Peaceful Anarchy

Rain OR shine?

Well which one is it?
Any invitation I get to an outdoor event that includes this foreshadowing tidbit is an invite I only want to attend half of. The shiny half of course.
Now I don’t want to rain on your parade, but if it literally rains on your parade – count me out. I’ll catch the next one or better yet, I’ll watch it later on youtube.

Although I had already RSVP’d yes, it came with a definite caveat on my part – rain free please. Looking up at the grey skies on Friday, although it technically wasn’t raining yet, this was Vancouver so it was really just  a matter of time. With this optimistic mindset in place, I packed an umbrella and a helmet and headed out into the dark and cloudy afternoon.

The invitation was presented innocently to me as a fun group bike ride through the city.  Based on that info, I assumed it was going to be a fun group bike ride through the city. Little did I know I had just agreed to be an unwitting participant in an event dubbed by some to be a radical anarchist social movement subject to vilification and desired subsequent arrest complete with jail time…


Critical Mass – “the Revolution will not be Motorized”

On the last Friday of every month in Vancouver, a large number of cyclists take to the streets by taking over the streets in an event called Critical Mass. This has been known to block vehicles, cause traffic delays and effectively shut down roadways until the many bikes pass through. Cars travelling to, from and within downtown Vancouver have little means to avoid the mass as the route is unplanned and cyclists simply follow whoever happens to be in front at the time.  Critical Mass originated in 1992 in San Francisco, California and has since expanded worldwide as a way to present alternative modes of transportation and to draw attention and awareness to cyclists on the road.  After all, it’s hard to miss 1000+ bicycles in your path.

Miss me?

Image Source

Each event begins promptly @ 6pm. Arriving promptly @ 6:10pm, my friend and I race to catch up with the large group of cyclists. Luckily, 100+ cyclists are easy to spot. With a light rain pouring down, the turnout for this September event is estimated at around 100 people which is, at most, about 1/10 of the previous turnouts in 2010. Still, despite the smaller numbers, people are in high spirits and are excited to get moving.

The purpose is clear – when travelling as a group, safety is almost more than assured – it’s guaranteed. I happily sit back and peddle within the middle of the pack while my friend expertly weaves in and around the masses, leading at will and then cycling back to chat with old friends. People are light hearted and friendly and due to the hour (after 6:30pm on a gloomy Friday ) the streets downtown are open to us with minimal cars.

Previous events attracted thousands of cyclists so there’s a lot of support in the city. However, a quick google search shows there’s also a lot of heated sentiment against Critical Mass from cyclists and non-cyclists alike.

Of the 100+ comments I found on 2 local newspaper websites, most were along this vein:

“As a driver who needs to drive, the [Critical Mass] protest is just a nuisance! In no way do I feel sympathetic towards this cause.”

“99% of these tards are there to create Anarchy. The same tards would join riots etc…”

“…grow up “Critical Mass” riders/protesters and think of someone other than yourselves. “

“What a bunch of loosers.” (I like how this commenter spelled ‘losers’ wrong. hee hee hee. If you’re gonna insult a group of people, you could at least take the time to spell check your rant. It’s called common courtesy buddy. )

…and the ever sensitive response to the angry mob (AKA fuel, meet fire):

“Go get on your bike and ride. It is a wonderfully pleasing activity. Just because you are a boring middle-aged person or older doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. Do something youthful like riding your bike.”

Most comments on these 2 sites are negative and against the monthly bike rides but as hundreds of thousands still take part in this event in Vancouver and all over the world, it becomes less of a protest and more of a demonstration of collective will.

It’s also freeing to travel on the roads without fear of imminent death by car crushing.   As our police accompanied “protest” continues, we travel for hours through the main streets of downtown and uptown Vancouver.  When we pass by people waiting for the bus, cheers and applause go out to them. Some pedestrians did yell out for participants to ‘get a car!’ (oh yah pedestrian well YOU first!) but overall the sentiment was overly supportive and very Vancouver (yes, I’m using Vancouver as an adjective meaning open minded and change seeking).

view from the sidelines

view from the back

stopping traffic on the bridge

iconic critical mass pose - "Raise your bike!"

Cars in opposing lanes honk out to us too….and I would have assumed at the time in support as well but some could actually have been  negative, unsupportive honks but with honks, as with text messages and e-mails, its hard to tell the person’s intent (LOL?? are you laughing with me or at me??).

In the end, based on reader comments alone, critical mass participants are not the peace seeking, intelligent, gainfully employed citizens out to have a good and peaceful time like all the ones I spoke to that night.  Instead, they’re described as unemployed, pot smoking, terrorist, anarchist hippies who should be sued, arrested, thrown in jail and in some of the more colourful comments (complete with video too), run over by someone’s truck.

As an aside, I’m always amazed at the time people spend on negativity. Well as long as they only vent it out online (most comments were cowardly left anonymously), then I say “carry on my anonymous friends!”

So in turn, by association alone,  I became known as an anarchist, a terrorist, a rebel and a disobedient citizen deserving of jail time for my simple action of getting on a bicycle and riding through the streets of Vancouver. In a critical mass.

Looks like I did a lot more on Friday than I thought:

Nelley ‘the Anarchist’ rides on!

I think I like the sound of that.

8 thoughts on “Peaceful Anarchy

  1. Girl – I absolutely love your writing. You should send this to a Vancouver newspaper titled Critical Mass – Views of an Anarchist. Anyway as always good job and I must remember not to read your blogs while I am eating or drinking – I may just end up with a mess to clean ……

    Love you lots

  2. I love that you turned Vancouver into an adjective. I personally have mixed feelings about this event. While I agree with what they are riding for, they do kind of get in the way.

    But I have a question… what would happen if no one drove cars, and everyone had a bike? Hmmm…

    ❤ Milieu

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