July 31, 1998: Speech in Justin Herman Plaza by Chris Carlsson

So we all got here by streaming through the daily gridlock that is curiously considered `normal' in this society. One of the reasons we gather here month after month is that we refuse the insanity that masquerades as transportation policy in this society.

One year ago 98% of the cyclists that rode in Critical Mass had a beautiful, euphoric experience, filling the streets of San Francisco and turning the transportation landscape on its head.

When we flipped on the news that night we saw our experience distorted and misrepresented as though it had been reflected through funhouse mirrors. We had lived through one experience, and something quite different was broadcast to the world as the truth.

A joyful, exuberant experience was characterized as widespread chaos and mayhem, supposedly caused by bicyclists.

This is a Big Lie. What really happened is that we were subjected to a police riot at Market and Powell. Several people were injured and falsely arrested. A short time later police staged an illegal mass arrest of over 100 cyclists on Sacramento Street. The newspaper’s hysterical report of 250 arrests turned out to be more like 130. All the charges were eventually dropped. Not a single person was convicted or fined as a result of that night. No property damage was reported, except the cameras and bicycles broken by police violence.

We now know that Mayor Brown’s office was closely monitoring the situation until almost 10 p.m. that night. Minimal bike improvements that activists have worked for for the past 4 years were rejected last Saturday by the DPT. This is just the latest demonstration of the contempt this administration has for cycling. Mayor Brown is committed to the lining the pockets of his developer friends, not to making San Francisco a city taking a creative and innovative approach to life in the coming century.

Critical Mass is not about sound bite politics. We aren’t riding to get 30 seconds on the evening news, or even to get a biased, misinformed article in the Saturday papers. The mass media is not our friend. Why would corporate entertainment businesses broadcast an honest account of citizens who reject this absurd organization of life? When we ride together we create a new public space. We share direct experiences and develop a truer sense of life than one ever gets from the media. Part of our task is to make the truth of our lived experiences more powerful than the lies of the mass media.

By riding our bicycles we are saying NO to oil wars, Chevron, Shell, General Motors, and Ford, environmental catastrophe and an isolated, fearful way of life. When we ride in Critical Mass we say YES to imagination, ecological sanity, and a rich urban life.

Take care of each other, and watch your backs!

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