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Katrina and climate justice at Critical Mass

Posted by on August 25th, 2006 at 7:24 am

Rising Tide North America is an activist group that raises awareness for the “root causes of climate change.” Tonight, the group is using our monthly Critical Mass ride—and 28 others around the U.S. and Canada—to raise awareness for their cause and to draw attention to the anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

According to the official press release (PDF):

“From Los Angeles to Toronto, an estimated 2,500 riders will hit the streets to remind the public about the plight of Katrina survivors while fundraising for advocacy groups. The ride will draw attention to the links between fossil fuels, climate change, and destructive hurricanes.

Riders will be talking to drivers and pedestrians about the intersection of race, class and environmental issues. Sporting “gas-free” bicycles, the riders will highlight the connection between the oil industry and the ongoing hardship in the Gulf Coast.”

Organizers of this event will be happy to know that due to cooperation between cyclists and the Portland Police Bureau, recent Critical Mass rides have included only one motorized vehicle and 9-10 bicycle cops.

Portland Critical Mass happens the last Friday of every month. Riders meet at the North Park Blocks at 5:30 between Couch and Burnside. The ride leaves at 6:00.

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brianBrettveloceroptisMatt PicioMatt P. Recent comment authors
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Just an observation…

Critical Mass is:

– A leaderless, spontanous bike ride through the streets of Portland (and hundreds of other cities worldwide)
– A time to ride your bike without fear through busy downtown streets
– A great way to meet other bicyclists, pass out fliers, learn about other events
– A meandering celebration of bicycling
– Something different for everyone
– Family-friendly
– A visionary projection of what our future might look like

Critical Mass is not:

– Dangerous, violent, threatening, or exclusive
– A place to buy, sell, or capitalize
– Planned in advance
– A race to the finish

Jonathan Maus

More observations:

Critical Mass can be:
-A place to network with like-minded people.
-A place to spread information about bike-related issues.

Critical Mass is not:
-For any one person to define.


Point taken.

I’m just concerned when, sometimes, situations that encourage the passionate display of politically charged issues will alienate people against cyclists when those issues are not PRIMARILY cycling related.

The link posted here for “Rising Tide North America” states- “The goal of this ride is to take to the streets with a reminder that the racist tragedy in the Gulf continues, a demand that it never be repeated, and to raise awareness about the role of the oil industry and global warming in environmental injustice.” These issues are not DIRECTLY related to cycling… therein lies my concern.


I’m going to have to side with Brett on this one– it seems weird to me that one group can use critical mass as a fundraiser, even if it is for a very good cause. I thought that the fact that CM is such a big leaderless random coincidence is what makes it so special.

Jonathan Maus

I agree with you Brett. Don’t take my post and comments as being supportive of what Rising Tide is doing.

Just reporting the facts.

My personal feeling is more on the side of leaving non-bike issues and politics completely out of Critical Mass…but I also appreciate that no one has the right to say who can and can’t show up.

It should be self-policing. If people don’t like this, they can make their voice heard on the Critical Mass mailing list or in person at the ride.

Matt P.

“It should be self-policing. If people don’t like this, they can make their voice heard on the Critical Mass mailing list or in person at the ride.”

Or by not showing up.

I was going to make this evening my first CM ride, but after reflecting on it, I think I’ll pass and show up next month instead. I’m interested in promoting cycling in positive ways, and I have some philosophical disagreements with the opinions of Rising Tide as espoused on their website.

On second though, I think I will show up at 5:30, and see what the character of the ride will be and where they’re going – it’s leaderless, if I don’t like it, I’ll go ride somewhere else with whoever wants to go do that.


I’m glad folks are talking about this…it’s a really good discussion to have.

My take…since this event was organized by dozens of rides and riders around the country (take a tour of critical mass websites), it seems very odd to place this outside of the realm of c-m. unless pdx c-m has some code of conduct I never read….

I’ve have been riding critical mass since 1997, and rides have had signs and info talking about climate change at half of them all over the U.S.

Certainly it’s up-to-debate on a tactical level! That’s why I say it’s a good discussion!

But to call it “un-critical mass” seems both hyberbolic and demonstratably false given that it happened in 30 c-m rides around the US (and 1 in Europe)…it’s not like Rising Tide is a communist plot with pod-people planted from Tulsa, OK to St. Catherine’s, Ontario taking over critical mass rides.


Can I ask why people have only talked about this on this website and never on the pdx-critical mass list where it’s been chatted about for several weeks before? Serious question.

Why has no one who thought it was a bad idea (to the best of my knowledge) contacted any of the people who organized this here in portland and said so?

When the opportunity was clearly there, it feels unneccessarily contrarion to talk about it only on a public website, rather than attempting to make a human or at least email connection with fellow critical massers…

Anyhow, I hope no one who went to the ride felt it was “taken over”; there was just some signs, about 1/3 of the riders handed out some info, and there was zydeco and jazz music.

Seems not such a terrible thing when there’s a least a few c-mers who think climate change isn’t a fringe issue to cycling – the rising tide website (indeed, read beyond the first few paragraphs) also says that “We aren’t here to just remind people about the ongoing suffering in the Gulf Coast, we are riding also to promote something positive: bikes as a sustainable alternative to oil.”


Matt Picio

Well, the ride turned out to be a lot better than I expected. The message that Rising Tide was putting out wasn’t phrased in any way that I had a problem with, those there with that group weren’t trying to bludgeon everyone over the head with their message, and the Portland PD was on their best behavior. Hopefully that’s as a result of all the efforts of Jonathan, the BTA, and other advocates who have been working with the police department

I’ll definitely be back for another ride next month.


It wouldn’t be hard to connect bicycling to Katrina (although not specifically through rising tide) since they are both environmental issues (particularly the impacts of fossil fuels use on global warming and the possible connection to increasingly stronger and more frequent hurricanes within the gulf region). I can imagine that there are still a lot of peoples lives that are still in comlete disarray (i.e. the “low income”) from Hurricane Katrina that probably lost their vehicles and/or access to reliable public transportation systems. It seems like it would be a great opportunity to run a program similar to Bikes Not Bombs in which folks can get bicycles and or bicycle support to people living within the region, and help provide basic, yet reliable means of transportation to them. Does anyone know if the Plan B Bicycle Collective is still running in New Orleans?


Hey, thanks of the update… I was wondering how it went.


plan b is still operational! check out

a lot of the rides around the continent included fund raising for a couple organizations down there, one of which was plan b.


just wanted to clarify that every person from rising tide involved in organizing this is also longtime critical mass riders – it was just a bunch of critical mass riders who are also climate activists (and vicea versa) trying to get folks involved in a continentaly themed ride. no more, no less.

Other “non-critical mass” groups like CICLE in LA, bikes not bombs in SF also got involved in local organizing. Many critical massers everywhere are involved in a lot of interesting stuff besides crtical mass (e.g. BTA, musicians, food not bombs, etc.) and I think all these relations – while they should never “control” critical mass, do have a lot to bring!

One of the biggest c-m rides in the last decade was at the RNC….not DIRECTLY related to bikes, but it’s still critical mass!

Pesronally, I see openess (and of course acceptance that some won’t want to participate in every aspect of every ride) and diversity as a great thing….