Editors, Daily Planet:
In the debate over Oakland’s sideshows, has anyone recognized the similarities between the sideshow phenomena and Critical Mass? Both events involve marginalized people using whatever means are at hand to retake some public space, have fun, meet new people and enjoy the good weather. It may seem a stretch to compare African-American youth with no space in the entire city of Oakland to poor bicyclists squeezed out and hated by motorists, but the similarities are there.
Sideshows and Critical Mass are both leaderless but self-organizing, spontaneous but predictable, fun, alt-community events with political overtones that threaten to keep youthful rebellion alive. Both phenomena are confusing and frightening to the uninitiated and both make demands for breathing room in the public arena.
The other similarity is the way the media, the police and city are reacting to sideshows; very much like the way the San Francisco mayor and police behaved when confronted with Critical Mass. First, they ignored us, then they tried to control us, then for a while they facilitated the ride, then they tried to fight us by cracking heads, impounding bikes and making mass arrests, then they got over themselves and went back to helping the ride pass through unmolested, like any other civic nuisance that mucks up public streets on any given day. And though it still goes on every month in a town near you, unless you’ve been stuck in it, you haven’t heard much about Critical Mass in years, because the shock value has waned and the media has moved on to the latest menace du jour like sideshows and terrorist preschoolers.
Perhaps we should think outside the mayor’s box.