride through the city in a safe place. It says that some
>people just can't get into any militancy.   Now, if a pro-war group took
>over the ride, well then I will have to reconsider.  There seems to be
>enough consensus, however, to have a constant number of bikes at these
>rides.  This may be due to its generic quality.

It seems like many are in favor of letting people protest whatever they want, so far as it doesn't conflict with their beliefs. Others are in favor of the rides simply being about riding bikes. It seems hardly possible for their to be any resolution to this without more organization.

In my opinion, it's loosely formed nature is quite unique among demonstrations, and to try to reach some consensus on what, specifically, is the message of critical mass would diminish this quality. However, because of that, there are what seem to be some sensible limitations. Because there is not an effective organizing principle behind Critical Mass, it hardly seems an effective place to protest the Democrats' platform, wars, or any truely complex matters--as Russell noted with the difficulties of ANSWER to link the issue of Iraqis and Palestinians. 

I think people need to be met where they are at. When we are out on the rides, it shouldn't be forgotten that the likemindedness of all of those around you represent a fairly marginal percentage of the population. What might make a connection for bike riders might not seem so for those in cars, like throwing paint on an automobile. This immediately removes whatever little bit of attention might be placed on whether or not biking is a sensible alternative to cars (if this is even what riders hope for), to a conflict about a damaged automobile. I can't imagine making some logical connection, after someone ruined something of mine, that I ought to consider alternatives to that item. Similarly, in forensic debates, the idea is to fight to the death that your position is correct, and to diminish your opponents' position in any way possible. Hardly a good convention for understanding and progress. I am basically iterating simple truisms about human understanding and problem-solving, and it's hard to say much outside of that.

If any auto riders ask me what's going on today while I'm riding, I'll give the answer I have previously: We're riding bikes.


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