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NYT Magazine: P.R. Cycle / Critical Mass

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  • Jym Dyer
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/magazine/02consumed.html P.R. Cycle By ROB WALKER New York Times Magazine | 02-Oct-2005 | P. 36 Critical Mass It has been a
    Message 1 of 3 , Oct 2, 2005
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/magazine/02consumed.html

      P.R. Cycle
      By ROB WALKER
      New York Times Magazine | 02-Oct-2005 | P. 36

      Critical Mass

      It has been a little more than a year since the Republican
      National Convention took place in New York City. The event,
      as was expected, met with a certain amount of local criticism
      and disdain, some of which took the form of protests that were
      followed by arrests. One of the more spectacular incidents
      involved thousands of bicyclists. "Surging up Sixth Avenue,
      then across town and down to the East Village, they'd taken
      over the streets, blocking traffic, infuriating commuters and
      taxi drivers and reveling in their own numbers," _Salon_, the
      online magazine, reported at the time. "More than 250 people
      were arrested."

      Technically, this was simply the latest installment in a
      recurring bicycle event known as Critical Mass, which had been
      going on for years, largely ignored by the police and, it
      seems fair to say, by the vast majority of New Yorkers. But
      this particular installment was, for Critical Mass riders and
      supporters, a kind of branding event.

      Part of the conceit of Critical Mass is that it is not organized
      or led by anyone in particular; it simply happens. Political
      confrontation in New York notwithstanding, the rides actually
      began in San Francisco in the early 1990's, when cyclists who
      worked downtown began biking homeward, west up Market Street,
      as a group. (The name is borrowed from an anecdote about Chinese
      cyclists who wait until a critical mass of riders can move
      into the street and essentially force car traffic to adjust.)
      Critical Mass rides soon started in New York (among other
      places), where they are now closely associated with the
      environmental group Time's Up, which posts information about
      the rides and many other cycling events on its Web site.

      People join in for a variety of reasons, according to Jym Dyer,
      who has participated in many of the rides, first in Berkeley and
      now in New York. Critical Mass can be seen as a method of
      encouraging biking in the city, a declaration of the need to
      make New York safer for cyclists, a statement about reclaiming
      public space or a way to draw attention to the environmental
      impact of car culture. The ride coinciding with the Republican
      convention was on "all the protest calendars" and received a lot
      of advance publicity, says Leah Rorvig, a Time's Up volunteer.
      "Critical Mass is a really easy, really fun thing," she adds.
      Instead of standing with a sign for hours, you can move around
      and meet people, "and you're expressing an idea of dissent."
      The fungible meaning of Critical Mass, combined with the influx
      of people who came to New York for the purpose of expressing
      dissent, contributed to the enormous turnout.

      This changed the dynamic between Critical Mass and the city
      government: the rides continue every month, departing from Union
      Square as before, but now result in a lot of police officers,
      arrests and criminal charges. (Because of Critical Mass's
      supposed spontaneity, no one ever applies for any kind of
      permit.) The resulting steady press coverage has made Critical
      Mass far better known than it was before the Republican
      convention, but it has not done much to clarify the meaning and
      message of the rides, let alone any particular political agenda.
      Harris Silver offers a perspective as both a founder of
      Citystreets ("a pedestrian rights and advocacy group") and as
      president of an advertising and branding agency called Think
      Tank 3. Yes, he concedes, Critical Mass has a much higher
      profile now. On the other hand, "More people know about Enron
      after it went bankrupt," he says. "Is it better for the brand?"
      In other words, he wonders if perhaps Critical Mass has
      squandered its fame: instead of converting any public sympathy
      into specific improvements for New York cyclists, it has simply
      become known for defiance and arrests.

      Critical Mass participants, of course, take a different view,
      arguing, for example, that the attention has inspired new
      cycling groups to form and more people to switch to commuting
      by bike. Ryan Kuonen, who participates in a somewhat newer (and
      less aggressively policed) Critical Mass ride in Brooklyn, feels
      that the "protest" label is misleading, but also figures that
      getting noticed has had its upside. "It's in the tabloids; it's
      all over the place," she says. "Whether or not people support
      what we're doing, I don't know. But they know we're Critical
      Mass, not just some random freak show on bikes."

      ________________________________________________________________
      E-mail: consumed@....
    • Michael Burton
      http://www.chicagocriticalmass.org/flyers/Rear_Derailer_Vol_1_No_1.pdf Wendt Eyes Mayoral Bid September 30, 2005 by Peter Zelchenko Community activist,
      Message 2 of 3 , Oct 3, 2005
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        September 30, 2005
        by Peter Zelchenko

              Community activist, journalist and longtime Critical Mass
        rider William F. Wendt, Jr., has been added to the short list of potential contenders in the upcoming Chicago 2007 mayoral race.

              And why not? He's younger than Richard M. Daley and more
        energetic. He's more eloquent on his feet. And his ethics are
        unimpeachable.

              He attends at least as many public hearings as Daley, and
        usually has more to say when there.

              Asked whether he was considering a run for mayor, Wendt
        replied, "Well, I think I'd be better off running the Department of
        Planning and Development. You can get more done there."  Wendt was careful not to specifically rule out his candidacy for the city's top office.

            

              Player with railroads

              Wendt's great love is transportation. Raised in Terre Haute,
        Ind., in an intellectual family, he grew up a rail fan and can
        probably tell a story about every foot of track in the area. He
        understands the regional transportation problem and considers
        Chicago's recent efforts scandalously bad. Wendt believes that Daley
        and regional policymakers have failed to address the transportation
        and transport needs of most Chicagoans, instead catering to the
        construction of what he calls a "Yuppie Valhalla" at the expense of
        the rest of the city.

              Whereas Daley has ridden a bicycle once or twice, Wendt rides
        his year-round, avoiding public transportation as perhaps mildly
        bourgeois. While Daley has paid only bemused lip service to the
        demands of activists to depave Lake Shore Drive, Wendt is already in
        full support of the plan and regularly participates in the
        activities.

              Wendt has spent a good deal of time over the years skewering
        car dependency and touting overhead monorail technology, which he
        believes is the solution to virtually all of Chicago's
        transportation problems, from passenger to regional freight.

              Stormy, husky, brawling

              To be sure, Wendt is not afraid of a skirmish. In his youth,
        he successfully fought in federal court, constructing a
        sophisticated defense in response to draft evasion charges against
        him. He served on the front lines in Chicago in 1968, protesting the
        Vietnam War. He's a journalist who has published thousands of
        articles over the years in newspapers and his own broadsides.
        Recently, he supported Cynthia Soto in her campaign for alderman,
        fought tirelessly against wasteful transportation policy and police
        brutality, and stridently opposed the redevelopment of Maxwell
        Street.

              Stacker of paper

              Wendt insisted that the democratic process had been mocked
        when Maxwell Street was turned over to politically connected
        developers in 1998. He punished the politicians, keeping crony
        judges and officials in court for five years, singlehandedly
        researching and filing numerous cases in local and federal courts,
        and even filing two Supreme Court petitions in 2000 and 2002. For
        years, he's assisted homeowners in property rights struggles with
        the city. And he is always ready at the College of Complexes with a
        strong retort against simplistic "unionheads" and "commies." "Bill
        Wendt is a real scrapper," said one of his foes from the College.

              Those familiar with Wendt's skills at argument would
        agree. "If Daley ever agreed to debate Bill Wendt, the race would be
        as good as won," said Michael Burton.

              Wendt is a left libertarian by stripe, which explains why he
        can be seen at progressive rallies and yet disagree with much of the
        dialogue there. While he may have trouble courting the Latino vote,
        he will have little trouble among blacks and liberal whites.

              Pitted against the wilderness

              Wendt could have some obstacles to overcome, not the least
        being Luis Gutierrez and Jesse Jackson, Jr., the two congressmen who
        so far are Daley's most talked-about rivals. But they have sat out
        for months and refused to commit, calling into question their
        ability to launch successful campaigns. Wendt, if he announces
        before Christmas, is likely to enjoy first-mover advantage in the
        race. This has proven to be decisive in the past.

              Wendt's only current threat is his close friend Bill "Dock"
        Walls, a former aide to Harold Washington and the head of Committee
        for a Better Chicago. Insiders report that Wendt has been "involved"
        in Walls' approaching entry into the mayoral race, but they have
        declined to comment on the extent or nature of that involvement.
        Some have speculated that Walls may have been set up by Wendt as a
        mere stalking horse to draw votes away from Wendt's opponents. Walls
        ran unsuccessfully for city clerk in 2003.

              "One thing's for sure, Chicago would be a very interesting
        place with Bill Wendt as mayor," said a longtime political observer.

              Wendt is single and lives in West Town with two or three cats.



        Wendt4Chicago
        -------------
        Finally, a mayoral candidate worth getting excited about!
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Wendt4Chicago/


        Yahoo! for Good
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      • Florindo
        I didn t like this article. It was very much an outsider s view. The only quotations were clipped, brief. They didn t mention the fact huge masses of cars
        Message 3 of 3 , Oct 3, 2005
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          I didn't like this article. It was very much an outsider's view.
          The only quotations were clipped, brief.

          They didn't mention the fact huge masses of cars crowd the streets
          every day, and that's created a transportation, energy,
          environmental and safety disaster.

          Opposing THAT is what critical mass is all about. It's about
          saying NO to the criminal herd mentality that's destroying
          everything.

          Protest? Free speech?

          How about teaching by example.

          --- In critical-mass@yahoogroups.com, Jym Dyer <jym@e...> wrote:
          > http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/magazine/02consumed.html
          >
          > P.R. Cycle
          > By ROB WALKER
          > New York Times Magazine | 02-Oct-2005 | P. 36
          >
          > Critical Mass
          >
          > It has been a little more than a year since the Republican
          > National Convention took place in New York City. The event,
          > as was expected, met with a certain amount of local criticism
          > and disdain, some of which took the form of protests that were
          > followed by arrests. One of the more spectacular incidents
          > involved thousands of bicyclists. "Surging up Sixth Avenue,
          > then across town and down to the East Village, they'd taken
          > over the streets, blocking traffic, infuriating commuters and
          > taxi drivers and reveling in their own numbers," _Salon_, the
          > online magazine, reported at the time. "More than 250 people
          > were arrested."
          >
          > Technically, this was simply the latest installment in a
          > recurring bicycle event known as Critical Mass, which had been
          > going on for years, largely ignored by the police and, it
          > seems fair to say, by the vast majority of New Yorkers. But
          > this particular installment was, for Critical Mass riders and
          > supporters, a kind of branding event.
          >
          > Part of the conceit of Critical Mass is that it is not organized
          > or led by anyone in particular; it simply happens. Political
          > confrontation in New York notwithstanding, the rides actually
          > began in San Francisco in the early 1990's, when cyclists who
          > worked downtown began biking homeward, west up Market Street,
          > as a group. (The name is borrowed from an anecdote about Chinese
          > cyclists who wait until a critical mass of riders can move
          > into the street and essentially force car traffic to adjust.)
          > Critical Mass rides soon started in New York (among other
          > places), where they are now closely associated with the
          > environmental group Time's Up, which posts information about
          > the rides and many other cycling events on its Web site.
          >
          > People join in for a variety of reasons, according to Jym Dyer,
          > who has participated in many of the rides, first in Berkeley and
          > now in New York. Critical Mass can be seen as a method of
          > encouraging biking in the city, a declaration of the need to
          > make New York safer for cyclists, a statement about reclaiming
          > public space or a way to draw attention to the environmental
          > impact of car culture. The ride coinciding with the Republican
          > convention was on "all the protest calendars" and received a lot
          > of advance publicity, says Leah Rorvig, a Time's Up volunteer.
          > "Critical Mass is a really easy, really fun thing," she adds.
          > Instead of standing with a sign for hours, you can move around
          > and meet people, "and you're expressing an idea of dissent."
          > The fungible meaning of Critical Mass, combined with the influx
          > of people who came to New York for the purpose of expressing
          > dissent, contributed to the enormous turnout.
          >
          > This changed the dynamic between Critical Mass and the city
          > government: the rides continue every month, departing from Union
          > Square as before, but now result in a lot of police officers,
          > arrests and criminal charges. (Because of Critical Mass's
          > supposed spontaneity, no one ever applies for any kind of
          > permit.) The resulting steady press coverage has made Critical
          > Mass far better known than it was before the Republican
          > convention, but it has not done much to clarify the meaning and
          > message of the rides, let alone any particular political agenda.
          > Harris Silver offers a perspective as both a founder of
          > Citystreets ("a pedestrian rights and advocacy group") and as
          > president of an advertising and branding agency called Think
          > Tank 3. Yes, he concedes, Critical Mass has a much higher
          > profile now. On the other hand, "More people know about Enron
          > after it went bankrupt," he says. "Is it better for the brand?"
          > In other words, he wonders if perhaps Critical Mass has
          > squandered its fame: instead of converting any public sympathy
          > into specific improvements for New York cyclists, it has simply
          > become known for defiance and arrests.
          >
          > Critical Mass participants, of course, take a different view,
          > arguing, for example, that the attention has inspired new
          > cycling groups to form and more people to switch to commuting
          > by bike. Ryan Kuonen, who participates in a somewhat newer (and
          > less aggressively policed) Critical Mass ride in Brooklyn, feels
          > that the "protest" label is misleading, but also figures that
          > getting noticed has had its upside. "It's in the tabloids; it's
          > all over the place," she says. "Whether or not people support
          > what we're doing, I don't know. But they know we're Critical
          > Mass, not just some random freak show on bikes."
          >
          > ________________________________________________________________
          > E-mail: consumed@n...
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