[*BCM*] Critical Mass as a demonstration

Adam Shoop Adam_Shoop at emerson.edu
Fri Jul 30 13:01:23 EDT 2004

Russell replies:

>As used in my earlier post, it was meant to have as little content as

Which I suspected, and eventually arrived at, if you read the entire post.  I wrote: "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."

>Which is as may be, but it is tangential to my point that by promoting
>one specific message, ANSWR drove away other anti-war people who did not
>want to get behind that message.

see above.

>I was not trying to put up the substantive argument,
>merely the tactical concern.

Again, we are in agreement.

>But sometimes you do (e.g., "anti-Israel" signs at an anti-war rally).

Which, essentially, contradicts your point of the effectiveness of demonstrations.  You asserted that the "anti-Israel signs" diminished the capacity to have a more effective anti-war demonstration in the run-up to the invasion.

>Exactly.  And if someone else is also riding a bike and is carrying a
>sign or wearing a mask or baiting the police, that does not have to be my
>problem.  I liked the guy's story the other day about how he held back
>half a block and stopped for the red lights, so as to distance himself
>from elements he did not want to be identified with (but the police got
>on him anyway).  In daily life, it not infrequently happens that I will
>stop at a light and some other cyclist will blow through.  If anything, I
>think this actually helps with educating motorists, because they can
>clearly see that not every cyclist fits the cliche of blowing through
>lights.  Just as not every motorist something or other.

Perhaps you don't see it as your problem, but chances are, other motorists and newsreaders see it as your problem.  The coverage is so thin and slanted that of course people are bound to identify the entire group as sharing those aims.  I highly doubt anyone watching the evening news found a single piece of information on the person who stopped for traffic lights and kept a safe distance.  What it looked like, and what is was described to me as by co-workers and students my age at Emerson as they saw the bike riders as they came to work, was "a bunch of weird looking pirates on bikes" and that is a sector of the population with which you would expect to be agreeable and responsive. So, picture the average adult watching the news seeing "a bunch of weird looking pirates on bikes" clashing with police on bikes and motorcycles.

My original postulation, as unclear and meandering as it may have been, was primarily that there can either be a) a fairly coherent message that we're "riding bikes" or b) there can be a lot of unrelated, possibly confusing messages. The difference between "every cyclist is something or the other" and every motorist, is that I don't know of any motorists who are participating in a demonstration.  You usually don't see 100 people riding bikes together, unless you are seeing a bike race, a benefit ride, or Critical Mass (I'm sure I've left something out).  Motorists, passersby, etc., are going to formulate a reason for it, whether they ask, or whether they assume based on some particular action (which could be paint being thrown on a car, anti-war signs, or whatever).

I think it's a problem every demonstration faces.  Protests about NAFTA or the WTO aren't referred to, except in the dissident press, as part of the "Social Justice movement", they are referred to as "Anti-Globalization protestors".  Not only that, the attention is mostly focused on the troublemakers, and whatever somewhat coherent message that is being offered, is typically out of the coverage.  We don't frame the debate, "they" do.  It's not different for Critical Mass.

I hope my remarks, especially those on Israel-Palestine, haven't been construed as hostile; just a friendly exchange of thoughts.  If you (or anyone) cares to say hello, I'll be at Copley with gray trousers, a green and white striped shirt, and an ugly toffee colored Peugeot hybrid.

Best regards,

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