A tragedy’s aftermath: Porto Alegre, Brazil Critical Mass as described in Shift Happens!

September 11th, 2012 by LisaRuth

If you’re paying attention to Critical Mass or bicycling in the world, you probably heard about the horrific events in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February 2011 when a car drove deliberately into a Critical Mass ride, injuring many. We’ll let you read about the details of that day in the new 20th Anniversary book Shift Happens!: Critical Mass at 20, but what we want to showcase today is the inspiring coming together of community following the tragedy.

Marcelo Kalil, in “Critical Mass Porto Alegre” gives us his first hand view of the open meeting called by the cyclists in the aftermath:

There wasn’t enough space for everyone in Cidade da Bicicleta [a bicycle community center recently inaugurated-ed.]. There were over 200 people in there—many of them hadn’t been on Critical Mass but wanted to do something about it—so we had to hold the meeting in the backyard. And there were so many bicycles you barely had room to even get to the backyard. Everybody spoke in turn and after many hours we reached a decision: we would march on the following Tuesday asking for more humane cities and for the end of impunity for traffic crimes—because homicides where the car is used as a weapon are not treated as seriously as when other weapons are used. The protesters would meet at the same place Critical Mass gathered, would continue to the exact site of the incident to perform a die-in, then they would go to City Hall.

On Tuesday, when we go tot Zumbi dos Palmares Square, there were already a couple hundred people. … Someone printed 200 posters with, “It was not an accident,” written on it, and below a drawing of a half black car, half pistol. There was a samba group playing Carnaval marches with thematic lyrics. And the crowd was growing and growing. There were dozens of reporters and police officers, but mostly it was ordinary people, by foot, by bike, skateboards, with their faces painted, holding signs. Someone had built a cage with PVC pipes around his bike and a girl built a cardboard shield for hers.

The march started and we filled the streets. People stood watching on the sidewalks shouting words of support. Some of them joined us and the march kept growing. Soon we got to the site where Critical Mass was hit, we laid down on the asphalt, we screamed, we cried. It was a magic moment, we were back in that place full of awful memories but we had brought in reinforcements: thousands of people who came to show us solidarity and support. We got up, we kept on. About 4,000 people were marching in the streets, singing along with the samba band who improvised the lyrics and created new songs every few minutes. After all the suffering, I was overflowing with joy once again.

On the following days and weeks we received solidarity from all over the world….The following Critical Mass was one of a kind: there were people coming from different parts of Brazil, such as São Paulo and Curitiba, to ride with Porto Alegre’s Critical Mass. It was a huge ride by our standards. I believe there were more than 500 bicyclists, almost all of them people who had heard of Critical Mass for the first time in the news after the murder attempt. And it was beautiful, there were people in windows of buildings and sidewalks showing their support. Whenever we stopped at a red light everybody started clapping their hands in synchrony. The Mass was more alive and stronger than ever!

Eventually life got back to normal. The meetings with the City Hall and [government] were a fiasco—almost all of our demands and suggestions were completely ignored. The ones that were initially accepted were later dismissed…

I believe our strength is in the streets, not in politicians and their meetings. We do our politics in the streets.

We look forward to welcoming many Brazilians for San Francisco’s 20th Anniversary ride and the week of events leading up to it. Next we “visit” the UK and hear from rides in Manchester and London.

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