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  1. #1
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    When Bikes Rule The Road, Motorists Fume

    When Bikes Rule The Road, Motorists Fume

    Critical Mass has taken over city streets at random for almost 15 years. Supporters say it's harmless fun. Detractors say the rides have spun out of control.
    By John M. Glionna
    Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    August 12, 2007

    SAN FRANCISCO -- The sea of bicyclists surges up this city's Financial District, a boisterous mass of freewheeling humanity, 1,500 riders strong. Pedaling six abreast, they send pedestrians scurrying as rush-hour traffic hits the brakes.

    A cable car slows, engulfed by riders who whoop and holler or chat on cellphones. A traffic light goes red, green and red again. Still the bikes keep coming.

    As a bystander high-fives passing cyclists, one car in a line of idling motorists lets loose with a long, blaring, impatient horn blast. A tourist snaps a photograph and asks: "Are you protesting global warming?"

    "No," one rider shouts back, "we're taking over the streets!"

    Some call it a bicycle insurrection against the thoughtless motorists who hog city streets. Others say it's about nothing more than fun.

    On the last Friday of each month, the cyclists of Critical Mass embark on an unrehearsed crosstown jaunt that -- for a few hours -- transforms the urban landscape.

    When Critical Mass hits the streets, bikes rule. Sometimes with sharp elbows, riders brush aside the cars, trucks and buses that stand in their way. And often, tempers flare.

    Bicyclists and drivers get into fights, cyclists slam their locks onto car hoods and police make arrests amid pointed turf battles. A decade ago, former Mayor Willie Brown declared war on the marauding cyclists, whose exploits he dismissed as "the ultimate arrogance."

    But Critical Mass stubbornly survived, and even flourished.

    Started here in 1992 by a handful of idealists, the free-form events have spread to every continent but Antarctica and to 300 cities worldwide, including Los Angeles.

    Next month, the ride celebrates its 15th year. But it still has no leaders, no route plans, no spokespeople.

    "How the rides unfold is always a mystery," said Chris Carlsson, a ride co-founder and editor of a book, "Critical Mass: Bicycling's Defiant Celebration."

    "They're predictable yet unknowable. People keep coming back to see what will happen."

    Critical Mass riders, who refer to themselves as "massers," insist that they're not tying up traffic -- they are the traffic, albeit a two-wheeled variety. Their aim is to force cars to share the road and leave enough room for bike lanes, so cyclists won't have to fear injury and death.

    "For 29 days a month, cars call the shots. It's Auto Mass," said Kate McCarthy, a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "But for a few hours of one day, we turn the tables. We take the streets back."

    The rides develop their own loopy anarchy. One thing is certain: Cyclists gather at 6 p.m. at the foot of Market Street. After that, anything goes. False starts are common as would-be leaders try to lure the group in one direction. No one knows where the ride will go or when, exactly, riders will depart.

    There's even a Critical Mass lexicon, with words such as "xerocracy," to describe the way riders record ideas about proposed routes and photocopy them for distribution at the event. A motorist who pushes into a group of cyclists is a "homicidal maniac driver." Aggressive, overly confrontational massers are a "testosterone brigade."

    Anger at arrogance
    Many criticize the cyclists' holier-than-thou arrogance.

    "There's an incredible self-righteousness, like the traffic laws obviously aren't made for them," said blogger Rob Anderson, who has written about the massers. "We're all trapped in our tin cans, while they ride unfettered. They run people out of crosswalks, yelling, 'Get out of our way! We're not burning fossil fuels!' "

    Though his predecessor feuded with Critical Mass riders, Mayor Gavin Newsom has extended an olive branch of sorts. Last year, he named the head of the bicycle coalition (which claims independence from Critical Mass but advertises the rides on its website) as a commissioner overseeing the city's powerful Municipal Transportation Agency.

    Meanwhile, in the 15 years since Critical Mass began, the number of San Francisco bike commuters has doubled to more than 2% of the population. Bike activists have successfully lobbied for more cycling lanes, bicycle racks on buses and a weekend ban on cars in popular Golden Gate Park. The city charter even guarantees that "bicycling shall be promoted" in any drafting plans for traffic flow and public safety.

    "Critical Mass energized the bicycle movement here," said former Berkeley cyclist David Cohen. "It lent a sort of spiritual energy, the idea that we could gather en masse. There were no leaders. We were all leaders."

    That's one point of view.

    Four years after leaving office, Brown still steams at the mention of Critical Mass. "They're bad for the city," he said. "They disrupt honest people trying to get home from work. That's their whole point."

    The riders swarm up Van Ness Avenue looking like Grateful Dead groupies on wheels. The scent of marijuana is in the air as a woman with orange dreadlocks pedals a bike with a milk crate for a basket. A man in a fedora croons rap lyrics, blasted from a strapped-on boombox. One man rides a tricycle shaped like a silver fish with twinkling mesh scales.

    There are pricey bikes and Wal-Mart specials. A rider calls to friends on his kazoo. Another rings his 1950s-style bicycle bell like an excited 8-year-old.

    Suddenly, a woman wheels a stroller into a crosswalk as the bikes surround her. "Stop!" she shrieks. "I'm with a baby!"

    Nearby, a driver noses his vehicle into an intersection, causing bicycles to veer to avoid him. Immediately, massers known as "corkers" position their bicycles in front of the car.

    Only after the pack is gone do the bikers call out, with a tinge of sarcasm: "Thanks for waiting!"

    A taxi driver trying to make a left turn against the pack sees a police cruiser shadowing the cyclists: "Officer," he says, "how can I make a left turn here?"

    The cop shrugs.

    On the first ride in 1992, a few dozen cyclists rode up Market Street handing out fliers before hitting a bar for beers. They were bike commuters tired of motorists yelling, "Grow up! Get a car!" recalled Carlsson. "They treated you like a kid riding your toy, like you didn't belong in the road."

    Founders called the stunt "Commute Clot." The name didn't stick. But the idea did. People flocked to the event.

    "San Francisco has a reputation as a contrarian place," said Carlsson, 50, a desktop publisher. "People have a different idea how to make life richer and more artistic and profoundly more emotional than the capitalist world wants for us. Critical Mass seized that spirit."

    More rides, new cities
    The rides were replicated elsewhere, as were the confrontations.

    In New York, arrests of bicyclists are common. In Santa Monica, one cyclist was arrested in June, prompting a meeting between police and ride organizers. But those incidents are rare, said Monica Howe, outreach manager for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

    "You can't really take over the streets when you only have a posse of 50 people," Howe said. "We don't have the history of run-ins. We can't get away with it."

    In the summer of 1997, Brown issued a crackdown on the San Francisco rides, ordering bikes seized and rogue riders punished. That July, 5,000 massers jammed city streets, with more than 100 riders arrested. None was charged.

    New strategy on cyclists
    In time, tempers cooled as police developed a less aggressive strategy. Nowadays, about 40 officers monitor the rides on bikes and in squads cars.

    "It's not practical to think 40 officers can ticket every rider who breaks the law," said department spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina. "Our goal is to preserve public safety and prevent property damage."

    "TUNnel! TUNnel! TUNnel!"

    The snakelike line of cyclists roars into a Chinatown tunnel. Riders shriek as they enter, their echoes deafening.

    So far, there have been no dust-ups. But some riders test the limits: One sneaks up behind a bus to yank the electric cable from a power line overhead, laughing as he rides on.

    A cyclist blows kisses to glum-faced bus passengers. Another yells "It's OK to smile!"

    Some passengers do.

    Detractors point to the March 30 ride as just one example of Critical Mass spinning out of control.

    Riders clashed with motorists in two incidents. Limo driver Dennis Webb says the melee started after a female cyclist blocked his path.

    When Webb got out of his car to confront the cyclists, one dented the limo's hood with a U-shaped bicycle lock. Another slashed his tire. Someone else grabbed his car keys and rode off. The hood-denter was charged in the incident.

    "Some of these people try to provoke motorists," said Webb, 46. "When you start that, you're looking for trouble. It's only natural you're not going to let them get away with that."

    Another altercation came later in the ride, as cyclists made their way through Japantown.

    Susan Ferrando, who was driving with her two kids in the car, said a throng of riders attacked her. Others said a frustrated Ferrando plowed into the cyclists, struck one and tried to drive on. Riders surrounded her until police arrived.

    No charges were filed. But Ferrando said she remains in shock. "It's been traumatic," she said, her voice breaking. "I've got a child standing here saying, 'No, Mommy. I don't want to talk about it.' This isn't over for us."

    In a play off Critical Mass, a new cycling event recently was launched here. Its few riders make a point to observe traffic laws and stay out of fights.

    They call it Critical Manners.

    By 8:30 p.m., two hours after it started, the Friday night ride is thinning out. As the pack eases through the crowded Mission District, motorists become more daring, challenging stragglers at the end of the bike line.

    Carlsson rides alone amid the holdouts, using drumsticks to bang a pair of cymbals on his handlebars. As always, he's elated, even a bit baffled, by the success of the event he helped create 15 years ago.

    "Every once in a while, I'll see someone who was there for the first ride," he said.

    "We'll make eye contact and smile, as if to say, 'Can you believe it? That it's gotten this big?' "

  2. #2
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Stay tuned for another episode of culture wars, A&S style!


    My favorite quote from the article:

    Many criticize the cyclists' holier-than-thou arrogance.

    "There's an incredible self-righteousness, like the traffic laws obviously aren't made for them," said blogger Rob Anderson, who has written about the massers. "We're all trapped in our tin cans, while they ride unfettered. They run people out of crosswalks, yelling, 'Get out of our way! We're not burning fossil fuels!' "
    Envy disguised as anger!


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  3. #3
    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    My favorite (probable mis-)quote was this:

    Quote Originally Posted by LATimes
    Critical Mass riders, who refer to themselves as "massers," insist that they're not tying up traffic -- they are the traffic, albeit a two-wheeled variety. Their aim is to force cars to share the road and leave enough room for bike lanes, so cyclists won't have to fear injury and death.
    They rolled out a bit of CM's history for the anniversary, the rest was just inflamatory rhetoric with a dose of misinformation thrown in. I guess small cudos to teh respurter if he actually went on the ride.

    IMO the OP is just trying to start a flame war...










  4. #4
    Senior Member filtersweep's Avatar
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    What fine upstanding citizens these CM anarchists are.... real cycling advocates. Someone is going to be seriously injured in one of these altercations.

  5. #5
    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by filtersweep View Post
    What fine upstanding citizens these CM anarchists are.... real cycling advocates. Someone is going to be seriously injured in one of these altercations.
    exactly the response the article was designed to solicit. congratulations, you win first prize!

  6. #6
    Huff Puff
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody View Post
    Stay tuned for another episode of culture wars, A&S style!


    My favorite quote from the article:

    Many criticize the cyclists' holier-than-thou arrogance.

    "There's an incredible self-righteousness, like the traffic laws obviously aren't made for them," said blogger Rob Anderson, who has written about the massers. "We're all trapped in our tin cans, while they ride unfettered. They run people out of crosswalks, yelling, 'Get out of our way! We're not burning fossil fuels!' "
    Envy disguised as anger!
    Rob Anderson is the man responsible for the lawsuit which has forced an environmental review of San Francisco's Bicycle Master Plan, delaying it for years.

  7. #7
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody View Post
    Stay tuned for another episode of culture wars, A&S style!


    My favorite quote from the article:

    Many criticize the cyclists' holier-than-thou arrogance.

    "There's an incredible self-righteousness, like the traffic laws obviously aren't made for them," said blogger Rob Anderson, who has written about the massers. "We're all trapped in our tin cans, while they ride unfettered. They run people out of crosswalks, yelling, 'Get out of our way! We're not burning fossil fuels!' "
    Envy disguised as anger!
    I don't think it is envy that infuriates the drivers; it is just plain frustration pure and simple. The Critical Mass participants do ride with arrogance and with complete disregard for traffic laws and zero respect for others on the road.

    The Critical Mass participants and many people on this forum act as if they are some kind of environmental warrior by riding a bicycle. The fact is that most of them AND most of the people on Bikeforums.com use automobiles often. The times they bicycle or go to a critical mass is like going to a masquerade party - suddenly becoming a champion of the bicycling way of life, but climbing right back into their automobiles after the party is over.

    Haven’t you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere and halfway there you get stuck waiting for a parade you did not know about? There you sit frustrated and anxious while miles of clowns parade in front of you. You can’t go forwards, backwards, or sideways. That is what it must feel like for drivers suddenly stuck in a Critical Mass parade of clowns on bicycles.

    Critical Mass is like traffic vandalism. It is a bunch of hooligans causing trouble mostly for the express purpose of making trouble.

    Much divorced from the original goal of trying to get recognition for bicyclists’ rights on the road, Critical Mass does nothing to promote positive bicycling awareness today.
    Mike

  8. #8
    Grumbly Goat Bushman's Avatar
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    Critical Mass = domestic terrorism and should be responded to as such. It (CM) is not helping the cycling community one bit with their antics.
    You ride a bike, we GET IT, no need to rant about it or look down on others....its JUST A BIKE...get over yourselves.

  9. #9
    Senior Member OH306's Avatar
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    +1 to mike and bushman. Do the parents of these CMassers know where their children are and what they are doing?

  10. #10
    The quieter you become... Falkon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by filtersweep View Post
    What fine upstanding citizens these CM anarchists are.... real cycling advocates. Someone is going to be seriously injured in one of these altercations.
    And what of the people who try to drive a car through these groups? Legal or not, a big group of people doesn't deserve to be run down by a car. After 15 years, it's pretty clear that the last Friday of the month, you're not going to get anywhere downtown. Yet, knowing this, it seems drivers still go out for the wait, get impatient, then ***** when a group of cyclists doesn't appreciate aggressive actions against them and responds in kind. I'm not advocating it at all, and I'm not going to even act as if the CM group is harmless and innocent, but I don't see any difference between a car trying to push through CM and a car trying to plow through Team Discovery on a training ride.
    Quote Originally Posted by TechKnowGN
    San Jose has to be the most boring place I've ever been. And I live in Ohio.

  11. #11
    The quieter you become... Falkon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mike View Post
    I don't think it is envy that infuriates the drivers; it is just plain frustration pure and simple. The Critical Mass participants do ride with arrogance and with complete disregard for traffic laws and zero respect for others on the road.

    The Critical Mass participants and many people on this forum act as if they are some kind of environmental warrior by riding a bicycle. The fact is that most of them AND most of the people on Bikeforums.com use automobiles often. The times they bicycle or go to a critical mass is like going to a masquerade party - suddenly becoming a champion of the bicycling way of life, but climbing right back into their automobiles after the party is over.

    Haven’t you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere and halfway there you get stuck waiting for a parade you did not know about? There you sit frustrated and anxious while miles of clowns parade in front of you. You can’t go forwards, backwards, or sideways. That is what it must feel like for drivers suddenly stuck in a Critical Mass parade of clowns on bicycles.

    Critical Mass is like traffic vandalism. It is a bunch of hooligans causing trouble mostly for the express purpose of making trouble.

    Much divorced from the original goal of trying to get recognition for bicyclists’ rights on the road, Critical Mass does nothing to promote positive bicycling awareness today.
    The difference is, this parade has been going on for 15 years at the same time. Even as I tourist, I would know better. I'm not advocating the ride, though I do support the "Critical Manners" initiative, but it's 15 years strong, and it's not going away any time soon. I'm sorry, but if it were me stuck in traffic, I'd wait it out.
    Quote Originally Posted by TechKnowGN
    San Jose has to be the most boring place I've ever been. And I live in Ohio.

  12. #12
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
    Critical Mass = domestic terrorism and should be responded to as such.
    I think it's important to distinguish non-violent civil disobedience from terrorism.

    Civil disobedience warrants enforcement of the laws broken. Terrorism warrants massive response by the government and an effective strategy to neutralize those responsible.

    The government of a "free" country will do some ugly things to combat terrorism. But if they do the same things to combat civil disobedience, it's not a free country anymore.

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    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tehdely View Post
    Rob Anderson is the man responsible for the lawsuit which has forced an environmental review of San Francisco's Bicycle Master Plan, delaying it for years.
    Judging by the amount of comments on Rob's blog, not too many people are paying that much attention to him.

  14. #14
    Senior Member maddyfish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sggoodri View Post
    I think it's important to distinguish non-violent civil disobedience from terrorism.
    .
    Violence appears to be common with CM
    Not too much to say here

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    Another blow against cyclists thanks critical mass riders keep up the bad work and soon bikes will be forced off the roads by law.

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    sqqoodri


    well said.

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    The perpostrous idea that infuriating those around you in an effort to try to get handouts from them makes absolutely no logical or rational sense whatsoever. CM is made up of a bunch of anti-establishment yaks who would die of boredom if they didn't have something to rebel against.

  18. #18
    genec genec's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sggoodri View Post
    I think it's important to distinguish non-violent civil disobedience from terrorism.

    Civil disobedience warrants enforcement of the laws broken. Terrorism warrants massive response by the government and an effective strategy to neutralize those responsible.

    The government of a "free" country will do some ugly things to combat terrorism. But if they do the same things to combat civil disobedience, it's not a free country anymore.
    Does civil disobedience warrant enforcement of unfair laws? Recall the voting rights protests before women were given the vote, recall the protests of workers (and the working conditions) before unions were allowed, recall the civil rights protests of the 60's.

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    Quote Originally Posted by genec View Post
    Does civil disobedience warrant enforcement of unfair laws? Recall the voting rights protests before women were given the vote, recall the protests of workers (and the working conditions) before unions were allowed, recall the civil rights protests of the 60's.
    I believe that is the whole point isn't it? By requiring the establishment to enforce unfair laws publicly one gains both the moral and PR high ground.

  20. #20
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maddyfish View Post
    Violence appears to be common with CM
    I think it's clear that's a side effect, and not the intent, much like fighting in the stands at sporting events.

    I don't like the way Critical Mass is deliberately dis-organized by its organizers to avoid taking responsibility and its participants deliberately violate traffic laws while claiming to be traffic, but I don't think it should be mischaracterized as having violent intentions.

  21. #21
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbiehn View Post
    I believe that is the whole point isn't it? By requiring the establishment to enforce unfair laws publicly one gains both the moral and PR high ground.
    Right; this creates public pressure to change the law.

    But enforcement should be done appropriately. In the case of Critical Mass, ticket the cyclists running red lights after warning them that they will be ticketed. Anything heavier-handed for a red light violation that doesn't create a great deal of danger for others is inappropriate.

    Personally, I don't support allowing cyclists to run red lights; I think that law is fair. As for taking up the entire road, I think that using multiple lanes is appropriate if there is enough bicycle traffic, but in other cases there's no need to use more than a single lane. Most of the problem with the police regarding Critical Mass is that they don't enforce the traffic laws properly, and instead get all bent out of shape trying to control when and by what mode the public travels.

    If the Critical Mass participants want to run red lights, they should get a parade permit. If they don't want to get a parade permit, they should obey the traffic signals that multiplex roadway access with other users, or risk ticketing.

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    I think the word "terrorist" is bandied about too readily these days, by the government, and by ordinary people. The danger is if it's applied too loosely, then at some point, everybody is a "terrorist," and the word loses all meaning. I think it's important to reclaim that word from government propagandists. A terrorist isn't somebody who breaks the law because they have no regard for the law, and it certainly isn't somebody who breaks the law in civil disobedience.

    I think civil disobedience is an important response to social injustice where there is no possibility of redress through the political process. The civil rights movement is perhaps the best example we have in this country. I remember what happened when Bull Connor set the dogs loose on civil rights marchers-- white people across the country stood up and said "enough"! I saw it myself, even though I was young, because my parents took me to a march in support of the civil rights marchers.

    Now consider what the outcome would have been had civil rights protesters surrounded a car load of children returning from a party and broken the windows out of the car. Would the country still have rallied in support of civil rights, and said no to segregation? I seriously doubt it. The marchers stood up to injustice; they boycotted the buses, they marched, they were nonviolent. They did not go out of their way to alienate anybody who wasn't a civil rights marcher. And when the police over-reacted with fire hoses and attack dogs, in defense of injustice, the country was shocked into action and the Jim Crow laws were finally defeated.

    The traffic laws are in no way similar to the Jim Crow laws, and interfering with people trying to get home from work is not an act of civil disobedience. "It's a temper tantrum on wheels," to quote one Critical Mass defender. It harms cycling for the sake of gratifying the chip-on-their-shoulders temper tantrum. It's anti-cycling advocacy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sggoodri View Post
    But enforcement should be done appropriately. In the case of Critical Mass, ticket the cyclists running red lights after warning them that they will be ticketed. Anything heavier-handed for a red light violation that doesn't create a great deal of danger for others is inappropriate.

    Personally, I don't support allowing cyclists to run red lights; I think that law is fair. As for taking up the entire road, I think that using multiple lanes is appropriate if there is enough bicycle traffic, but in other cases there's no need to use more than a single lane. Most of the problem with the police regarding Critical Mass is that they don't enforce the traffic laws properly, and instead get all bent out of shape trying to control when and by what mode the public travels.

    If the Critical Mass participants want to run red lights, they should get a parade permit. If they don't want to get a parade permit, they should obey the traffic signals that multiplex roadway access with other users, or risk ticketing.
    I agree, for the most part.

    I think that Critical Mass should obey the traffic laws-- after all, Critical Mass claims to be an action to demonstrate that "bikes are a part of traffic too." If the participants break the laws, they should be ticketed, although I don't think it's any more necessary to warn them that they will be ticketed than it is to warn motorists before ticketing them. If Critical Mass wants to run red lights, they should get a parade permit. Otherwise, obey the laws, or get ticketed. Same goes for the motorists along the route.

    I also think that there should be a zero-tolerance policy for violence and inciting to violence. Critical Mass participants who attempt to disturb the peace or incite violence should be arrested and prosecuted. Motorists who react to Critical Mass by harming or attempting to harm Critical Mass participants should also be arrested and prosecuted.

  24. #24
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Order View Post
    The traffic laws are in no way similar to the Jim Crow laws, and interfering with people trying to get home from work is not an act of civil disobedience. "It's a temper tantrum on wheels," to quote one Critical Mass defender. It harms cycling for the sake of gratifying the chip-on-their-shoulders temper tantrum. It's anti-cycling advocacy.
    I think that "civil disobedience" applies to those whose motives and methods we find disagreeable just as much as for those causes we think justified (especially in 20:20 hindsight).

    From the perspective of a developer or logger, a person who chains herself to a tree on their property is blocking them from earning the money to put food on the table. But it's non-violent civil disobedience with a pretty cut-and-dry legal penalty.

    The trouble with civil disobedience is that it is often designed to create social conflicts that under certain unintended conditions can become violent (for example, when a non-participant reacts) and then things get out of hand.

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    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Order View Post
    I also think that there should be a zero-tolerance policy for violence and inciting to violence. Critical Mass participants who attempt to disturb the peace or incite violence should be arrested and prosecuted.
    I dislike the ambiguity of the "disturbing the peace" charge. Simply being in the "wrong place at the wrong time" can result in hostility from an unjustly prejudiced majority. I think we want to be careful about allowing the government to apply a "disturbing the peace" charge to the exercise of first amendment rights by a minority party. I think it's possible to use greater specificity to define unlawful public behavior while protecting these rights.

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