While the regular critical mass bike ride is strong because it is leaderless and avoids specific demands or targets, the critical mass tactic has been used very successfully to gum up the works in conjunction with protests. Even a relatively small group of bikes, obeying all traffic laws and thus hopefully avoiding arrest (assuming the cops don’t violate their own laws — don’t assume too much) can create massive traffic jams. For instance, at the protest of the Biotech Industry Organization conference in San Francisco in 2004, the police kept regular demonstrators off the streets and behind huge police lines, but the critical mass rode free, providing a kind of moving blockade and harassing buses full of delegates.
With that in mind, it might be nice to have another separate, regularly schedule bike ride with a more explicit radical agenda that could focus on harassing specific targets — be they war industries, employers trying to break their unions, earth destroyers, or particularly horrendous examples of the car-oriented urban landscape.
Such an idea needs to develop organically and with a lot of discussion. Maintaining a state of leaderlessness and avoiding specific goals and politics — a bike party line — are essential for such a tactic to success. Such an effort also needs a name that distinguishes it from the regular CM.
Whereas the regular CM usually tries to avoid tense situations or areas that are totally hostile to bikes, a more aggressive ride in the East Bay might intentionally ride around Emeryville – the local leader in car-oriented, bike unfriendly urban planning. The closest Emeryville gets to a downtown is a very busy freeway exit — terrible for a regular critical mass, but a nice target for an as yet un-named ride. (Emeryville — and many suburbs — has a very small police force . . . .)
A bike ride can be extremely disruptive without doing anything illegal or even obnoxious if it goes through congested areas that are already on the verge of gridlock either because of design or timing. Whereas the regular CM generally avoids such areas, a disruptive ride could specifically seek them out.
Such a ride might put more emphasis on having some good flyers and maybe even bike signs would help get messages out. I still suspect that such a ride would conclude that having shouting matches or physical confrontations with police or individual motorists (and thus getting off our bikes and stopping the ride) would be counter-productive. I also think a ride would do best to maintain the high ground by providing a visible example of alternatives and focus on what we’re for not what we’re against.
But ultimately, these details should be subject to discussion, practice, and innovation. I hope such a ride will start in the Oakland / Berkeley area during the summer of 2006 on the third Friday of each month. Drop by the May east bay critical mass if you want to talk about it . . .