Critical Mass vs. Bike Party: leaderless doesn't mean disorganized

Berkeley’s Critical Mass bide ride – the leaderless bike parade that joins the evening commute on the second Friday of each month – turned 18 years old this spring and it is amazing how much conditions for cyclists have improved over those years. You see more and more people of all kinds, ages and purposes riding all kinds of bikes on East Bay streets. Berkeley and other cities have created networks of bicycle boulevards with improved crossings and safety features. There is more bike parking, although never enough to keep up with heavy demand from more cyclists.

And yet the Berkeley mass rides, which gather at 6 pm at Berkeley BART, are much smaller these days. The decline is in stark contrast to the rapid rise in popularity of the East Bay Bike Party – another group ride that starts two hours later on the same night as Critical Mass. While both rides appear similar from the outside, they are organized differently and their relative popularity points to the challenges facing non-hierarchical organizing.

Both rides seek to fill the streets with bikes to build community between cyclists and just for fun. But whereas Critical Mass is leaderless and provides a rare and dangerous opportunity to participate in on-the-fly group decision making which puts responsibility for the outcome of each event onto all of the participants, the Bike Party is a hierarchical exercise. Mirroring mainstream society’s division of people into managers or consumers, the Bike Party follows a pre-determined route published in advance on the internet. A team of organizers with bullhorns tell participants when to turn and enforce a “how we ride” list of rules: “stop at red lights” and “stay in the right lane” so auto traffic can pass.

The Bike Party stops at two or three pre-determined spots along the ride to dance and socialize while Critical Mass stops less, mostly if there is a problem. Both rides have bike trailers with sound systems blaring music and some level of bike decoration. The Bike Party has a theme each month. March was “The Big Lebowski.”

At the moment, people are voting with their peddles for the Bike Party organizing style. The Bike Party rides have been wildly successful and a lot of fun. The Bike Party has solved some of the key problems that have plagued Critical Mass for years: unnecessary and ugly confrontations with motorists that can make the ride feel more like a battle than a celebration, poor route decisions made on the fly by whoever ends up at the front of the ride, and the ride splitting apart because the people in front go too fast. Perhaps because the Bike Party is consistently fun and mellow, it seems more diverse to me in terms of age, race, and the type of cyclists who attend. You see cycle commuters, spandex weekend warriors, and most of all lots of hipsters.

Despite the things I like about the Bike Party, something is missing. The last ride I was on felt cold and anonymous – I noticed people weren’t talking to each other as much as on a Critical Mass ride, but instead were mostly in groups talking to the other people in the group they had come with. Because the ride is organized over the internet, it feels less organic, less like a real community, and more superficial. The vibe was familiar to many social situations – sort of passive and disengaged because someone else had taken responsibility for making the decisions in advance and all you had to do was go along.

Several times a big group rode along mostly in silence, not knowing what to say except when someone would yell, “bike party.” People kept yelling that – what does it really mean? It almost underlines the stubborn refusal of the Bike Party to mean anything, even though any big group of bikes riding in the street cannot avoid challenging auto domination, no matter how much the organizers want it to be non-disruptive to cars and “just fun.”

In contrast, riding in Critical Mass is always electrifying, participatory, spontaneous and social. Because no one is in charge and anyone can lead just by being at the front, debate between strangers to figure out what to do next breaks out at almost every intersection as well as back in the body of the ride. Having these discussions with strangers builds a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility for the ride. It feels like a community. Sometimes having responsibility and yet no actual control can be frustrating and exhausting – you don’t always get your way and you often feel like other people are making unfortunate decisions. Yet the process is engaging, raw and real. You never know what is going to happen next, which is a rare feeling for most of us. Not only does it feel out of the ordinary to fill the streets with bikes, it feels out of the ordinary to be in a large group making collective decisions.

The difference between the Bike Party and Critical Mass is like the difference between being in a boring, scripted peace march organized by ANSWER and running with the black bloc.

What does it mean for anti-authoritarians that one of the longest running regular leaderless public gatherings is declining, to be replaced by a managed, programmed, obedient bike parade?

Many people – including anti-authoritarians – are so used to being directed by leaders and bosses that when there is no boss, they act as if having no boss means “I should act the fool” rather than figuring out a way to act responsibly and cooperatively with others. The main problem with the Critical Mass rides – which has been successfully addressed by the Bike Party – is the tendency of a few hyper-macho hotheads to use the ride to work out their own anger issues. People don’t want to go on a bike ride that yells obscenities at every car, engages in dangerous moving violations and gets into fists fights.

Despite the flaws inherent in Critical Mass, it is worth going, working to revive it, and taking responsibility for making the ride more functional while you’re there. To build a world without bosses where we organize things on our own, we need more opportunities to practice. Many people are putting their energy into collective businesses, communal houses, and DIY projects which each give us chances to create our own realities with others. Group process while sitting in a meeting is a lot different and less intense than group process in a group of hundreds of people you don’t know while you’re moving over the pavement.

The psychological level of social transformation is key. The system hopes to keep us passive – in public schools, as employees, as passive viewers of concerts and sporting events, and as customers at malls and restaurants. And the system seeks to train some of us as managers. Are the Bike Party organizers falling into the trap? The counter-culture gives us too few chances to transcend our normal roles and practice something different.

Join San Francisco Critical Mass (which is still huge) the last Friday of each month at 6 pm at Justin Herman plaza (Embarcadero BART). Berkeley CM is the second Friday at Berkeley BART at 6. The East Bay Bike Party (fun and worth it) is the second Friday at 8 – check the website for location. There is also a San Francisco Bike Party (first Friday) and a San Jose Bike Party (third Friday) – I haven’t been to either yet. For info, or

Outside the fences: the rewilding of Detroit viewed from a prison

Outside the fence, the tom turkey jumped up on the stump, rock, or whatever piece of junk was back there to elevate him above the weeds, spread his feathers and gobbled away impressive and noisy, and all the more so as it was happening just a few feet away from the fences of a state prison in the City of Detroit.

The year was 2010, and I had just been returned to this particular prison after being transferred out in 2005 and taking a near 5-year tour of the Michigan prison system, from Kincheloe in the Upper Peninsula to Ionia and St. Louis in the approximate center of the state. Over the course of which, I did manage to see my fair share of wildlife, which was to be expected when you are plunked down next to a woods or farm fields in some isolate area.

Having grown up and spent the greater part of my 57 years in the Motor City, I was very familiar with the neighborhood. In fact, prior to catching this case in 1998, I was working no more than ten blocks away. At that time the sum total of local wildlife, besides various small birds and rabbits living in the nearby cemeteries, consisted of a pair each of red tail hawks and snow owls that would stop by in the Spring and Autumn to fest on the rats inhabiting the local Coney Island. When it was torn down, the rats left, and the hawks and owls stopped coming.

I first arrived at this particular prison in 2003 and was pleasantly surprised to see that the pair of red tail hawks stopped here to feast on the large population of pigeons, fattened up on bread fed to them by prisoners leaving the chow hall. However, there wasn’t much else in the way of wildlife to be seen, except some passing geese and sea gulls, plus a couple of pheasants, mourning doves, and rabbits living in the saplings and brush growing alongside the railroad tracks.

That has dramatically changed. Upon returning here in 2010, I found a veritable explosion in the local wildlife population. There were now at least a half dozen pheasants, over a dozen mourning doves, and numerous rabbits, all living along the railroad tracks in the saplings turned into trees and brush. Moreover, there was a flock of turkeys living in the brush and swallows, neither of which I had ever seen in the city before. The hawks were still around and I even saw a fox last year. The guards have told me that they’ve seen skunks (I’ve smelled them), possums, raccoons, wild dogs, and even coyotes outside the fences.

No doubt the animals are using the rarely used railroad tracks as a corridor to more into and around the ruins of Detroit, where the only businesses that seem to be left are junkyards and prisons and block upon block of homes sit vacant and derelict. At least, in this neighborhood anyway.

That being the case, I imagine it is only a matter of time before I hear the coyotes howling at night and see my first Motor City deer, aside from the little Formosa deer that have run wild on Belle Isle in the Detroit River for years. All of which, gives me some hope for the future of the planet. If the animals can survive here, in the toxic ruins of a former industrial center, they can survive anywhere and that goes for us Motor City humans too!

Yukon Hannibal receives Slingshot's Lifetime Achievement Award

[The 6th Annual Slingshot Award to honor a lifetime of service to the radical community was presented to Yukon Hannibal in March at Slingshot’s 23rd birthday party. Thank you, Yukon, for your inspiration and dedication.]

I have seen Yukon work to create harmony. He de-escalates potentially violent situations using grace, an understanding of the situation, and often his friendship with the individuals involved. Yukon works with Berkeley Liberation Radio as a DJ and at the East Bay Free Skool teaching a Political Education class in People’s Park. The park is a Berkeley, California radical history landmark that is subject to an ongoing battle between the University of California and the users of the park over who has the right to develop it. He distributes Free Skool calendars and mediates conflict at meetings.

Some days when I’m in People’s Park it feels so nice. Seeing groups of friends sitting in circles in the sun or huddled under trees and awnings in the rain. But, some days are very violent. Seeing Yukon in the park makes me feel a level of calmness on the scene.

Slingshot: So, what’s your story?

Yukon: “I was born in Chicago August Third of 1949. My father was a truck driver for the United States Post Office and my mother was a renowned jazz singer named Lilli Palmore. That was her stage name. She performed with such grace. She played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and she was running buddies with Billie Holliday and other greats. I didn’t understand her significance because I was real young. I was eleven when she passed away into the spirit world. She left an influence on me. She put a piano on me when I was five years old. My mind wasn’t on it until later in life. But she gave me her song writing and her voice.

“Eventually, we moved from the South Side of Chicago where we were staying with my grandmother. We moved into Cabrini Greens.” Cabrini Greens became famous as a housing project known for being chaotic and dangerous. “It was very safe then. People would sleep outside because it was so hot. The only violence I saw was from the racist cops. But people stood up to the harassment and this was before the Black Panthers. Cops would come in to invade the communities, terrorize the folks, and the folks be resisting.”

Slingshot: When did you start thinking about making change to society?

Yukon: “When I was seventeen it was another significant time of my life. I started getting some political direction. I started fighting back in the projects with my friends. The cops would be coming up the stairs and we would drop bottles down the cracks. Then there was a big snowstorm and the police that came into the projects were stuck in the drifts. My friends and I were throwing everything at them and I was recognized and I served time in Cook County Jail at seventeen. In jail I met a lot of politically-minded people and a lot of crazy people who were trying to terrorize people… I was placed on the same tier as two rival gangs. The idea was to let the two gangs destroy each other, but people really got along.

“I was released from Cook County Jail in November of 1967. I got out and I went back to Cabrini Greens and went back to fighting the police. I was pointed out as someone who messed with the police so I had to move out. I moved to Old Town where I met Fred Hampton in the early months of the Chicago Black Panther Chapter. He invited me to move to the West Side where they were organizing their office…. Then a couple months later they murdered Fred and we were nuts with grief. We just loved him so much.

“When I went to the funeral I couldn’t get in because there were so many people. Everyone was saying, ‘I am Fred Hampton.’ I was crying buckets. That’s when I started thinking about leaving Chicago.”

Yukon set out for California hitchhiking across the Midwest and Southwest, and arrived in Berkeley, California in the summer of 1970. He became involved in the People’s Park movement. The fence, installed in 1969, was removed from the perimeter of the park in 1971 by protestors with bolt cutters concealed within loaves of bread. Yukon moved his vehicle onto the asphalt that is now a grove of trees and free speech stage. Yukon said he could sense the public opinion shifting, “a stupid move by the University would get people excited so we moved in. There was a lot of weed but nothing else. Not too much alcohol even.

“At this time I met my wife and we had kids and that’s where I went for fifteen years. When we broke up I went back to People’s Park and living on the streets.

“The idea was that we needed more publicity, more people in the park. So David Nadel asked me to do a political table on Telegraph, which I did. I was telling people that the University is trying to take the park away by building volleyball courts.

“I created flyers and went out and educated people on People’s Park to defend the park, which we did. For the first few months I felt like my words were falling on deaf ears, but then we had an opportunity when there was another riot.” In 1991 during a riot, one in a series of riots that summer in Berkeley, the fence around the corner of Telegraph and Haste was removed and placed in the street. The people of Berkeley started an encampment in the empty lot one half block away from People’s Park, the new park became known as the People’s Park Annex. “We were communal but we were individualized which means that we were in solidarity but we also did our own separate things in our space. When there were fights I would step in to stop them. If I wasn’t there someone else would step in as the peacemaker. And there were a lot of fights.

“David and other activists brought in sod grass and we laid out the sod grass. People brought in flowers and we planted them. Then we welcomed people in and it was a home for many.

“It accomplished a unity that is felt even today with the people involved. And there were a lot of people involved. The activists who had homes would go home, but they would always come back and they brought solidarity and food. The churches would bring sandwiches and they would pass out their literature. Every night when the sun went down it was very festive. People would celebrate being in the heart of Telegraph. I was parked so I could watch over the lot. There were a lot of times I had to follow someone in and they were bringing in a bottle of alcohol. They would be coming all loud so I would have to get in their face and ask them to keep it down or get out. There were people from all over.”

Noise and sirens woke Yukon one night. The police were on bullhorns ordering everyone to get out within five minutes or be thrown out. The Annex had lasted two and a half months it was the summer of 1991. “It was very difficult. There were those in wheelchairs who had made the place their home and then had to move all their possessions. The police were handing out vouchers for one free night in a motel. That shows the hypocrisy of the city (of Berkeley). Berkeley does have homeless services; it’s the people of Berkeley who look out for the people of Berkeley, like the churches and Food Not Bombs. That doesn’t make the city progressive. These are the same people that put in the sit-lie ordinance and anti-sleeping laws. The city seems to criminalize homelessness.

Slingshot: You helped organize encampments in People’s Park in violation of the 10pm curfew. How did that start?

Yukon: “In 1991 at the Peace and Freedom Party rally, I spoke and encouraged the people to sleep in People’s Park, and the people slept there that night and for 3 nights until the long arm of the pigs came. A lot of people got arrested.

“Then, we started sleeping on the Haste Street sidewalk. We stayed there for eight days, until they rousted us. We moved to Dwight Street on the other side of the park and then across the street. We took over that whole sidewalk. Must have been like one hundre
d people.”

Slingshot. Your major form of expression is the drum. What’s the significance of the Ashby Flea Market drum circle?

Yukon: “It’s a way to network with musicians and a place people come to network. It’s a center to come together, harmonize with the drums and build friendship. The drum circle consists of people from Oakland, San Francisco, and anyone else with a drum. Some serious players are there who come to groove and one groove can last from anywhere from 5-30 minutes. There’s a certain fellowship when we’re in a groove. It’s almost hypnotic.”

Slingshot: If you had anything to say to the world what would that be?

Yukon: “Amerikkka is a culture that manufactures racism and bigotry. You can see it on television or read it in their newspaper. White male domination has stereotyped these phobias and delivered them to the front doors of America’s homes. The planting of war thoughts in the form of video games and the constant barrage of war images has set the course for future wars for the nation’s youth. View these images as a blue print for future engagements and it continues as long as Hollywood and other makers of violence reap the profits off it and it is in the billions. Hollywood and the media have influenced the nation’s youth into becoming war makers and haters and yet it seems that our minds are so full of Hollywood that we act out Hollywood in our communities, the violence, the drugs, the guns, and it keeps coming.”

Zine Reviews

Small Print Reviews

We got some cool responses to the zine reviews in last issue as well as getting a bunch of publications at the S.F. Anarchist book fair. The info shop that houses the Slingshot office had some days to make over the space – especially our zine library. Keep an eye for more work parties in the future to continue cataloging our entire collection. Hell! Stop by during our open hours and browse till your eyes fall out. If you do a zine we’ll take some to sell and one for our library.

SPEW #1 & 2

A punk zine out of the scene around Berkeley’s Gilman St. club. It is refreshing to see something coming from there to represent the changing counter culture & see first hand young people grapple with the world at a time the club itself is in a new chapter of renewing itself from the baggage of its past. Booze, art, stories from the gutter and a display of attitude makes for a cocktail that becomes Spew. (eggplant)


The back cover tells us that this zine bloomed out of copy machines “spring equinox 2011”, a time of transformation and internal revolution, even for those with heavy hearts and full minds focused on the disarray that our planet faces today. Solastalgia, we soon learn through a quote by the neologism’s founder, Glenn Albrecht, is “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault…a form of homesickness that one gets while one is still at ‘home'”. With this emotion at hand, the writer pulls us through the damage as we wiggle with unease in our seats — nuclear power industries, mass radiation, extraction industries. Connected to these concerns among others are the mental health issues that follow – ecoanxiety, global dread, a sense of powerlessness, dauntingly the list goes on. Poetic tips for calming one’s mind are soothingly speckled between global worries, as well as some sweet windows into the writer’s life: “Through a lifetime of activism, I have had to learn to focus on horrors without losing love”. Much of this mag is lyrical prose spilled during a winter trip the writer took through the US while hoping to curb her despair. Our relationship with the anifmal world, homelessness, tree-sitters, and the death of a friend also play vital roles in her writing. Much of the text was written on a typewriter and the whole zine is hand laid-out with beautiful black and white imagery on each page. My favorite written piece is the exchange she shares with a midwifery student who tells her about death doulas, who act as midwives for the dying. This zine is a successful display of love as well as a reminder to be loving through all of our courses and shades of ominous contemplation. (Bird)

ROT #2

Rot returns and speaks through soothing and sometimes swelteringly hot fairytale-like imagery — a tale of “furious inspiration” and shaky hands, a queer squatter episode of “The Girls Next Door”, an incantation imploring you to feed yourself with personal mythology meanwhile stressing the importance of “learning about and appreciating the ancient rites of others without appropriating and regurgitating them”. I appreciate how each page exists on its own and is balanced in detail much like a shrine or sacred space. If I’d found this mag instead of the hidden adult garbage that the past generations stashed, my childhood mind would’ve been blown for the better. Future kids will be thankful to discover and bury this raw and wondrous publication under their mattresses or hammocks, simultaneously feeding themselves Katrina’s imagery and contemplations while masturbating to some genuine punk soul. (Bird)


$2 PO Box 1282

Fullerton, CA 92836

We are taken to a place beyond the “No Trespassing” signs to abandoned community centers turned into squats, to unlicensed roadside campgrounds, and to derelict amusement parks on the verge of being converted into yuppie condos. Is this a note to future societies of primitives? It has a nomadic lawless edge to it as the narrator and their friends move from Portland, Oregon to Vermont, then to the junkyards of NY City. The writing is at times dense and other times plain spoken. The reflections and revelations they convey happen in short bursts. At first I thought I was reading a poetry zine. Then as I got into the flow I started to see it as a cross between CrimeThinc (with its ideas) and John Steinbeck (with the intense attention to details of our natural world and our unnatural systems at play with human lives). (eggplant)


This long running, underground magazine strives to attract intellectual radicals and greasy counter culture types, but do they actually get either? The result of this “D.I.Y. Issue” is a bit hodge podge, which makes reading it seem like an oversized zine. You got the usual radical news items and articles alongside interviews and cultural pieces. Some of the latter is half-digested before it was printed. The editing suffered badly by the death of the editor. So the mere gesture that people pulled it together to finish his work testifies how the movement is made up of many hands. (eggplant)


PO Box 29

Athens, OH 45701

A very methodical look at people liberating themselves from a dependency on alcohol and drugs. By methodical I mean each of the 8 people interviewed are asked roughly the same questions. The result I believe is to aid and assist the reader wishing to get sober and not feel so alone. I found it hard to relate to at first since I’m not “in recovery,” and I found the repetition to be boring. But once I sat through the questions I found some usefulness in checking out people coping with their pain. I guess also knowing half the people via the punk scene made it have more dimensions than it would have had otherwise. Readers will get frank conversations of people’s struggles as they intersect with relationships, the party scene, the punk scene, Alcoholics Anonymous, Rehab Clinics, and self-made rules. (eggplant)


Kind of an ugly publication made by UC Berkeley students that I found available at the new student food co-op. After forcing myself to read it I did a double take – the second article is on one of the underground resources of Berkeley that is sometimes referred to as “Pinball Palace.” Many Slingshot staff frequent the palace but have not yet spoiled its cover. The piece is almost journalistic and Beat-like. The other articles turn out to be a good mix of humor and intelligence with some aspects closer to journalism than journal writing. This gives a refuge from the official paper on campus – The Daily CAL, which is often alienating and shitty. Also featured is a useful campus calendar. People like to pretend that the computer has replaced the necessity of a printed calendar, so I’m happy to see what’s going on around town. (eggplant)


316 Main St.

Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Bryan’s zine is like an espresso shot at a punk run café. It is small enough to fit in your pocket, a burst of black spaced-pages that seeps with style. The content is unabashedly punk, with emphasis on anarcho-politics and personality. I want to know how he gets photos to look the way he does. (eggplant)


PO Box 12044

Eugene, OR 97440

I first heard of this before seeing it. It was described as a cross between Slingshot and Vice magazine. True it has Vice-like elements, pop culture overload with photos of throw away cultural items, interviews with bands and weirdo artists, with large photos throughout it – often with nearly naked women. Overall it has a busy layout. Its seeming glee in transgressing any sense of PC would make it distant from Slingshot. When looking more closely I found Sean “Goblin’s Armpit” behind the scenes with his partner Katie Aaberg. Both of whom have done tons in the underground and may have a good
plan with this bit of paper, which so far includes injecting intelligent discourse in their milieu of Portland to people who have a lot competing for their attention. (eggplant)


I recently got the “Obscure issue,” which pokes fun at being an overlooked comic. The art has some of the best elements of underground comix that has raged since the 60’s. (eggplant)

Revoltin' Calendar!

May 21, 4 – 10 pm

Houston Zine Fest – Khon’s Rooftop, 2808 Milam St

May 21 – 22 • 10 am – 5

Montreal, Canada Anarchist bookfair – 2515 rue Delisle –

May 26 – 27

Protest the 37th G8 summit – Deauville, France –

May 27 • 6 pm

San Francisco critical mass bike ride – Justin Herman Plaza –

June 5 – 11

March on Blair Mountain starting in Marmet, WV to protest mountain top removal –

June 14 – 22

Wild Roots Feral Futures direct action/eco-defense camp – foothills of San Juan mountains, Colorado –

June 23 – 26

Allied Media Conference, Detroit, MI,

June 23 – 26

8th annual Bike! Bike! Conference. San Marcos, Texas

June 24 • 3:30, march 7

SF Trans march – Dolores Park –

June 25 • 11 am – 6

Los Angeles Anarchist bookfair – 801 East 4th Pl.

June 25 – 26 • Noon – 10

San Francisco Free Folk Festival – 450 30th Avenue –

July 5 – 12

Earth First! Summer Round River Rendezvous in the Northern Rockies –

July 8 -10

CLITFest (Combating Latent Inequality Together), Washington DC

July 27 – August 1

Trans and Womyn’s Action Camp Cascadia – Exact location TBA! twac [at]

August 6 – 7

Portland Zine Symposium, Refuge (116 SE Yamhill St.)

August 28 • 4 pm

Slingshot new volunteer meeting

3124 Shattuck, Berkeley

September 10-11 • 3pm

Victoria, BC Anarchist Bookfair – 1240 Gladstone Ave –

September 17 • 3 pm

Article deadline for Slingshot issue #107 – 3124 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley