Whence Cometh Road Rage?

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Background Reading


Like it or not there is a price to be paid when:

  • You either do something that enrages the population of a community to the point that is conducts a street protest, or
  • If the protest turns violent or abusive you often send a message that lawlessness is what you prefer and this enrages innocent bystanders or nightly news viewers against your protest

In short Critical Mass Rides either make ‘friends‘ or ‘enemies‘. When you decide to participate in the World Naked Bike Ride you are either able to communicate the passion and legitimacy of your viewpoint or you bring ridicule on it.

This is not something that like your viewpoint to be debated. It simply happens. If you are riding home on a Friday and suddenly find yourself embroiled in a traffic jam, deliberately created by angry and outraged bicyclists you are like the person who is heading home to be with her children and encounters a demonstration by African-Americans or LGBT or Red-Necks for Jesus whose message is difficult to understand amidst all the commotion.

What is however easy to understand is that someone in the demonstration did something to you which you found offensive and you suddenly took it personally. That is how Road Rage often begins in places like Chicago. A commuter heading home after a very long and troubling day suddenly has hundreds of cyclists riding past him slapping the hood of his car and hearing a derisive ‘Happy Friday‘ screamed at him.

How Are Protests Structured?

To be considered a ‘good protest‘ it needs at least three things:

  • News coverage worthy of making the nightly news
  • Participants who understand the problem being addressed and willing to go to jail if the necessity arises
  • An audience that is suddenly polarized and outraged at the outrage of the demonstrators

The very worst thing that a demonstration can have happen to it, is to be ignored. When that happens you have not made an impact. But just how far do you go to get the audience involved? And what sort of residual issues will their outrage bring about?

Demonstrators Need To Understand The Dynamics Of The Actions

Some demonstrations are easily forgotten. The frustration their participants are venting about is quite obscure and in no way affects the lives of the audience. Nothing really horrid has happened and that probably means that if the media do show up they will probably be apathetic and everyone will wake up on the next day and have forgotten about your cause.

The World Naked Bike Ride is a Wiccan-inspired demonstration against Global Oil Use. This particular debacle is structured around nudity. That is what gets the media to come out. And the prospect of viewing naked bodies is what makes the audience bother to even watch.

What is truly bizarre however is the degree of disdain the participants have for voyeurs. They go naked to in fact bring out the media and to get the attention of their audience and then show outrage that people are peering at their naked bodies. Somebody needs to rethink this silly exercise in Wiccan Drama to get its message more on point.

But when the group doing the demonstrating is easily defined (e.g. African-American teens) it means that the audience will either have a readily defined group to empathize with or to hate. And any African-American youth riding the bus the following morning is likely to see furtive glances directed his way after a night of rioting and looting and arson. That is a fact that cannot be ignored.

Actions Have Consequences

When you hit the pavement as a cyclist each morning you have absolutely no idea what the mindset of your fellow travelers in automobiles might be. That woman with her two kids over there in the next lane was probably caught taking her kids home from day care Last Friday when you and your buddies were on the Critical Mass Ride.

Her kids were emotionally terrorized and she went home seething with anger. You might have even been on that ride. But even if you were not you fit the profile of the folks who make her evening ride home miserable. How is she going to react to you?

When a driver expresses outrage at your behavior in what you consider an out-of-context fashion you might be the one rider on that morning who is likely to find himself/herself the target of some retribution. To your way of thinking this is happening ‘out of the blue‘. But that person’s experience with the Critical Mass Ride last Friday was also ‘out of the blue‘.

What we do each day when we stop to help another person on the Chicago Lakefront Trail who is stuck without a spare inner tube or pump or patch kit is just the opposite of their normal experience with people they do not know. It is so very strange that sometimes they actually refuse your help believing that you might be up to ‘no good‘.

Demonstrations Need To Be Thoughtful

I came across a response to the kind of ‘demonstration bicycle ride‘ that I think is most meaningful:

Reply by Joe Guzzardo on Friday

This is beautiful. I’ve never been very enamored with the tactics used by Critical Mass, they tend to be counter productive.

I hope they do this sort of thing in my ‘hood. I will follow up. It would sure be nice to read the papers after one hot summer weekend to find that there were no shootings, no murders and no mayhem in the city. Some types of excitement I can do without.

A ‘good demonstration‘ is one which is ‘effective‘. It means that when you are done three things have occurred:

  • Your cause is part of the societal conversation that is carried on via the media.
  • Your membership is feeling energized and full of hope.
  • Your uninvolved neighbors ‘got the message‘ and ‘want to help‘.

Failing any of  these three things your efforts were probably not focused enough. And most importantly if your membership is not worried that its message is not being understand and has not generated empathy toward your cause then you have work to do within the movement.