Bicyclists take to the streets en mass in a fight over the ‘right to the city’
Live recording held at the café at AS220 on Empire Street, Providence at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 10, 2012.
The revolution may no longer take place in the factories but in the streets, as Seattle anti-NAFTA Demonstrations and Occupy Wall Street has shown, in the parks and–to the anger of many–in traffic.
Critical Mass began in 1992 in the city of San Francisco when bicyclists decided to meet monthly in downtown rush hour auto traffic to join the commute home. Beginning with 50 cyclists, Critical Mass gatherings grew into the thousands in cities throughout the world, often engendering police retaliation and motorist anger. While occasionally members of the ad hoc community fought back against recalcitrant authorities and angry automobile drivers, many evolved an understanding that the best method for recruiting others to a non-fossil fuel economy was to create a sense of joy, celebration and sociability with their ride through the city. Critical Mass’ horizontal (rather than vertical) leadership became a model for subsequent protests, like the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and, in many ways, Occupy Wall Street. Critical Mass continues to this day and some assert that its battle for the ‘Right to the City’ has been partially responsible for the rise in bicycle friendly policies in both urban and small town US communities.
Zack Furness, Assistant Professor of Communications at Pennsylvania State University and author of One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility. He is also editor of Punkademics, co-editor of The NFL: Critical/Cultural Perspectives, and has written for several edited collections, journals, and non-academic publications including Punk Planet, Souciant and Bitch Magazine.
David Herlihy, author of Bicycle: The History, which greatly clarified the true origins of the bicycle, and The Lost Cyclist, the story of Frank Lenz’s ill-fated bicycle trip around the world in the 1890s, a Publishers Weekly 100 Best Books of 2010.
Nicole Freedman, Executive Director of Maine Huts and Trails and former Director of Bicycle Programs for the City of Boston under Mayor Thomas Menino. During her tenure for the city (2006-2012), Boston transformed itself from the worst cycling city in the country to a recognized leader in cycling. Nicole also competed professionally in bike racing from 1994-2005, winning two national championships and competing for the United States in the 2000 Olympics in Sidney.
Listen to an interview with Chris Carlsson, one of the founders of Critical Mass in San Francisco. Speaking with host Marc Levitt just a few weeks after the 20th anniversary of the ride, Carlsson reflects on the political and social significance of the movement.
- Critical Mass; Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration, Edited by Chris Carlsson, AK Press (2002)
- Bicycle by David V. Herlihy, Yale University Press (2004)
- One Less Car; Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility by Zach Furness, Temple, University Press (2010)
- Pedal Power; The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life by J. Harry Way, Paradigm Publisher (2008)
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