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“Critical Mass” an art of Protest

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This story begins with a little red bike that is much like all other bikes, it was made out of aluminum and steel, had two wheels and handle bars, but this bike’s adventure was much different than most it came in contact with.

It started out its humble beginnings as a powerful two wheeled mode of transportation for its adoring owner, but as the years went along the bike, much like most perishable mechanisms, begun to lose the gusto that made it great. Time went by and the owner knew it was time for him to relinquish this relic of cycling history to whomever may take it.

A man(my father), who is definitely an opportunity seeker, was walking down his quaint suburb and stumbled upon the bike. In his mind he knew that a bike given away for free, no matter what its condition is worth having, so he picked it up. Deviating from father to son, the bike was about to make a journey of epic proportion in the San Diego community. To many in the biking world it is known as Critical Mass.

Critical Mass is an idea that started in San Francisco in 1992 and was originally called Commut Clot. The idea was to show that they are no longer going to take the effects that automobile transportation has on the environment and the world. In order to emphasize this point the riders would take to the streets clogging up lanes, making commuters frustrated and protesting live on the streets in a disorganized but brilliant fashion.

Soon after its conception in the U.S., Critical Mass begun to catch like wild fire and eventually spread to over 325 cities world wide. Even Budapest has Critical Mass twice a year where they have reached numbers of 80,000 participants. Wherever and whenever it started, Critical Mass is definitely catching on in a growing environmentally conscious culture.

Fast forward to Oct. 30, 2009. This is where the old red bike and Critical Mass first officially meet. Riding up to the event there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of participants huddled around the fountain at the Center of Balboa Park.

Conversing and awaiting the twenty-mile bike ride ahead, the riders adorn an assortment of costumes: Fred Flinstone with a Huffy, The Ginger Bread Man with a BMX, and a Picnic with a Mountain Bike. Cheers and chants from the bikers circling the fountain could be heard in the distance, the abmiance was electric and the bike was in awe of what laid before him.

Provided by 'roebot' via Flickr

Provided by 'roebot' via Flickr

As more and more riders began to trickle in, the scene soon became one of celebration and joy for the humble red bike. Never in his life had he seen such an event, where people came together for one common love, “the love of the bicycle.”

Time began to tick by and the anticipation was eating away at the little red bike, he wanted to show people what he was made of. Then it happened, the slow uproar of screaming, chanting, and firecrackers sounded the start of the event. Like a massive wave hitting the shores, the bikers moved in unison along a predetermined path down the park. On-lookers snapped photos and stood back in awe of the massive number of riders as they trickled out into the streets. Holding his head up high, the bike watched as the people maneuvered through the massive crowd. Together they made their way onto the streets of San Diego.

The mass soon thinned out on the streets of Hillcrest, as the bikes passed patrons at local restaurants and stores onlookers cheered and chanted for the bee hive of bicyclists. Cars honked their horns either in support or distaste for the obvious obstruction of traffic. Whatever the cheers and chants were for, the first two miles of the event felt like a parade for soldiers fighting a cause.

Leaving Hillcrest, the bike noticed they had begun to make their way to Downtown San Diego and could not wait for the chaos that was about to ensue. Boom! The mass had now hit 4th street and circled around to sixth and continued this path for about 20 minutes. Cars were honking, people were yelling in anger or support, and like live street actors all the riders made there presence known.

The venture Downtown was an amazing spectacle of the power of numbers, no matter how much people complained and yelled, the sheer volume and uniformity the riders shared protected their cause.

Now the bike was on its way through the airport and onto Point Loma. Tired and worn out, the bike began to fall back in the mass, but he drudged forward. After Point Loma they hit Ocean Beach and pushed onto the cave of PB. With laughs and smiles the bike forced every ounce of its aluminum body to the limit, not because he felt like he needed too, but because he wanted too. He wanted to do it for the others around him and to show to himself that there is a cause out there that people can come together and fight for. Pushing on and on the red bike finally made his way back home. He laid down and knew what he just experienced was one for the ages.

Critical Mass, to most who don’t participate, can be seen as a nuisance; a quick perusal of Yelp will reflect the crowds’ distaste for the event. Comments range from “these hippie douchebags aren’t accomplishing anything,” or “they are changing nothing, they just make it seem like they are.”

Whatever your remark is on Critical Mass, they are doing something. The point of protest is to raise attention for an issue we all face. Obviously it is affecting the community; people go on Yelp and feel the need to comment and participate on the debate of the active protest.

Regardless if you are going to side with the movement or not, you are affected by it. Just because you have to go to the Ivy or On Broadway to talk about meaningless mundane nonsense does not make your time more precious. If anything, Critical Mass has helped you. For a slim part of your life it halted the progression of the false realities that you decide to face day in and day out with the thought that what you are doing has more meaning than the proliferation of a sound environment.

It has shown us that with a little forethought and ingenuity you can make a change, maybe not a change that you are looking for, but that’s how things go when you have revolutionary protests. No, you won’t get a speedy expedited process of convincing people to throw their cars away for a bike, but you will get them to think about it.

So if you want to partake in this spectacle, Google “Critical Mass in San Diego” and find out more about it. Don’t listen to the people that express their discontent with the event, because at least people are trying to make a change.

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