22 thoughts on “Screamers”

  1. Quite right on all fronts. A few unrelated thoughts:

    * I think it’s deeply wrong for that Critical Mass participant to connect CMass with women’s rights and Rosa Parks. Invoking Ms. Parks seems like some variation of Godwin’s Law, but in any case the issues simply aren’t on the same issue. The last time I checked, cycling is not a human right.

    * I disagree with Luke that “Critical Manners is not a protest”. I didn’t attend, but it strikes me as clearly a protest against Critical Mass. It’s somewhat open to interpretation, but to me the name alone implies that “Critical Mass is full of impolite bullies”. Of course, I happen to believe that that’s true, so I may be biased.

    * I’ll repeat what I’ve said elsewhere: there’s a place for an annual CMass protest. It should be more organized and respectful, but I see a role for occasional civil disobedience in cyclists’ rights. There isn’t, however, a place for systematic and anarchic acts that only serve the selfish indulgences of the participants.

    * I’m a little disappointed that this post wasn’t about something else entirely.
    .-= Darren´s last blog ..Alan, Alan, Alan =-.

  2. I don’t have much to add to this. I’m content with disagreeing on some of this.

    The part that disturbs me about this discussion between friends is how because I support Critical Mass, it’s somehow fine to call me an “asshole”, or a “bully”, or to say that I don’t have manners. Maybe I have not been hanging out in the right places, but I haven’t heard or engaged in any kind of name calling of critical manners supporters.

    Can’t I be an intelligent, respectful individual that supports critical mass? Just like you and darren are smart people that see things differently.

    What I’d like to see going forward is that the people who support critical mass keep on doing that and keep adapting and changing that event, the people who support critical manners keep doing that and evolving it. The multiplicity of approaches. But all of this should push for much better cycling infrastructure, education and laws. For a specific example, I’d love to see Stop signs become yields for cyclists, as is already de-facto practice for most cyclists (as other countries have done).

    .-= luke´s last blog ..On Critical Mass and Critical Manners =-.

  3. Luke: I don’t think anyone’s calling you an asshole or bully personally.

    But there is an important distinction here – supporters of Critical Mass in its current state are aligning themselves with a group of people that is widely perceived to be comprised mostly of assholes and bullies.

    It may not be the reality, but it is the general public perception, which is important to acknowledge.

    I would hope that Massers who value their event and would not like to be painted with that unflattering brush (or the brush of those who condone assholery and bullying) would do their utmost to work within the CMass group for change.

    And I would argue that anyone who does not think a change in perception is needed is also accepting a strong stripe from the brush with which the CMass group has been painted by the rest of the populace.

  4. @Darren

    Sweet play, extending Godwin’s Law to invalidate a line of thought, and then invoking the checking of human rights, like some sort of definitive list exist. You did it! The activist have seen the light and are getting back in line. Following the rules!

    And you only “may be biased” to believe that Critical Mass is “full of impolite bullies.”

    Those are some great unrelated thought. First you disconnect a democratic event from our history of democratic events, then you paint the now baseless event with a totalizing and negative brush, and finally you admit some occasional civil disobedience, as long as it isn’t systematic or anarchic.

    So what do we do now? Darren, you may be content with your civilization, but there is a long history of discontent, and I’d add that more are comfortable and content today because of systematic and anarchic behaviour. I’d also add that allying yourself with power against those confronting power is as fascist today, as it was before Godwin’s sarcasm and wit defused, the power of the concept. ( Skip ahead to the guide to a non-fascist life)

    There’s a difference between making your world a better place and making the world a better place. Critical Mass, and really is developing community, connecting with real human riders only a selfish indulgence? Are the car driver stuck in traffic, who get angry, and not all the drivers get angry, happy in the current transportation system? Is it possible that cyclists are scapegoats of drivers and planners trapped in an inefficient, and frustrating system? Road Rage is a cultural phenomenon that has nothing to do with cyclists. Is the desire to shift traffic patterns, and create transportation alternatives selfish?

    I read Luke’s post and think Critical Manners is more than somewhat open to interpretation. And fixed thinking, fixed meaning, the lack of open ability to interpret is, and I’m using this word with an understanding of the full possibility that you’ll recoil in smug indifference, fascist. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure freedom of movement is a human right. I’d like to decide for myself, in community (read democratically) what that means, not have it decided for me by a self-legitimating power, or sycophants who ally themselves with that power.
    .-= Rodger Levesque´s last blog ..Mid-Summer… =-.

  5. “Can’t I be an intelligent, respectful individual that supports critical mass?”

    You can. I certainly didn’t intend my comment as a personal attack. I do think that, when people participate in Critical Mass, they behave in a disrespectful and bullying fashion. You disagree, which is fair enough.

    My opinion will change when the event moves from systematic anarchy where the only effect is inconveniencing others to responsible civil disobedience with an effective strategy for positive change. I’ve seen no evidence of this shift, but I’d be keen to see some.
    .-= Darren´s last blog ..Urban Gardening in Detroit =-.

  6. First, let’s start with the basics:

    Critical Mass:

    “is a bicycling event typically held on the last Friday of every month in over 300 cities around the world. While the ride was originally founded in 1992 in San Francisco with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to cyclists, the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city or town streets on bikes.” (

    Think road rage, lack of cycling infrastructure, driver ignorance. Then think self-determination, democratic action, community.

    Direct action:

    “is politically motivated activity undertaken by individuals, groups, or governments to achieve political goals outside of normal social/political channels.” (

    Think Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

    Critical Mass is a *political* statement. It democratic direct action. It is civil disobedience.

    All these things make Critical Mass incompatible with calls for it to behave within the sanctioned limits of the society it is trying to change. It would not be Critical Mass on these terms. It would be something else, like Critical Manners.

    Now to address my critics:

    WWWC: I’ll state simply that you misread my post. I didn’t say progressive social change *should* be uncomfortable. I said that it *is*. Those in positions of (dominitive) power and the beneficiaries of the status quo *never* willingly submit or acquiesce. Historical examples of this are too numerous to list here. Let me just say that the convenience of driving is something that will never be surrendered, not in any meaningful way, until it is forced or until we all wear air filtration masks to breathe outside.

    You also misunderstood my Rosa Parks reference. Critical Mass represents a direct challenge to the status quo – it contests (and presents an alternative) to the destructive car culture that dominates western society. This is evocative of Rosa Parks’ confrontation with Jim Crow and a deeply inegalitarian and unjust world very content with itself. It was also meant to address the main argument (as far as I can tell) against Critical Mass: that it inconveniences drivers. In the face of the very real dangers of car culture, this argument does not stand up very well.

    Darren: We know each other! Anyhow, I find it ironic that you invoke the invocation of Rosa Parks (and her civil rights fight) as an instance of Godwin’s law (which references invocations of fascism!). The point, since you missed it, is the same as above: that progressive social change hurts when one is accustomed to and deeply invested in the status quo.

    Incidentally, the cornerstone of Jim Crow was “separate but equal” status for blacks, which caused vastly inferior treatment, services, education etc. A similar approach prevails with the treatment of urban cycling (infrastructure, education, etc. vastly inferior to that of cars). This is regardless of very real economic and environmental realities that would, in a more humane and sensible world, lead to the consideration of cycling as a desirable solution, rather than merely an unconvincing “option.”

    Now here let’s understand that I’m using the Rosa Parks incident as an *analogy*, thus I am not directly equating systemic racism and the cascading social ills that flow from it, to poor cycling conditions in urban centres. The analogy serves to highlight, simply, that significant social change (like the elimination of racism, still not achieved, or the displacement of car culture) does not come easily and often not without a fight from those who like things the way they are.

    It is also to emphasize that democratic action – that is, deciding what kind of community or society you want live in and then actively participating in its construction – is not something we have much experience with. Our ideas of democracy barely extend to the voting both; actually living out how we want our communities to be – deciding outside the formal structures provided for us by a self-sustaining system is something we have little practice in. It’s the stuff of revolution. It’s how the United States, among other nations, was born.

    Finally, to the name callers: You can’t call Critical Massers “in general” assholes, rude bullies and the like, and not refer to me and Rodger and Luke and all the other Massers you know and don’t know. Have you been on Critical Mass? It’s amazing. And the majority of folks I’ve seen and met and interacted with on rides are pretty cool. I’m a mama of three, an environmentalist, a student… I’m not a rude bully and asshole because I participate in a movement for progressive social change. You disagree on tactics. That’s fine. I’m all for a diversity of tactics, working in loose association and relative harmony.

    I’m not a bully because once a month I along with thousands of others, maybe tens of thousands the world over, want to get people thinking outside their cars, and imagining what things could be like if they weren’t stuck in gridlock. And hey, don’t kid yourselves: drivers are regularly inconvenienced by *car* traffic, inefficient urban design etc. Regularly. They habitually wait in ferry and border line ups. *For hours.* And they don’t hop up and down. And the cops don’t ask motorists to submit their driving routes ahead of time. And the mayor doesn’t go on a PR offensive against cars. That’s because it’s accepted. Car culture is the baseline from which our thinking proceeds. Basically Critical Mass seeks to shift that baseline.
    .-= KateM´s last blog ..Critical Mass: Occupying the Lion’s Gate Bridge =-.

  7. Now that’s a personal attack. All of the ad hominem stuff aside, a few points:

    * There are, in fact, any number of mutually-agreed upon sets of human rights. The most of famous of these is, to my mind, the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights. We might also consider the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for something closer to home.

    * Just to be clear, you’re saying that if I choose to “ally myself with” a democratically-elected power, I’m a fascist? Does that make every citizen who voted for a government in power a fascist? That’s a peculiar point of view, particularly given the definitions of ‘democracy’ and ‘facism’.

    * I should also add that being critical (heh) of Critical Mass doesn’t automatically make me an ‘ally’ of, for example, the current provincial government. It’s possible for one to criticize an idea without instantly allying oneself with an opposing idea. And, by the way, I’d argue that local government isn’t actually opposed, in any practical sense, to Critical Mass. After all, haven’t the Vancouver authorities permitted the anarchic protests to proceed over the years?

    * It’s noteworthy that, in your closely paragraph, you invoke ‘freedom of movement’ and democratic decision making. ‘Freedom of movement’ isn’t, to my mind, a human right, because we’ve evolved concepts of national borders and private property. More ironically, though, Critical Mass riders restrict the freedom of movement of everyone else–pedestrians, bus-riders and drivers alike–around themselves. It’s also rather undemocratic, because it esteems the few (the riders) over the many (everybody else). Of course, responsible civil disobedience requires a delicate balance between the few and the many, and I’ve already laid out the ways in which I think Critical Mass could become a more respectful and effective protest.

    Fundamentally I (and others) are asking this question: is Critical Mass an effective advocacy strategy for cyclists’ rights? I think the answer is no, that it does more harm than good. But I’d love to see evidence to the contrary. If you really esteem community and the democratic process, then leave your name-calling aside and prove that Critical Mass is an effective organization.
    .-= Darren´s last blog ..Urban Gardening in Detroit =-.

  8. Kate – I’ll go back to the point I posed to Luke: there is what CMassers purport happens at the ride, and then there is the public perception of the ride.

    I will still state that as long as there is still a perception, held by a majority of people, that CMass is populated by jerks, anyone who aligns themselves with CMass and is not actively working to change that perception (jumping up and down and saying it’s not so is not “working” – less talk, more action is needed on that front) is condoning the continuance of that perception.

    Whether individuals are bullies is not the point – the fact that there is a public perception that CMassers are at least supporting bullish action and at most actively engaging in it, is.

  9. And one additional thought on that – there is certainly a place for being bullish. And if CMass’s bullying of other road users was furthering positive relations regarding cycling in the city, I’d say give’er. But these arguments always seem long on philosophy and short on actual results. Like Darren, I’d love to see some evidence.

  10. Thanks for the comments, everybody (and Hi, Kate!). To rephrase what Jen said, there seems to be an extraordinary gap between the perception of Critical Mass riders and those who aren’t Critical Mass riders.

    Kate may very well “want to get people thinking outside their cars, and imagining what things could be like if they weren’t stuck in gridlock”, but I don’t perceive that:

    a) That’s the intent of all, or even most, Critical Mass participants. Shared intention, I think, is an important facet of social action.

    b) Critical Mass is an effective strategy for “progressive social change”.

    I’m a left-of-centre, non-car-owning, Green Party voting occasional cyclist, and the vast majority of my peers think Critical Mass is a bad, disruptive idea. That’s strictly anecdotal evidence, obviously.

    Of course social change is often unpopular. But we shouldn’t assume just because something is disruptive and unpopular that it’s effective or justified. Sometimes, a mob is just a mob.

    And I’m afraid I can’t back down from describing Critical Mass participants as “impolite bullies”. Participating in CM means systematically disregarding laws and other citizens’ rights with no demonstrable societal benefits.

    If CM supporters can disprove the previous sentence, I (yet again) welcome your evidence. The burden lies with you, particularly for an organization that’s nearly 20 years old, to justify your ongoing behaviour.
    .-= Darren´s last blog ..Urban Gardening in Detroit =-.

  11. Maybe we’re getting somewhere.

    So we have this question, “Is critical mass effective advocacy?” Some think it isn’t, some think it is. I think it’s not an answerable question, and I’m not much of a philosopher, so I’m happy to leave it unanswered.

    I agree with part of Darren’s closing point, “Participating in CM means systematically disregarding laws and other citizen’s rights”. It sure does. Participation in Critical Mass requires the collected thousands of participants to work together, put the group before themselves to keep a single mass for the safety of the riders. This means disregarding red lights, just as parades, protests and other extremely large gatherings of people do. It means inconveniencing some number of drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists.

    That’s part of the “deal”. In exchange for this inconvenience, Massers get to ride in the most amazing beautiful city in the world, on the biggest, nicest tour of it, with really friendly and fun people, having a 2-3 hour celebration of the amazing collective action of hundreds or thousands of people, high fiving motorists and pedestrians, explaining to people along the way what this is all about, getting friendly honks from supporters, and getting angry honks and looks from upset people.

    The rides I’ve done this year have (by far) had substantially more positive interactions with drivers and pedestrians who support our actions than negative interactions. That’s just me and my perception though. I certainly heard different emotions from the woman frothing at the mouth on the radio interviewing Jen.

    So i put forth that at the very least, even if we ignore any possible positive societal benefit from the activism (which is subject to each of our perceptions), there is a large benefit to the thousands upon thousands of riders who participate in Vancouver. As Kate mentioned earlier, there is an immense sense of empowerment to be riding without worry of autos on the roads that we help pay for. This was one of the unanticipated benefits of the ride for me.

    Now having said that, I doubt that Darren and Jen think this benefit is worse the inconvenience.

    So where does that leave us? Probably back where we were a few months ago before the “CRITICAL MESS” headline. Some people think it is worth participating in for their perception of the societal value, some people think you should never break laws period, and some people think it is a no-brainer net negative.

    On a different note, this discussion keeps reminding me of the direct action that Sea Sheppard takes to save whales. I wonder if we all fall on similar sides of their actions, too.

    But I’ll close on Jen’s advice to not just make words, but to actively work to change the perception of Critical Mass by continuing to bring good, positive, safe, respectful energy to the Critical Mass rides. I was really impressed with the pre-ride announcement delivered by (I believe) Red Sara, who asked riders to not rise to match the level of anger in others, to be kind and polite to the drivers we are inconveniencing. I felt the energy and message she passed on was really positive and help set the tone for a safe and fun ride.
    .-= Luke´s last blog ..On Critical Mass and Critical Manners =-.

  12. Whoa, arguments! This is exciting. I’m going to avoid getting involved in those but just mention that by God Kelowna has the worst cyclists I have ever seen. I mean, every time I’m on my bike I see stupidity from most of the other cyclists I see, and it pisses me off since they’re the ones who make the rest of us look bad. Vancouver has its share of bad cyclists but Kelowna makes Vancouver look like one big Critical Manners.
    .-= gillian´s last blog .. =-.

  13. Kate: I’ve also not ridden in a Critical Mass ride. I don’t feel the need.

    As Luke said: “I agree with part of Darren’s closing point, “Participating in CM means systematically disregarding laws and other citizen’s rights”. It sure does.”

    So Luke at least (though I suspect others feel the same) believes its okay to systematically disregard the rights of everyone else trying to use the streets, once a month, so he can have a nice bike ride with thousands of his closest friends.

    If that’s the case, I argue that everyone else’s perception of CMassers as a bunch of selfish, narcissistic, entitled bullies (or at least people who choose to act like that once a month) is entirely correct, and it will be a cold day in hell before I align myself with them by participating in a ride.

  14. I think many of the folks who “disagree” with Critical Mass do not understand it. The fact that no one engages with the broader, more philosophical social change aspects of the discussion is one indication. The negative responses are reductive, narrowly focused and leave little room for discussion or exploration of ideas.

    My feeling, though, is that that the profound experience of community, self-determination, and citizen empowerment that the ride generates would change those negative perceptions. There is an understanding that often comes from experience, that simply cannot be conveyed in words or fully apprehended intellectually. For example, you can read all about sex but never truly “know” it until you’ve experienced it. Same with childbirth. You cannot know the power and the beauty and the deeply humbling humanity of bringing a child into this world until you have done so. No matter how much you “know” about the subject.

    I urge you to attend a ride, maybe with one of your neighbours, co-workers or friends, and then see what you think. And it’s not like whaling. From the various commentary you’ve heard and read, surely you must appreciate that there are other interpretations of Critical Mass – aside from the illegality and inconvenience that opponents get stuck on. The thing about human social life is that it’s highly complex, never black and white, and thus difficult to navigate. There can be more than one right answer. There can be a number of “good” directions to take, though they be contradictory.

    One commenter on Luke’s blog described how his heart explodes during the mass! When was the last time your heart exploded with joy and beauty and a sense of the possible? I don’t need to go whaling to know I’m against it, either. But I do want to support progressive, positive expressions of community. I’m not going to try to change your very settled minds: I would bet the experience would change it for you. I’d love to hear an honest, open minded report from any of Critical Mass’s opponents after they’ve actually been on one!
    .-= KateM´s last blog ..Critical Mass: Occupying the Lion’s Gate Bridge =-.

  15. One concern seems to be that this democratic expression (Critical Mass Ride) violates the rights of others. Are “freedom from delay” or “freedom from inconvenience” rights? I think it’s a stretch to call Critical Mass a violation of others’ rights.

    Another concern is the flouting of law. Law is an institution of power, which in this case is confronted by a democratic multitude. But even this concern is weak. Critical Mass is a procession, like a parade or a funeral, a celebration of cycling in the city and as such it stays together. I don’t think the maintenance of a procession is too far outside accepted social behaviour.

    I want to clear up something Darren wrote earlier about definitions, because I think we’re working with different definitions and not really understand each other.

    Darren wrote:
    “Just to be clear, you’re saying that if I choose to “ally myself with” a democratically-elected power, I’m a fascist? Does that make every citizen who voted for a government in power a fascist? That’s a peculiar point of view, particularly given the definitions of ‘democracy’ and ‘facism’.”

    The definition of democracy on wikipedia includes this: “Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’, there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes, equality and freedom. These principles are reflected by all citizens being equal before the law, and have equal access to power.”

    By the standards in this definition we do not live in a democracy, and I’ve noticed over the past month that most of the people opposing Critical Mass are arguing under the assumption that we do live in a democracy or under a democratic government, when it would be more referent to our reality to speak of living in an oligarchy or under a pastoral government. I think it’s this confusion of definitions that places Critical Mass outside the notion of democracy in public perception (a confused public that also erroneously perceives itself as democratic.)

    I wrote “allying yourself with power against those confronting power is” fascist. I said nothing of a democratically-elected power, because the terms cancel each other out. The creation of a hierarchy is the end result of elections, and hierarchic power structures are not democratic (by definition which requires equality) I’ll try to be more clear this time around because I think these definitions are very important for bridging the gap in perception that has been expressed in this thread.

    Because of the difference in power between those who rule and those who are ruled, this can be seen when thousands of people are systematically excluded from the decision making process, (don’t confuse an exclusive decision making process with democracy, it’s an oligarchy, let’s call things by their name) the excluded are confronted with a decision making power, a power that must be contested.

    The contestability of freedoms written or desired is the basis of confrontational politics. So you can check any list you want but when a multitude appears on bicycles exercising that freedom you’ve got your reality.

    This debate was started by a police warning and monopoly capitalist media sensationalism. How are these institutions of power democratically elected? How then is public perception important to consider if it has been manipulated by these powers? We often see what we know, and we know how power informs us. Why do the people who ride in critical mass have such a different perception of the meaning of the event than those who read the Province or the Sun? (or who side with the police force?) Critical Mass is definitely confronting institutional and capitalist power. Things are not the way they are for no reason. To try to change things is to confront those reasons.

    Those reasons concern the systems of money and power; systems which in no way can be referred to as democratic. These systems have criminalized dissent/protest. So yes, Critical Mass operates outside the system, democratically mobilizing in public.

    My point of view may be peculiar to liberal capitalists who’ve accepted the misnomer of democracy, but there is a huge body of work called Critical Theory written by Jews who fled from Nazi Germany, this stuff is definitely the point of view of outsiders. And the link I put to the guide to a non-fascist life is definitely worth reading. And then there’s Noam Chomsky, he’s also written extensively on the illusion of democracy. Point is, if we called things what they are and restarted this conversation, which I’ll say it again, was started by the institutional powers of the police and capitalist media, Critical Mass would be the democratic expression, opposed by non-democratic, oligarchical, capitalist, armed power.
    Which side are you on?
    .-= Rodger Levesque´s last blog ..Mid-Summer… =-.

  16. Again to Kate, Roger, Luke and anyone else who wants to chime in: do you feel you are entitled to disrupt others’ lives on a monthly basis for your own personal enjoyment? Unless I am having sex in the middle of the street, it can be beautiful and life-affirming without negatively affecting the lives of anyone who would rather not be involved.

    I do not happen to think anyone is entitled to actively disrupt anyone else’s life in such a significant way when there are nearly infinite other ways to find personal fulfillment and enjoyment, and inact social change, if that’s your schtick.

    My “heart explodes” all the time and my life is indeed full of joy. And I do not have to impinge on anyone else’s enjoyment of life to find fulfillment.

  17. Do you see that we are at odds in our terms?

    There are two clear, reasonably well written posts preceding, but are in no way addressed by your question. I tried to express earlier the communal and democratic appeal of Critical Mass, which you constantly reduce to “personal enjoyment” and then even the term “entitled” is anti-democratic.

    You say there are “infinite ways to find personal fulfillment” and you’re totally right on the mark with that. What’s missing are ways to find free communal fulfillment. Critical Mass is a rare free communal event. In a democracy access to power is equal, there is no need to produce a title. Critical Mass is an expression of this social alternative, and in our current totalizing system, an alternative can only be confrontational. I think it’s necessary for democracy to create the ability to say, “We are here.” Critical Mass presents an alternative. And I think the issue you have is with the alternative. There are people in our social body who think differently, and in our representational system, they don’t really exist, but for a few hours once a month, the last Friday of every month to be specific, Downtown, between the hours of 5:30 and 8 or so. Would you like to pretend that difference doesn’t exist? And that the difference will not sometimes express itself in blocked flows?

    Critical Mass is about more than traffic, it’s an alternative form of social organizing, free and democratic, which just happens to get in the way of law and order.

    I think liberal capitalists need to understand that their order impinges on the enjoyment, more the full development of life of a multitude that desires that full development. This desirous multitude is without access to media of power and money(capital/resources) towards the process of communal and human development, and every once in a while, through different channels, this multitude will make itself known. This is the world we live in for now.
    .-= Rodger Levesque´s last blog ..Mid-Summer… =-.

  18. Clearly I do not subscribe to your manifestation of the concept of democracy.

    Critical Mass does not “just happen” to get in the way of law and order – it was designed to disrupt it.

    I value “community” over “democracy” and do not believe that the enjoyment of a few should be able to infringe regularly, and with no purpose but “communal fulfillment” – which can be found, again, in countless other ways, on the many.

    Again – it’s apparent that CMass is purely a selfish act by the participants, and hiding behind “democracy” or “social progress” does not change that.

    And with that, I am closing comments on this entry.

Comments are closed.