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Does Civil Disobedience Like "Critical Mass" Inspire Change?

Does Civil Disobedience Like "Critical Mass" Inspire Change?

If you live in a city, chances are you know to avoid the streets during the last Friday of every month. That's when the event, Critical Mass, takes over with hoards of bicyclers all gathered together to ride the streets, snarling traffic, and calling attention to the plight of the two-wheeled rider. Some call it a social movement, a celebration, some a protest ride, and others, the mildly creative, "Critical Mess." Whatever the nomenclature, it's a happening that inspires passion — like this video taken at last Friday's Critical Mass ride in New York City.

In the video — especially in the slow-motion replay — it appears as though the police officer approaches the bicyclist and shoves him over. The officer has since been placed on desk duty pending investigation of the incident, but the video fully encompasses the conflicting viewpoints of mass disobedience as a means to enact change. The riders intend to disrupt order. That's the means by which they make their message heard — the thought is if enough people, a critical mass of people, follow suit and subjugate the norm, the norm will be questioned. However, from those on the other end of the "conversation," the disruption caused by these methods does more to denigrate the cause than to gain followers.

To those questioning why the police don't do more to control the event, and perhaps stop events like the one captured in the video, the Seattle Post Intelligencer had this to say yesterday: "police don't exactly have a hands-off policy, but they're not going to devote significant resources to the regular act of civil disobedience."

Is Critical Mass the perfect example of change-inspiring civil demonstration, or is the emphasis really on "disobedience?"

Join The Conversation
True-Song True-Song 8 years
I have no idea how I missed this post back in July, but WOW. I don't even know where to start. FIrst off, Critical Mass was founded as a way to raise awareness of how unfriendly city streets are to cyclists. >I wish i could shove them over, whatever their "cause" is , no one cares but them, and they don't care about anything else but their "cause" Huh? Yeah, bicyclists on the road. Fuck 'em! Shove 'em over! Oh, wait. No. What an awful thing to say. >Aren't they blocking emergency vehicles too? Honestly, aren't there millions of cars on the road every day? The cars cause traffic and could potentially block emergency vehicles, too. Should we shove them over because they only care about themselves? >Oh, and did anyone hear about that mob of bicyclists who surrounded some guy in his car earlier this week, smashed up his car, and (I think) beat the driver up as well? >Everytime I take my dog for a walk I have to watch for cyclists. They do not obey the rules of the road at all! >(And regarding all the other comments about this cyclist ran a light or this one was doing something dangerous.) I commute to work in my car, Manfriend rides his bike. I'd say we both see about the same number of idiots on four and two wheels. Why did this turn into cyclist bashing? Pretty much every comment about cyclists could just as easily apply to drivers. >I don't believe cyclists DO have equal rights to the road. They do. Regardless of your opinion about whether that's a good idea, it's the law. They are legally required to be on the road (and not on the sidewalk) and they have all of the same rights and responsibilities as an automobile driver. >I'd like to see police officers start pulling over people on bikes who ride on the sidewalk. They are supposed to be following the driving rules, and the last time I looked, I wasn't allowed to drive on the sidewalk yet. That does happen. Saw it on my street a few weeks ago.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
"People who believe that they are "doing something" or that they can somehow be equated to the civil disobedience of the suffragettes or Rosa Parks by participating in Critical Mass are grossly inflating the significance of their action and are trivializing the courageous actions of those people who have truly effected meaningful change." :notworthy: Arthur Of course, as a pedestrian, I have walked through a crosswalk (or the middle of the street) many a time when I wasn't supposed to. And of course every group of people has its irresponsible members. I just don't like the idea that there are big, bad, evil cars and innocent cyclists and that's it.
Arthur Arthur 8 years
I have to admit that I run stop lights and red lights on my bike regularly. Frequently in plain view of the police. I do the same thing as a pedestrian. And I walk around the city a lot (I am always sorta struck by the folks that sit there at a deserted intersection waiting for the walk light to switch on before venturing across the street -- a sure sign of a tourist). I do however think that I am a considerate cyclist and I try to be safe as I recognize that biking in urban traffic is inherently dangerous. I've been doing it intensively in two major cities (NYC and SF) for well over a decade. People who believe that they are "doing something" or that they can somehow be equated to the civil disobedience of the suffragettes or Rosa Parks by participating in Critical Mass are grossly inflating the significance of their action and are trivializing the courageous actions of those people who have truly effected meaningful change.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
I see cars and cyclists routinely kind of sneak through at the end of the light, but if cars were running red lights at that rate in DC, there would be a lot more accidents.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Wow! I never see cars run red lights. With the cyclists, I'm talking the light has been red for a while and there are pedestrians in the crosswalk. I also only see probably like a total of maybe 10 cyclists a day, so I would say about 25% of the cyclists I see blatantly run red lights and almost hit people. (I see at least one a day, but it's usually more like two and sometimes as many as five.)
amybdk amybdk 8 years
. . . I see at least 20 cars a day run a red light.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
:rotfl: UnDave. There was a blurb in the paper here in DC just a few days ago about the rules of where people are or aren't allowed to ride bikes on the sidewalks (there are some areas here where they're allowed) and after reading it I realized that I see people riding on sidewalks in those areas all of the time. I also see at least one cyclist a day run a red light.
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
I'd like to see police officers start pulling over people on bikes who ride on the sidewalk. They are supposed to be following the driving rules, and the last time I looked, I wasn't allowed to drive on the sidewalk yet.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
There's no truth to the statement that "nothing gets changed" without civil disobedience. There is truth to the statement that civil disobedience can inspire change, but, like you said, saying that nothing gets changed is too broad.
stephley stephley 8 years
"Nothing gets changed" is a little broad, but there is a great deal of truth to it. It's definitely a time-honored tradition in the U.S., starting with the Boston Tea Party, and actions against the fugitive slave acts. Also, historically most of the violence inspired by it comes from the side of authorities moving against the protestors.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
I agree, GS. And if cyclists as a whole are so concerned about "having the road for once," maybe they should tell their worst members to stop practically mowing down pedestrians and to follow all of the rules of the road. To me, critical mass punishes everyone, including the majority of drivers who respect cyclists.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 8 years
"plus without civil disobedience, nothing gets changed." That is a pretty broad and untrue statement.
lexgal916 lexgal916 8 years
it's just about bikers having the raod for once. plus without civil disobedience, nothing gets changed. while im not putting this on the level of the civil rights movement, civil disobedience took place and that was obviously for a good reason, even though people at the time didn't agree.
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
Civil disobedience inspires violence.
lexgal916 lexgal916 8 years
I just participated in my frist critical mass this past friday and it was the greatest thing i've ever done. too many times in my city (philadelphia) have cars not given 2 thoughts about me and have almost hit me. for one day, for a couple of hours, bikers have the road. cars can wait for a light or two while we have the road for once.
hayworthgilda hayworthgilda 8 years
But a bike also causes much less wear and tear on the road, and I would bet that everyone is paying some amount toward road maintainance in other taxes -- it's unlikely that road maintainance could be completely funded through a gas tax alone.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
I live in a college town (Just voted #1 college party town! Go Gators!...sigh) and we have lots of bicycles to deal with, mostly down by campus though which is why I avoid that area.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 8 years
Mich, interesting! I hadn't thought about that aspect.
MartiniLush MartiniLush 8 years
ugh! yeild should be yield above - sorry....I should spellcheck before posting!! :oops:
MartiniLush MartiniLush 8 years
Seattle is a pretty good place for bicyclists, from what I hear from my friends who commute via bike....most roads here have dedicated bicycle lanes and, for the most part, drivers are more than willing to yeild to bikes when there isn't a dedicated lane for them (at least I know I am).
Michelann Michelann 8 years
I don't know about other states, but in Texas cyclists don't pay taxes to help build and maintain the roads they claim equal rights to ride on. Gas taxes are supposed to go toward road maintenance, cyclists don't pay that. They also don't have to get vehicle inspections or have to get license plates. If you don't have an automobile you can get an exemption from the road maintenance portion of your property taxes. Finally, they aren't required to get a license that proves they have minimum driving skills and knowledge of traffic rules. So, at least where I'm from, cyclists are not entitled to equal use of the roads.
Jude-C Jude-C 8 years
Oh jeez, hypno. :ROTFL:
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
One on four wheels Rac?
raciccarone raciccarone 8 years
Critical Mass only inspires me to get a Hummer.
Arthur Arthur 8 years
I bike commute. When the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition did not condemn critical mass after they broke private property and intimidated a family of tourists, I cancelled my membership and stopped giving them money every year. Here in SF, we cyclists have it very good. While it could be better, I am sure that the way to make it better is not to act like jerks. Who knows what happened in that video, but I'd sure be inclined to give the officer the benefit of the doubt as I tried to figure it out if I were investigating it. And if anyone thinks they are sticking up for my rights as a cyclists, do me a favor and just be polite instead.
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