pig latin

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.


11 responses to “pig latin

  1. The problem with Crank Mob is it has been overrun with little kids who don’t care about riding, they just want a group to hide within and rebel against the world. It used to be a good time that amazingly was not that disruptive for how crazy it has always been. But the growth of the ride has attracted an element that can come of no good. It’s really unfortunate, because it used to be my favorite ride.

  2. Isn’t the idea of the group bicycle ride not only form of fun (hey, let’s meet ppl and get outside and ride) but also a form of activism in support of alternative forms of transportation? It seems (from reading, not experience) that these groups are, either consciously or subconsciously, a form of mobile protest due to the infrastructural discrimination meted about how places have been planned and layed out.

    Until a month or two ago, I had never heard of a bicycle license before and am surprised that the ‘bastion of liberalism’ that is CA has such a thing. As long as you’re obeying the traffic laws, I see no need for law enforcement to be involved, like with any other vehicle.

    I have a feeling that the citations given out to the Crank Mob crew was a) a show of power and that b) they knew that it wouldn’t cost them a thing as those cited would either pay the fine or hire a lawyer instead of going through the trouble to fight it in court (as specifically layed out by a (possible) lawyer in the comments section of streetsblog). The one thing police do not want to deal with is a large, unruly crowd but they can also judge how hostile that crowd is to them and what methods are needed to control them. The cordoning and citations were a display of their authority and a way to take the crowd under their control and most likely judged that it would lead the rest to disperse and not cause trouble. Had it been a more obviously political crowd it could’ve turned more ugly (see footage from NYU tuition protests for example).

    Anyways, sorry y’all have to deal with such crap.

  3. Straight up: CRANK MOB is bad politics.

    The only type of reporting it will lead to is: “Police try to stop crazed mob on wheels”.

    It will create a ridiculous, “Oh I love bikes, but I wear a helmet, only ride in the park, and heavens no I never go out at night with the CRANK MOB!” counter-movement within the cycling movement.

    Doing interesting and wild things with a big group of people on bikes is one thing, general mayhem and lawlessness is a recipe for lame expose pieces and an embarrassment of unnecessary police force.

  4. “Straight up: CRANK MOB is bad politics.” – ubrayj02

    CRANK MOB isn’t politics. Have you ever seen CRANK MOBbers saying “I do this for sustainability blah blah blah”? No. CRANK MOB is fun, and that’s it.

    Grrr – Bike Writers Collective members naysaying each other gets under my skin.

  5. Politics are present whether people believe they are being political or not. When something becomes a news story because dozens of cops are on the scene and helicopters are following, it becomes political. Politics doesn’t have to be sustainability blah blah blah as you put it, but when kids are swerving around the street yelling “F@ck you!” at random motorists waiting for us to pass, that becomes politics. What makes something political is both the action and the reaction. An artist can make a painting with dead babies with communist stars, and claim, I just thought it looked cool, but that doesn’t change at all the fact it will be read in a political way.

  6. Well, then I can construe supernovae, viruses, and ugly flowers as political.

    CRANK MOB might be bad politics, but almost no one taking part in it or organizing it approaches the ride with political intent. If CRANK MOB was political then we would have taken it to Main St in Santa Monica and banged on SMPD’s door a long time ago. So when someone criticizes it for being bad politics, in the more liberal definition that you’re applying, they are not communicating very effectively, because the participants and the organizers don’t care.

    And here’s the surprising thing – as political as I am, I don’t care. I care about safety issues and I care about whether CRANK MOB is attacked by police in a way that endangers it’s future existence, but I really don’t care if it has some larger negative impact on the bike movement. I do CRANK MOB for fun, and if others make a larger issue out of it, that’s their problem.

  7. I was all with you on most of that sentiment, often defending Crank Mob from nay sayers, up until the last one I went on. That was the tipping point for me, it just flat out wasn’t fun anymore to be witnessing the gross negligence, disregard and contempt for not only the communities we passed through, but safety of fellow riders. Crank mob always had it’s problems, but to me the positive energy and fun out shown the bad aspects, it really was my favorite ride. But as it has gotten bigger and bigger, and younger and more reckless, the negatives far out weigh the positives in my view.

  8. Well then, Make It Happen Gary. Talk to the organizers – onethirtynine and richtotheie – about it. Or you can go public with your dissatisfaction . . . though I think before you do that you ought to approach the organizers privately and warn them that this is your plan. I personally would appreciate it if you would engage on this issue, because I have been working on it and getting very little.

    Because there’s no such thing as halfway crooks, and comments are so halfway. PC says “Get A Blog” and I say “Use It”.

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