Take that for what you will (“No licence on bike,” the ticket read), but I’ve been reading up a little about last Saturday’s Crank Mob, first via Westside BikeSIDE, then Streetsblog, with a couple of the MR forums to boot.
I don’t have much to offer on that ride or on the specifics and particulars of Alex’s case (except to wish him well), but I do still wonder about where bike riding, writing, advocacy, partying, socializing, commuting, and just about anything else you can do on a bike is taking all of us (or even just me). See, one of the things I’ve been attracted to about biking and adding one small and intermittent voice to a world of bike advocacy is the possibility of effecting some small piece of change in a small part of a big city. Hence, maps. And more generally, writing, insisting that I’m a presence – if intermittent these recent weeks – on the road. But there’s this political dimension to riding in Los Angeles that I’ve found really appealing.
And thinking back to the handful of Critical Mass rides that I have been on, there’s something engaging about that program as well, a way of agitating and demonstrating by way of community action. I like that.
But is Crank Mob political? Should it be? That’s what I’m wondering and that’s what I’ve been thinking a little bit about these past couple of days. See, Alex’s post brings up a lot of issues about civil rights – our rights before the law – and the comments bring that out even more: That Alex’s cuffing and citing speaks to a violation of his civil rights (and that may well be the case). But the distinction I’m trying to draw out, arcane as it is, is between our rights as civilians and our rights as subjects.
By civilians, I mean we’re people who live in a civil society, with laws that guarantee us equality before the law, due process, etcetera. By subjects, though, I mean we’re people who come into a particular position of agency by acting according to certain normative codes. Meaning that I come to be a graduate student – to have the powers and responsibilities of a graduate student – by acting like a graduate student. And that’s all well and good, because being a graduate student is a mostly non-threatening activity.
At the same time, what does it mean to be a cyclist? What does it mean to be a cyclist in Los Angeles? And what does it mean to be a cyclist in Los Angeles on a Saturday night with Crank Mob? I don’t know much about group rides, and I know even less about Crank Mob, but my guess is that that ride stands so far outside the pale of most people in Los Angeles that nobody knows what to do with it (and that, I think, is part of its appeal, party on pavement), least of all the police.
Because Crank Mob is a mob, with everything that comes with that: A lack of order, a capacity to act like wild buffalo, an impossibility of containment. A bunch of unruly cars? Herd ‘em to the side. But a bunch of unruly bikes? Like herding drunk kittens.
I’m not saying that Alex should have been cited. But I think it’s worth asking – as sometime people on the MR forums are doing – after the sometimes incommensurable encounters between the police and these large group rides. To be a subject – a rider in a Crank Mob affair – is to stand so far from what the police are accustomed to dealing with that it’s almost a foregone conclusion that people are going to be cited for trying to do the right thing.
I guess my question is this: What kind of responsibility does Crank Mob have to become a subject that doesn’t rock the boat too much? Can there be a Crank Mob that isn’t inherently threatening to the police and the communities CM rides through? And what would that Crank Mob look like? Would it even be a Crank Mob?
I dunno, but I think it’s worth asking after the ways in which becoming a biking subject in Los Angeles makes one a little less of an Angeleno citizen. Because to be told I don’t have a bike licence? That’s pig latin.