Taking a bike across Europe, Critical Mass style (Shift Happens! excerpts)

September 10th, 2012 by LisaRuth

The Critical Mass model of a mass ride has been used as an inspiration to go in directions the monthly ride never imagined it would. Alissa Starodub and Robbie take us across the borders of many countries and take on international issues through two-wheeled activism. In today’s installment of excerpts from Shift Happens!: Critical Mass at 20, we go to both Ecotopia and to Palestine.

Alissa Starodub’s “Take a Bike to Ecotopia (Take a Car to Hell)” gives a personal look at international activists coming together on bikes against climate change and for social and environmental issues:

Imagine you go on a Critical Mass in your local town, you ride a route around the city center and then the bike tour just continues. All the cyclists just keep going to the next town, form a Critical Mass there shouting, “Two wheels are enough!” and “System Change not Climate Change!” and then move on to the north or to the south … whatever has been decided. With all the other cyclists you camp on a field somewhere along the way and continue the next morning.  You won’t come home for the next few months, maybe years, because you finally broke free from your daily routine, or whatever prevents you from going on the journey, and now are reclaiming the streets for non-polluting cyclists everywhere in the world.

Now imagine it’s true. There is a version of an almost never ending Critical Mass—or at least some kind of ride that goes through different countries and lasts for months. It is called Ecotopia Biketour.

The first action I performed joining the Ecotopia Biketour was dumpster diving at a Dutch discount supermarket to get some more ingredients for the common dinner. In rich countries up to 30% of the food produced and imported ends up unconsumed in a dumpster. Most of it is still very enjoyable; sometimes the eat-by date hasn’t arrived yet. Mass consumption, overproduction, and a really bad pricing policy that aims to produce more at cheaper costs creates a very environmentally unfriendly thing. So I learned to perceive dumpster diving for food as a political action.

The cyclists with banners on their bikes and leaves in their hair who picked me up introduced me to the whole Ecotopia Biketour community. We reached an organic goat farm in the afternoon of my first day. Twenty people arrived bit by bit to the garden where we were camping. Later on some of us would sleep smoothly on soft hay bales in the neighboring barn. Cyclists exchanged stories from their ride and collected firewood to feed the rocket stove which would heat our delicious vegan curry dinner.

On the way from Holland to Belgium and then Germany we met up with various local environmental NGOs, participated in a demonstration in Brussels, some of us gave many interviews to local media, we attended a permaculture festival, organized a Critical Mass in Gent and joined one in Cologne, cycled through the heaviest rain that I have ever seen, some of us lost our shoes and decided that we didn’t need new ones for the moment, some of us slept in a tree house one night.

My head is stuffed with pictures of all the nice people that we met who shared our interest in cycling and environmentalism…

Robbie’s “International Solidarity: The Bicycle as Creative Response” reflects on the motivations for a cross-Europe bicycle ride in support of Palestinians living under a military occupation:

When we take part in Critical Mass rides, we remind ourselves not only how we can re-imagine our urban landscapes away from the dominance of the motor car, but also how we can use our bikes as a form of collective action. Over recent years, many mobilisations and protests such as the anti-capitalist demos against the G20 in London in April 2009 have had a Critical Mass contingent as part of the plans. The concept of longer distance solidarity rides has also been used in Europe and elsewhere with groups such as Bicycology riding from Southern England to Gleneagles in Scotland for the G8 counter-summit in 2005.

After a few months of planning and preparation in March 2011, a group of 20 cyclists set off from London to make a 7,000 km journey across Europe and the Middle East within a loose target of 100 days. Having stopped in several communities along the way, the “PEDAL—100 Days to Palestine” riders arrived in the West Bank in July 2011.

The bicycle was not simply our mode of transport. If resistance is art, then the bike was our form! We saw the rid as a creative response to the Palestinian Civil Society’s 2005 joint call for a programme of Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions against Israeli companies and institutions complicit in ongoing human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza. Just as we might distribute a flyer, poster our streets, blockade an arms factory, or organise a mass boycott—so too could we use the bicycle as a spectacle through which to talk about the realities of Palestinian life under Occupation—and how we can oppose it.

In several places we organised Critical Mass rides in order to meet people, find out more about various sites of contention within different communities, and to listen to the stories of people who lived there.

To find out where PEDAL’s Critical Mass rides took place, and what issues were hot, pick up a copy of Shift Happens! to be found in bookstores around the Bay Area this week. Or you can order online from us directly!  Hope to see you at a few border crossing events during the week lead up to the 20th Anniversary ride on 28 September! Tomorrow join the conversation for Porto Alegre’s dramatic Critical Mass story.

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