Protest or Celebration? Or Something Deeper Still?

Had a nice ride out to the Sunset last weekend, in our typical weird week of summer weather in January. Standing at the edge of the Sunset reservoir looking eastward I took this shot through the fence, over the acres of solar panels sitting on the reservoir roof.

I’m posting a text I distributed at last night’s Critical Mass here in San Francisco, reflecting some of the discussions I’ve been part of during the past months. The ride last night was lovely, about 1000 riders, a good spontaneous route that took us winding through South of Market and into the Mission before heading back north and then west into Golden Gate Park. I bailed after about 2 hours at Fell and Masonic where I took these photos. There were at least five “circle-ups” last night, in lieu of stops at red lights, which I don’t much like, but it served the purpose of getting the ride regrouped, while also pointlessly blocking traffic in all directions at the intersections where it happened.

I like the way the guy in the foreground is a blur while the woman seems to be holding the peace/US flag (an oxymoron if I ever saw one!), but actually it was another guy behind her. Fun with digital photography...

A bike lift is starting at Fell and Masonic, January 28, 2011 Critical Mass.

Anyway, here’s the text I wrote and distributed as a flyer last night:

Protest or Celebration? Or Something Deeper Still?

As long as you have a bike to ride, you don’t have to buy anything to participate in Critical Mass, neither object nor service, nor an ideology beyond a desire to partake in public life on two wheels. When hundreds and thousands of cyclists seize the streets for a convivial and celebratory use of public space, many of the expectations and rules of modern capitalism are challenged. Individual behaviors escape the logic of buying and selling, if only for a few hours. Once in the street together, unexpected connections emerge, unplanned events occur, and serendipitous relationships begin. Unlike a trip to the mall or the market, the conversations are unburdened by the logic of transactions, of prices and measurements. It’s a free exchange among free people. The experience alters one’s sense of city life immediately, and more importantly, shifts our collective imaginations in ways we have only begun to learn about.

Critical Mass cyclists are among the most visible practitioners of a new kind of social conflict. The “assertive desertion” embodied in bicycling erodes the system of social exploitation organized through private car ownership and the oil industry. And by cycling in urban centers in the Empire, we join a growing movement around the world that is repudiating the social and economic models controlled by multinational capital and imposed on us without any form of democratic consent. This mass seizure of the streets by a swarming mob of bicyclists “without leaders” is precisely the kind of self-directing, networking logic that is transforming our economic lives and threatening the structure of government, business, and (as more imaginative military strategists are coming to understand) policing and war-making too.

Critical Mass has a new cousin in town: the San Francisco Bike Party (SFBP). The party-like qualities of Critical Mass have always been present, but the Bike Party model as developed in San Jose and other cities first involves an organizing (and monitoring) crew of volunteers who direct the fun. The first official SFBP happened a few weeks ago on January 7 and drew around 1000 riders on a bitterly cold night. It was a lot like Critical Mass in some ways—I enjoyed dozens of conversations with people I found myself next to in the ride, there were music machines, and friendly vibes from riders and passersby alike. We were dozens and hundreds of bicyclists filling the streets and displacing cars, just as we’d dreamed back in the first months of Critical Mass in 1992.

Continue reading Protest or Celebration? Or Something Deeper Still?

Anatomy of Decomposition

It’s been a while since I had the inspiration to blog. I’ve been home through the holidays, and since I was in Mexico at the beginning of December, I’ve been reading a ton. In particular I wanted to ruminate in this entry on three books that, taken together, are a fantastic primer on the current state of working class politics. Why think about that, you might wonder?

We’re living through the most excessive, blatant, overwhelming mass looting of public wealth by the plutocracy that has ever happened in this House of Mirrors that calls itself the United States. Obama, a guy I never felt any enthusiasm for, has lived down to my expectations again and again, or really, he’s plunged many fathoms lower than I could even imagine him going. The casual abandonment of rule-of-law promises (forget about Guantanamo, forget about habeas corpus—Executive Power is increasingly monarchical and the Dems are pushing it as much as the Bushies ever did) is bad enough. And handing the keys to the public treasury to the banks during the bailout, and to the defense industry the rest of the time, all pretty bad too… In the past week Obama has appointed old-style fixer Bill Daley (direct from his job at JPMorganChase) and Gene Sperling from Goldman Sachs to run his economic policy. Can it be any more blatant? There is a tiny cabal of self-serving plutocrats who are determined to take every last granule of public wealth for themselves before it all collapses in a pile of debt and empty malls, rusting ports and abandoned skyscrapers. Obama is just their smiling front man, and he’s not even trying to hide it anymore!

So where are the angry citizens? The demonstrations, pickets, strikes? (Oh yeah, they’re all signing up for Facebook groups and clicking “angry” petitions and “urgent” appeals online! Maybe they’re reading—or writing—blogs!) Where are the workers who are getting screwed in this Great Theft? What about a collective response to the destruction of the economy, the nearly one in five who are unemployed? There’s not a simple explanation, but at this point we have to wonder who exactly are we expecting to “take action”? There is not a shared sense of class among the vast majority of the population that exchanges their daily lives for wages. There is more confusion, cynical bitterness, and racial animosity than any common idea of a class enemy. The very concept of “class” is largely rejected by most people, or grossly misinterpreted to mean a wide range of strata that include such bizarre convolutions as “lower-upper-middle-class.” Most people think they’re middle class, whether they’re making $88,000 a year or $17,000. The fact that nearly all of us have to sell ourselves to an employer in exchange for money (some much better paid than others, obviously) is the real key to the picture. Nearly everyone in modern America is some kind of a wage-slave, regardless of the fantasies they harbor about their status based on their temporary ability to engage in debt spending.
Continue reading Anatomy of Decomposition

The Long Night

Another guest editorial, this one from my pal Iain Boal… a timely rumination on today’s sell-off of the internet by the Obama appointees on the Federal Communications Commission…

by Iain Boal
Winter Solstice 2010
4.30 AM, BERKELEY—Later today, in the hours between total lunar eclipse and the longest night, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be discussing an Order (drafted by its chairman and Obama appointee) which spells the end of the internet as a common carrier, and will allow “paid prioritization” by big capitalist firms. We have lived through the opening military-socialist phase of the planetary telecommmunications system, whose infrastructure required public subvention and state action far beyond the ability of private capitals – cold war computing and informatics, Pentagon ballistics and telemetry, DoD funded materials science, rocketry and satellite R & D, eminent domain and state seizures as necessary, etc. Now Big Telecom is poised and the electromagnetic enclosures are beginning in earnest; the camel’s nose is the (de)regulation of the internet in its etherial mode, the so-called “mobile services”.
The opinion of the mass of commoners counts for nought, and the silent compliance of public servants and officials is at this stage a given, as when in 1800 the seizure of the commons could be completed, no longer in “letters of blood and fire”, but with the stroke of the pen in Parliament by means of private members’ Bills of Enclosure. In 2010 it takes a comedian-turned-US senator, aghast at the idea of Comcast customers being blocked from Netflix, to describe the prospects:

Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it…For many Americans – particularly those who live in rural areas – the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections. Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet – but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called “paid prioritization” (the creation of a “fast lane” for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern. It sure is – but that’s exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination. Continue reading The Long Night