This afternoon, an activist friend of mine who has been very involved in Critical Mass approached me concerning my stance. Unfortunately, due to the context of our interaction, the conversation escalated unnecessarily and i found myself unable to articulate my feelings. So instead, i brought them home to chew on.
Her key points are all exceptionally valid and i agree with her wholeheartedly:
1) Critical Mass is an “open source” activity where you cannot have a central organization with rules.
2) Many people have had their eyes opened by Critical Mass to the issues of bicycles in cities, probably more than have been negatively impacted.
3) Cars exercise violence on bicycles every day – running them off the road, not looking when opening doors; car culture also exercises power through the law and norms.
The combination of her points helped me clarify where i stand on activism in general these days and why the situation on Friday still upsets me.
I am definitely one of those people who had my eyes opened by Critical Mass’ activities – i learned a lot more about biking laws, situations through 2nd hand accounts of their activities. Having lived in Amsterdam, i’m perpetually horrified by the car power that goes on in this country and i’m very much supportive of non-hierarchical structures of change.
All that said, i can never ever support violence. At the core of my body, i cannot accept violence because violence has been committed against you. I will never forget being 13 and deciding to not punch back as one of my classmates threw punches at me. Nothing would be gained by returning the blows – only increased hostility, a deepening of sides and an increase in intolerance. I cannot support activism that permits violence as one if its tenants. I was so disgusted by some of my classmates who felt as though they became activists when they brawled with the police; at the last protest i went to, i gave the police donuts and talked to them about the protest from their perspective.
No matter how much i believe in revolution, no matter how much i want to see changes made, i can’t accept moving in that direction through deplorable means. I also cannot support pack behavior on either side – what the crowd does under and umbrella name is often terrifying. As much as there are thousands of non-violent Critical Massers, the idea that the name and event has a violent side to it is enough to alienate me. I can’t stand behind events that accepts violence as even a minority group or where that group has the right to use the name to instigate their pack behavior. I think that this is how folks who would believe in the cause of anti-WTO folks get alienated by the violent protests.
As much as i appreciate my friends’ point that i should not disrespect a movement for the behaviors of some, i have a hard time actually feeling that way. Those few aggressive voices go far which is why they need to be actively squelched in a non-violent movement – the two cannot go hand in hand.
How can we move forward activism that doesn’t use violence? Am i a fool for thinking that’s possible and for not supporting groups that allow violence to occur?