Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Leah Shahum: Critical Mass as religious experience

Toward the end of the interview with the Bicycle Coalition’s Leah Shahum in the Sunday Chronicle Magazine (July 10, 2005), she is asked, “How does Critical Mass relate to the Bicycle Coalition?” Shahum answers, “Critical Mass is completely separate from the Bicycle Coalition.” A disingenuous answer at best, since Critical Mass is a monthly, ad hoc event and has no organization. But Critical Mass might not survive long without the Bicycle Coalition’s endorsement: It’s listed on the Coalition’s website calendar, along with a weasely, hypocritical disclaimer about how they don’t endorse all the events listed on the calendar, etc.

But evidently Critical Mass is very important to Shahum---and to the Bicycle Coalition as a recruiting tool---since she brought the subject up without prompting earlier in the interview. By her own account, Shahum had a peak experience at Critical Mass, which she has talked to the media about before. Her Critical Mass epiphany changed her life: “When I was riding to my restaurant job, I didn’t think about it as any social or political statement. Then I saw Critical Mass a couple of times. Someone explained to me that bicyclists get together once a month and reclaim their rights to the streets.”

These short “Facetime” interviews in the Chronicle Magazine are bouquets to local political and business figures, not in-depth explorations of the mindsets of those interviewed. The interviewer---Sam Whiting, in this case---doesn’t really have room to do follow-up questions, even if he was so inclined. Whiting could have asked Shahum about her notion of Critical Mass’s purpose being to “reclaim their rights to the streets.” What can this possibly mean? That there was a time in the past when cyclists had more rights?

Shahum also tells us that she is on the Golden Gate Bridge board of directors, an elite group that, among other things, determines bridge tolls for motorists. Do we need to guess how the anti-car Shahum will vote when the next bridge toll hike is proposed?

Labels: , ,