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Phrost
3/21/2011 7:22pm,
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Let's do a bit of role playing for a minute. Take a second and make a genuine effort to strap yourself into the shoes of Joe Stemeyer. No, he's not a real person, but for this exercise you'll not only make him real, but you'll see the world through his eyes and feel what he feels.

Up until a few years ago you had a pretty solid job maybe working in IT, or as a construction foreman, or as an account manager for a solid local business; the particular job doesn't really matter, because you no longer have it.

In fact, you've been struggling since about 2008 to keep bills paid. Your wife is barely speaking to you because of the financial stress, but so far you've managed to keep your two daughters (3, and 8) from knowing that anything's wrong.

You've managed to do this by working two, sometimes three jobs to replace the income you lost when your "good job" went away. Sometimes you get about 6 hours of sleep a night, and you consider yourself lucky when you do. The little bit of free time you do have, you spend with your family, desperately trying to not let the frustrations associated with working well below your skills and education, out on the people for which you're doing all this.

Heck, you know people who have it worse, at least you can hold down those jobs, even if the boss at your afternoon shift has been making comments recently about finding an excuse to fire you so he can bring one of his buddies in as a replacement. But since you're attentive, polite, and professional, doing everything asked of you, he can't justify doing it. So you're safe, as safe as one can be with a crappy job. And aside from those times when the various schedules of your jobs have overlapped, you've always been on time.

All of these thoughts run through your head as you pull that head out from under an orange, hardware store apron and hop in to your car to do a shift at the shipping company. You've got this quick-change thing down to a science, even your oldest daughter would be proud of how fast you can swap outfits. The shipping job's at a warehouse across town, and you've got thirty minutes to be there for the afternoon shift; it only takes fifteen if you go through downtown, even with the stop lights.

But about twenty minutes into your second commute of the day, traffic isn't moving. In fact, you can hear angry horns ahead in the distance. All you can make out from where you are, is the occasional car ahead of you hopping a curb to take a side street.

After enough people manage to squirm their vehicles off the main road, you get close enough to see what's going on. And you're greeted with the naked ass of a man with unwashed-looking hair and a ratty beard, sitting astride the seat of an old bicycle. He's not alone either; he smiles as he passes and a gang of similar looking, though mostly clothed people pedal by on their bikes along with him.

There must be hundreds of them. Mostly 20-40 years old and Caucasian, although the occasional minority is represented as well. Along with the occasional bare ass, you start noticing a feeling in your stomach that reminds you of being punched. The people on the bikes seem to be having a great time, but all you can think about is how you're going to be able to buy your daughter something, anything, for her birthday next week when you lose this job for which you're about to be late.

Critical Mass


12457

If you've been fortunate enough to have avoided one of these nightmares, you either don't live in a big city, or you're just a lucky person in general. The events are held the last Friday of each month, by various individuals, for the express purpose of shutting down all traffic within a portion of the city.

Why?

Because cars are bad. Because the roads are crowded. But mainly because some spoiled urbanites have no perspective on or consideration for the lives of other people who just need to get somewhere, possibly important.

Recently in Brazil, another person had a similar experience to "Joe"at one of these events. Here's how it went:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DT2L3eE1kI0

Seems to have gone fine for him; for the protesters -- not so much.

The problem with Critical Mass is that their "protests" are, for a genuine lack of a better way to put it, fucking stupid. You can't effect positive, meaningful social change by enraging the people you're hoping to reach against you. You'd think that was simple, common sense, and it is, but here's where common sense fails: these events aren't truly about accomplishing anything other than stroking the egos of the dipshits who participate in them.

There's not a single valid argument to be had in favor of these demonstrations. You don't protest global warming by burning down a forest. You don't hold a meeting to discuss starving kids in Somalia at Golden Corral. You shouldn't beat the crap out of counter-protesters if you're running a peace rally. And, for Schwinn's sake, you don't protest the problem of our roads being congested like stage three pneumonia by turning yourself into human phlegm.

But that's what Critical Mass is doing, and that's precisely why these events aren't about anything other than the participants deriving the rare sense of satisfaction that comes from feeling smugly righteous and operating with (at least the illusion of) impunity-by-numbers.

Anyone who has read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People can immediately see the flaws in this protest scheme, and that the participants have never learned to "begin with the end in mind". Then again, I strongly suspect none of them were ever required to read the book, given that any higher education they've had was most likely in a liberal arts major (on their parents' dime, no less). So let's reference a book many of them may have read, and one highly recommended by Glenn Beck: Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals".

"To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system"

Huh... who'd have fuckin' thought it? The best way to fix the problem with traffic would be to trade your spandex hotpants for slacks, and your slacktivism for a position at the City Manager's office. Now, these things require more effort than pedaling down Main during lunch hour, but people who actually do care about any issue (even one as completely trivial in the grand scheme of things as this), should be willing to make sacrifices to their busy schedules of sipping sangria and shopping at Ikea.

The point is, if you genuinely care about an issue, take a hint from Ghandi when he said "Be the change you want to see in this world, and not the change someone else will want to see hit by a car". (Close enough.) Instead of following this advice, Critical Mass events are devoted to being the problem they see in the world.


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Do not do this.

I have to state, for posterity, that I do not condone plowing your VW Jetta through a crowd of smug slacktivist assholes blocking traffic. And not just for posterity, but also because this article is being posted on a website filled with members who have hopped into vehicles and made 800 mile road trips just to punch other people in the mouth for something they've said.

Also, I'm sure there's a law on the books by now about enticing vehicular manslaughter over the Internet. And considering how much I strongly prefer the unidirectional use of a certain orifice, I think two paragraphs worth of text telling you bastards not to go out looking for spandex-wearing weenies to turn into brightly colored road goo are fairly important to include in this piece.

People-who-participate-in-Critical Mass-events: You are our Douchebag(s) of the Month.

Hiro Protagonist
3/21/2011 8:47pm,
Uh, I see the flames begin to rise, fearless leader.

That said, two addenda:

1. I didn't know there were so many white people in Brazil. Like, in total.

2. I once lost 1200 $ due to a similar protest in Germany. That was two months and a half of me doing night shifts at a student job to finance my traveling. I was not amused.

Movements like that are really just woefully telling how much people have come to see politics as a free time activity, designed for their personal entertainment. It would seem to me that if they wanted to earnestly change something, that, they, well, would change something. But, hey, why go to a townhall meeting, or why even go to vote if you can have a wonderful shared experience pissing off other people?!

henney
3/21/2011 9:24pm,
Does "Douchebag of the month" go up on the Bullshido Facebook page? I'd really like to "like" this so I can piss off all the self-righteous jackasses I know.

RurikGreenwulf
3/21/2011 9:54pm,
Totally agree I didnt know about this so called protesters and i truly cant believe how stupid they are they think global warming is cuased by non-anoyed people?

Rivington
3/21/2011 11:21pm,
My fave critical mass moment was when I was in a car being driven by my friend with cerebral palsy and we ended up stuck in the middle of the bikes. She rolled down the window and started shouting, "I see what you're saying! It's DIE CRIPPLES, DIE! If you can't RIDE a BIKE, you should SIT HOME and STARVE instead of going to the SUPERMARKET!"

Snake Plissken
3/21/2011 11:25pm,
I used to see this **** in San Francisco when I lived there in '95. Not only did they have police escorts, they had SFPD blocking intersections along their route. I won't say that I ever shot ball bearing at them with a wrist rocket from a fourth floor window, either.

donoraen
3/22/2011 1:23am,
^ Well then I won't say that sounds like great fun either.

Also although that car hitting those people was about as pleasing to watch as....well something not very pleasing to watch, I do hope it serves to discourage these protests in the future. And also if the people hit were crippled to the point where they had to ride in cars to get where they wanted to go there would be some kind of lesson in all this but damned if I can figure out what it is.

neoex
3/22/2011 1:26am,
Here Critical Masses are relaxed group rides of 10 - 20 people, that go by traffic laws. The point is to choose a route that has tricky places: places that cyclists must use, but are scary to ride alone. By having a larger group of cyclists there at the same time reminds drivers that cyclists use that route. They make a point of riding exactly by the book.

And still there are problems with angry drivers, but then again all cyclists have, even when riding strictly by the book.

Screw the "drive everywhere" culture. When I had a low paying job, I couldn't afford a car let alone gas. I rode my bike to work, 50 km a day, rain or shine.

edit: and there are hand pedaled bikes for "cripples".

Rivington
3/22/2011 2:15am,
edit: and there are hand pedaled bikes for "cripples".

Hey, that's pretty awesome, how you're able to diagnose the type and extent of someone's disability via the Internet in order to decide that one kind or another of handbike must work fine for them—especially when bringing home groceries during a Boston winter! But you know, if you did want to Paypal me the $2700 my friend would need to buy the sort of handbike she could even potentially ride, I'll be sure to pass that money on to her, minus administrative and snarking fees.

PS: I've never owned a car and either walk or take public transit everywhere. The bane of my existence are assholes on the BART who think their bicycle is so awesome that they deserve the floor space of five people.

Aikironin21
3/22/2011 2:30am,
I thought Critical Mass started in San Fransisco, as a demonstration of bike messengers protesting or trying to bring awareness to the amount of injuries and deaths suffered by bike messengers in San Fransisco. If anyone has seen some of those messengers, they really do ride by the seat of their pants, in a n attempt to get from point A to point B as quick as possible. From what I've been told, they started using track bikes that don't really have breaks but are great for speed. My daughter was almost run over by a bike messenger there last year, because he couldn't stop in time. So yeah they take over the streets along with bicyclists from other bay area cities and town in an attempt to "remind" drivers they share the road. I think, it's more about anarchy and disrupting the city, because they can.

neoex
3/22/2011 2:40am,
Hey, that's pretty awesome, how you're able to diagnose the type and extent of someone's disability via the Internet in order to decide that one kind or another of handbike must work fine for them—especially when bringing home groceries during a Boston winter! But you know, if you did want to Paypal me the $2700 my friend would need to buy the sort of handbike she could even potentially ride, I'll be sure to pass that money on to her, minus administrative and snarking fees.

PS: I've never owned a car and either walk or take public transit everywhere. The bane of my existence are assholes on the BART who think their bicycle is so awesome that they deserve the floor space of five people.

This shows that there are nuances in cross cultural communications. A "cripple" in finnish is usually someone unable to walk because of problem with legs. And if there is a bike she could ride, was I wrong? And I don't know about "Boston winters", but I do know winters. And I do know paraplegic people who ride in the winter. Besides a "cripple" was brought up on two previous messages.

My point was: there are assholes behind steering wheels, and I bet there are assholes riding bikes. Dealing with aggressive drivers in cars is scary. Reading **** like this on a MA website, about people crushing into cyclists makes me sad. Even more than the article the comments about to be written here, you know the "serves them right" ones. I ride a bike as a hobby, but primarily as a method of transportation. I have to deal with all kinds of **** while doing so. Critical Mass serves a function here, and is not a carnival-slash-riot you seem to have there. And no, I don't have a car, purely of practical and economical reasons.

neoex
3/22/2011 2:42am,
double post

creativo
3/22/2011 5:56am,
So if the pathethic double shift worker didn't have a car and was risking to be run over by stupid car drivers everyday, in the "critical mass" that is car traffic, you'd write something about him too? Or he'd be a commie pinko cuz no car?

Snake Plissken
3/22/2011 9:57am,
I thought Critical Mass started in San Fransisco, as a demonstration of bike messengers protesting or trying to bring awareness to the amount of injuries and deaths suffered by bike messengers in San Fransisco. If anyone has seen some of those messengers, they really do ride by the seat of their pants, in a n attempt to get from point A to point B as quick as possible. From what I've been told, they started using track bikes that don't really have breaks but are great for speed. My daughter was almost run over by a bike messenger there last year, because he couldn't stop in time. So yeah they take over the streets along with bicyclists from other bay area cities and town in an attempt to "remind" drivers they share the road. I think, it's more about anarchy and disrupting the city, because they can.
this would be known as "the type of people who want bicyclists to be treated as both pedestrian AND vehicle, depending upon whichever traffic law suits them at that moment"

Rivington
3/22/2011 10:03am,
This shows that there are nuances in cross cultural communications. A "cripple" in finnish is usually someone unable to walk because of problem with legs. And if there is a bike she could ride, was I wrong? And I don't know about "Boston winters", but I do know winters. And I do know paraplegic people who ride in the winter. Besides a "cripple" was brought up on two previous messages.

No, it actually just shows that you are a royally privileged asshole. "Let them ride a handbike!"—without any knowledge of person's health or economic situation—is no different than "Let them eat cake!" I look forward to you getting in a horrifying accident on your bike and being told to walk to the hospital, and when you can't it being recommended that you just crawl instead.

Permalost
3/22/2011 10:24am,
Two of my friends are big Critical Mass advocates, and sometimes go on about how now it's gotten out of hand and it's more about being a big group of drunk/high assholes than promoting bike awareness or something. Personally, I can get behind the idea more when it's less about promoting social change and more about having fun in a big group. As is often the case with large groups of hipsters drinking and having fun, there's gonna be douchebaggery. I've run into the Critical Mass rides while out skateboarding, and I'll join them for a while just for the hell of it.

In San Diego, they usually meet in Balboa Park near a big fountain and ride down a big hill into the downtown area, where they totally piss off everyone driving around downtown. You can stay at the top of the big hill and watch the fixed gear bikers get tossed off their bikes because they have no brakes and can't coast well.