If you read our little report on the growing tensions between the capital’s Critical Mass movement and The Met last week and were wondering what the upshot was, then read on…
If you remember the Met had warned Critical Mass that unless they received prior warning of the route then arrests may have to be made. The test of the police’s resolve took palce last Friday when Critical Mass held their first event since the warnings were handed out.
As predicted the gathering on Friday was unusually well attended and, from an outsider’s view point at least, was a roaring success despite the police threats to ‘enforce legislation’.
There’s a detailed report of the event and the ramifications over on Indy Media. Here’s an excerpt:
The response to the call-out was absolutely huge, with 1,200 cyclists (that’s just the official police estimate!) taking over the streets of central London in a wonderfully anarchic and self-policing jaunt round the capital.
As well as several loud sound systems, the ‘rhythms of resistance’ samba band took to trikes, rickshaws, roller-blades, and bikes, to provide a fantastic carnival soundtrack to the ride that had passers-by dancing in the streets.
Apart from a few irate drivers, and, it has to be said, the daily mail-fed vitriol of a few stereotypical taxi drivers (though many were cool too), the response was generally good-natured considering the traffic havoc caused.
However, a more personal and revealing opinion comes from CriticalMassLondon.org.uk where the site’s organiser writes the following:
I wasn’t on the September ride when the police handed out their infamous letter, but I decided to attend in October thinking it should be worth it. In a sense it was – it was really big (huge for an October ride!), there were loads of dressed up people and a bunch of sound systems. But after a while of riding I started to remember why I stopped coming before – the constant stopping, the lack of co-ordination or communication between riders – the ride didn’t seem to flow. Stopping in Parliament Square for ages was bad enough, but then riding down Oxford Street really slowly only to stop in Oxford Circus for half an hour really sucked.
The writer goes on to say thet he won’t be attending anymore CM events and will not continue with his upkeep of the website.
Another report comes from Londonist favourite OnionBagBlog where we’re told that, despite the fact that “the cops copped out,” and the “threats turned out to be the best recruitment drive Critical Mass has ever had,” it’s also worth noting that “The problem with the Bobbies on Bikes… is that they actually make the Mass become something it previously wasn’t. I was encouraged to light jump throughout the ride by the boys in blue, running the risk of cutting down pedestrians in the process.”
So it seems that the Met did have a detrimental effect of some kind on Critical Mass, although not the one that was intended we’re sure.
The final world though goes to Mr OnionBag:
The Establishment view Critical Mass as a political group. There is no political dogma here. The only requirement is that you bring a bike. My space is threatened by Knobber Petrol Heads when I cycle alone. I feel intimidated. Cycling en masse works. The magic is to create an unpredictable space with unpredictable consequences. Back to the bus queue if you want to be a Bus Stop Johnny.
It’s easier to say what Critical Mass ISN’T rather than what it is. You make of it what you want, and hopefully develop something new and creative as well.
The implication of the police presence is that we are incapable of creating our own safe streets. The best bit of policing I have seen on Critical Mass has been self-policing. Red light jumpers or pavement peddlers – yes they do exist, much like twats who still talk on their mobiles behind the wheel – have been policed in the past by fellow cyclists, encouraged to understand that it’s all about space and sharing it.
Once the free space has been experienced on a Mass ride, you can’t take this away. It is a feeling that you want to help to recreate, helping to make cycling in London a lot safer.