Critical Mass (CM) is a monthly event mainly consisting of cyclists but other forms of human propulsion are welcomed. The first one happened in San Francisco USA on Friday, September 25, 1992 and since then enthusiasts in many towns and cities worldwide have followed suit. Sometimes events calling themselves 'Critical Mass' accompany public demonstrations but purists argue they are not related to the regular monthly ride. It is difficult to describe CM as opinions differ widely but they seem to range from a simple celebration of cycling to an anti-authoritarian blockade of traffic, particularly cars, with many facets in between. Almost from the beginning there has been a mixed reaction from the police, ranging from helpful facilitation to aggressive confrontation.
In the last few years the police have become much more confrontational in the UK and they try to manipulate the rides. London now has large numbers of cycle police attending every Mass, except the one in December which is close to the New Year holiday when they don't turn up at all!. The Metropolitan Police issued a leaflet to participants in September 2005 claiming that the ride is not lawful. Their claim was rejected in the High Court in May 2006 but the police have since appealed and won.
Critical Massers have vowed that the ride will go on. The next London Critical mass is on Friday 25th May, meeting outside the NFT between 6 and 6.30pm and there has been a call-out to make this the biggest ride ever.
From the newswire: Abuse of police powers in Derby | London Critical Mass 30th September 2005 | London Critical Mass under threat | Critical Mass London: Letter from Green Party to Met. Police | London Critical Mass reports | Amazing turnout on "banned" critical mass | Massive Critical Mass Defies SOCPA Exclusion Zone | Southend's first Critical Mass stopped by police | 2nd Southend Critical Mass ends with 3 arrests | Leeds Critical Mass | York Critical Mass | Police charge cyclists at Glasgow Critical Mass | Birmingham's Ride reaches Critical Mass Videos: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
Typically CM has no set route and no organisers, just a common starting place. The Mass follows those at the front who spontaneously decide among themselves which way to go as the ride progresses. Some local authorities and politicians are ill at ease with this unfamiliar way of doing things, they prefer public events to be carefully pre-planned by organisers with police co-operation, while others tend to regard the Mass as just another environmentally friendly cycle ride.
It seems likely that CM in its present form will cease to exist if it is forced into a police mould. It will become just another 'authorised' public demonstration with the usual hordes of police in front, at the side and at the back. In order to undergo such a transformation organisers would need to be selected and routes pre-planned. Given the anarchic nature of CM it is difficult to see how such an arrangement might be arrived at. On the other hand, police could use their discretionary powers to let CM continue more or less as is. For several years now in New York City there has been much opposition to police control of CM, leading to violent confrontations which have yet to be fully resolved, though CM seems to be on the winning side just now but with depleted numbers. See 'Still we Ride' video and 'Times Up' group. Could something similar happen here perhaps?