Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chris Carlsson's Critical Mass delusions

Chris Carlsson



















Since the Bicycle Coalition took Critical Mass off its online calendar, and Police Chief Gascon grumbled publicly about it, Chris Carlsson, one of its founders, seems to be on the defensive in trying to justify the monthly demo (below in italics). Even many bike people now seem to understand that Critical Mass is a political liability, particularly since the city will begin implementing the Bicycle Plan on city streets later this year, which will take a lot of political capital if it screws up our traffic as badly as the EIR on the Plan tells us it will.

Police repression, when it comes, is part of a larger culture war between those who think the American Way of Life is fundamentally about cars, business, and private property (almost always a strong bias of individual police) and the growing movement to shift into a new way of organizing our lives, based on ecological principles, reduced resource use, and a more convivial, publicly-oriented cityscape.

This is the kind of smug self-righteousness that grates on people who are not part of the great bike movement, which, you understand, is all about shifting "into a new way of organizing our lives," superior to the way we live now, with our police, our businesses, our cars, and our sordid private property. In spite of Gascon's disapproval of Critical Mass, it's very unlikely that there will be police "repression" of the event, since he would need, at the very least, Mayor Newsom's approval beforehand. If we would only get rid of our cars---and presumably our trucks and buses!---and organized our transportation system around bikes, we would have a more "convivial" system. Like the Bay Guardian's Steve Jones, Carlsson actually thinks he and the bike people are superior to the rest of us.

Carlsson wants us to believe that the problem with Critical Mass is only about the "childish and antagonistic behavior that a few cyclists bring to the ride," not about the demonstration itself, which has no parade permit from the city, with no one responsible for any consequences, not to mention the cost to the city of $10,000 a month for city cops on overtime to escort/protect the cyclists as they wind their way through city streets disrupting traffic.

Sadly, some people show up because they believe all the media lies about this big anarchistic confrontational experience, though they are tiny in number. Still, when they behave badly they get an inordinate amount of attention, not just in the media when it deigns to address this ongoing cultural phenomenon, but weirdly, from other cyclists. There’s a mentality that has been shaped by our profit-driven media: when it bleeds, it leads. I’m afraid all too many people on all sides of Critical Mass tend to fall into this same mental trap, focusing their attention on the tiny few who behave like jerks...

It's all the media's fault? Critical Mass is in fact a "big anarchistic confrontational" demonstration, since thousands of cyclists deliberately flout traffic laws and disrupt traffic in the city on the last Friday of every month. The city began providing a police escort for Critical Mass several years ago to prevent the violent incidents that were becoming commonplace.

Carlsson, who seems to think he's a great visionary, can't bring himself to admit that his creation is based on a radically flawed assumption---that a mass demonstration that deliberately flouts the law can be anything but a public nuisance and "anarchistic," attracting the very personalities that are determined to be "confrontational" and even violent.

That ol’ Culture War…
February 10th, 2010
by ccarlsson

Police repression, when it comes, is part of a larger culture war between those who think the American Way of Life is fundamentally about cars, business, and private property (almost always a strong bias of individual police) and the growing movement to shift into a new way of organizing our lives, based on ecological principles, reduced resource use, and a more convivial, publicly-oriented cityscape. Most of us riding in Critical Mass are not out to break the law or antagonize anyone, but we do feel strongly that we have to demonstrate firmly and directly a different way of life. To those of us committed to a life with a greater sense of conviviality and a commitment to a public sphere, the childish and antagonistic behavior that a few cyclists bring to the ride has been dismaying.

Unfortunately, the old xerocracy mostly died out (with the notable exception of the 10th anniversary ride in 2002–--four different beautiful posters were made and put all around town, dozens of stickers and flyers were distributed at the ride, a book was published). Once or twice a year someone shows up with a flyer addressing the culture of the ride, or prepares a suggested route, but in general, cultural production, once so essential to the experience, went into hibernation. After more than a decade the transmission of the culture from oldtimers to newbies has broken down. People riding in Critical Mass these days might have been infants when we started it 18 years ago!

Sadly, some people show up because they believe all the media lies about this big anarchistic confrontational experience, though they are tiny in number. Still, when they behave badly they get an inordinate amount of attention, not just in the media when it deigns to address this ongoing cultural phenomenon, but weirdly, from other cyclists. There’s a mentality that has been shaped by our profit-driven media: when it bleeds, it leads. I’m afraid all too many people on all sides of Critical Mass tend to fall into this same mental trap, focusing their attention on the tiny few who behave like jerks, rather than the overwhelming thousands (and not just here, but across the planet in over 300 cities worldwide) who manage things well, extend courtesy and kindness to bystanders, have joyful interchanges with people briefly stuck in buses and cars, and are greeted exuberantly from neighbors in their windows as we roll through central city neighborhoods.

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