Monday, April 8, 2013

A Day in the Park, Parents & Children

Welcome new members of Bike Club.  Today we will be going for a ride in the park with our fathers and sons, sisters and brothers, mothers and daughters.  Let's roll.

A father places a gentle hand on the back of his son's head.  The son becomes a man, whose father is dead.  

Four girls, two boys, four women, two men, and a dog in relative motion.

A sense of equilibrium as gravity is kept at bay and the laws of physics make themselves intelligible to anyone in orbit around a precious star.

We can do this today, but not forever.

Death Won't Even Be Still

Dear Bike Club,

What is the meaning of Life?   I can only consider the Life of meaning.

I'm in love with this girl.  She's French.  She lives in Paris.  She rides a bike.  She wears cute clothes.  She is a big fan of Piere Paolo Pasolini, and a passionate student of literature, language, and love. 

And she will die some day.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bikes and...

Men selling trinkets to tourists in Le Jardin des Tuileries, the garden in front of what used to be the king's palace and is now the largest museum in the world, Le Louvre, suddenly pack up their wares and begin to scram.  You can't sell trinkets in the king's garden.  Paris, December 2012.

A flipped and flooded car in New Orleans' Lower 9th ward, a few 100 meters from where the levy broke in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Pictured above is my long lost friend, Pipo, who had a fondness for cars, having lived in one, and who argued with me about bikes and cars over beers in the Marigny, February, 2006.  I couldn't convince him that night that bikes were cooler than cars.  But the next day, after a long and disgusting day gutting flooded out houses, Pipo rolled up on a salvaged bike and asked me if I wanted to go for a ride.  We spent the next 9 days rolling around New Orleans, talking about everything in life.  I miss you my old friend.

Summer 2012, near Sultan, Washington.  Kids still ride their bikes in the summer.  Praise be.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Let's Roll-- 2012

Time flies.  I like the speed of time while riding a bike-- things seems to arrive and disappear at an appropriate pace.  Not so when I'm walking (impatiently) or driving (always in a hurry).  The summer of 2012 went too fast, and now I head back to work to face a new generation of kids.

At the moment my inspiration is coming from Flight of the Conchords.  I like that they listen to the kids, take their (nonsensical) ideas, and turn them into a work of art.  It seems like the right response.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The 99%

A Bicycle Occupying La Défense

As of Monday, the Occupy Paris movement at La Défense had been reduced to a dozen or so people determined to camp in the cold & rain.  Police raided a larger group on Saturday (11/5) and confiscated tents.  Tents, along with cardboard, are among the items that police are banning from the area, though in the "General Assembly" meeting on Monday night, protestors voted to actively fight these prohibitions, which they assert are illegal.  
The cardboard boxes may be the more important of the two because, though it can't keep protestors warm or dry, it can be used to do things like this:
"I am here because when I look ahead I see nothing."

It sounds better in French, but the statement is about the sustainability of the current economic and political system.  Can we really go on like this?

In the background of the photo above are the steps leading to the entrance of La Grande Arche de la Défense, which houses the French ministries of Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Housing and Transportation. 

So... all day long, the people who actually work for the government on these important issues walk past the protestors who-- to say the least-- are extremely dissatisfied with the current results of that work.    

This is an interesting dichotomy.  It's easy to see the protestors as... well... childish.  The sharply dressed professionals that work inside the building are impressive in many ways.  Obviously well-dressed, and presumably well-educated, they spend their hours working on these problems.  It is also easy to imagine their attitudes towards the protestors who are camping outside their offices.

This is where the claims of "We are the 99%" become relevant.  Outside, there are perhaps 50 to 100 people gathered at the protest and otherwise milling about it.  But inside the impressive buildings that surround the plaza there are thousands of people.  These people are busily working, or equally busy shopping.  The McDonald's in the mall adjacent to the protest area is typically packed with 3x the number of protestors.  In this context, the protestors are actually the 1%; the shoppers and business men & women are the 99%.

But that is not to say that the two groups have a conflict of interest-- at least not necessarily.  Certainly the professionals working for the Ministère de l'Écologie, du Développement durable, des Transports et du Logement
are concerned about the environment.  They work each day to address society's needs and problems.  As for the shoppers, who knows what they think, but perhaps the urgency of these issues has been obscured by the spectacular sales on shiny & desirable retail merchandise.

Imagine how much you need this stuff!

The Occupation of La Défense provides a perfect context and opportunity for grass-roots politics to take root.  But it's going to require that the 1% (of protestors) engage (and not alienate) the 99% of the population that are-- presumably-- living their lives quite comfortably.

Protest Signs Occupy a Car Advertisement

Some of that engagement is already taking place.  The workers from the office buildings-- at least a few of them-- are stopping to read some of the protest signs as well as engage in the occasional conversation.

"Where resignation stops, Revolt begins".
"People first, Not Money"

"Imagine, Create, Think"
"Peace is a virtue, a condition of the Spirit, a dispostion of goodwill, confidence, and Justice." (-Spinoza)
"There's no Planet B"

What makes your heart beat?  What do you care about?  What are your most cherished ideas & experiences?  It's a question everyone can answer, but first it must be asked.

"And you? What makes your heart beat?"
(Please leave Your answer in the comments section!)

"Vacation, My blood; A beautiful work of art; Life with my friends; Music..."
"My friends & family; Relationships with others; Maintaining human dignity; Looking for a job; My family; Animals..."

"Love; Coming home to France; That mankind still has ideas worth defending; The Diversity of conflicting ideas..."

Whether you are passionate about politics and the social issues of our times...

Or simply passionate...

... you are part of the 99%, and Bike Club salutes you.

 Let's Roll!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Critical Mass & The Occupation

Critical Mass San Francisco was (and is) a brilliant effort to reclaim public space for public use.  Bike Club officially endorses this principle and therefore is in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  There are 3 aspects of Critical Mass that helped make it become both popular and effective:

A) It's simple.

Though it is a form of "protest" and therefore a political action, Critical Mass simply says, "Let's ride bikes!" 

B) It's fun. 

Unlike many a dreary anti-war, anti-this, or anti-that protest, where the protestors are reduced to chanting slogans, listening to speeches, and otherwise dwelling on the grim state of affairs against which they feel themselves pitted, Critical Mass relies on, and draws energy from the inherent fun of riding a bicycle.

C) It's legal.

"Closed(except for business)."
Critical Mass is not technically a "protest".  Each individual cyclist claims his/ her right to circulate on the public roadways like any other vehicle.  

Obviously Critical Mass is about more than just riding bikes, but it always is just riding bikes.  Bike Club would like to invite commentary and discussion on this issue, specifically as it relates to the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Critical Mass is indeed crossing paths with the OWS movement, and a pretty good discussion got started here.

The Parisien version of Critical Mass ( Vélorution) took to the streets on November 5th and eventually made its way to La Grande Esplanade de la Defense where the Parisien version of OWS movement had assembled.  Upon arrival, however, the riot-gear glad functionaries of the state blocked the Critical Mass cyclists and declared that (for the time being) bicycles were not allowed in the area.  

This prohibition appeared to be rather arbitrary and "un-legal".  First, the prohibition seemed only to apply to cyclists who were part of the Vélorution group (though when this was pointed out, les Gendarmes kindly applied the same rule to children and others who were inclined to accept it at face value.

"Where do the Children Play?"
However, one member of our little group (either in an effort to push the issue, or in a sincere desire to go home) insisted on her right to walk her bicycle past the police line in order to reach the metro [subway] station on the other side of the plaza.  

"Excusez moi, messieurs, mais il faut que je rentre!"
She was being blocked and was perhaps about to be arrested when a women appeared on the scene and declared-- adamently and clearly-- that the police had no Right to stop her.  She declared, furthermore, that she was a lawyer, and produced an identity card which she brandished in front of the officers to great effect.

"Je suis avocat, monsieur."
A protracted and very interesting conversation ensued.  First of all, the lawyer freed the cyclist from the hands of the police, who conceded to let her take her bike into the plaza and off she went.  Secondly, the lawyer argued on behalf of the rest of us, continually asserting that there was no such law prohibiting bicycles in the area and-- when contradicted-- demanding a citation of the statute as well as the names of the officers responsible for giving the order.  None of this information was provided, and the lawyer cited the failure to provide it as a separate, and perhaps more serious, violation of French law.

The question might well be asked... are we having fun yet?

Training in the "joys" of burning fossil-fuels begins early.

The answer (my friends) will be found in the streets of NYC, Oakland, CA and in cities around the world where concerned & interested citizens are engaging the Occupy movement in one way or another.  But please add your comments, questions, and links below.  Bike Club invites everyone... the more the merrier.

The end result of the confrontation with the powers-that-be, or as they say in French with effective brevity... Résultat: on advice of counsel we walked our bikes 1/2 mile down the plaza, locked them there, and hoofed it back to join the other Idignes.

A few footnotes:
1) There were 3 or 4 times as many people in the McDonald's adjacent to the Parisien OWS protest area as there were at the protest.  Sad as that may or may not be (dependin' on the way you feel that you live) it certainly is a challenge to those of us who would like to see the forces of the "free market" better harnessed for the good of the 99%.  Billions served, or billions and billions ill-served?  A question again for both the streets and the comments section.

2) Unlike the event at Hotel de Ville (see previous post: 10/17) this "protest" was small and lacked vitality.  There was a rumor that the initial encampment of Occupiers had already been busted up by the police earlier in the day.  In any case, something was missing.  More specifically, there were no drums or bongos; there was no PA system, nor was the "human mic" system employed.  

3) The site for the Paris occupation was well-chosen.  La Grande Esplanade de la Defense is an interesting location.  It is on the outskirts of Paris and one of the few areas in Paris that looks nothing like Paris.  The architecture is proudly and compellingly commercial and capitalist.  It consists of a very large (public?) plaza ringed by impressive sky-scrapers.  With it's commercial office space, shopping malls and industrial food outlets, like the NYSE, it is a veritable Belly of the Beast.

"A Velorutionaire Approaching La Defense on a custom built tall-bike"

Let's Roll.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Paris

Pretty good turn-out for the October 15th OWS solidarity protest in Paris; it seemed like about 2,000 people.

Though 2,000 is not so many compared to the 10,000+  estimated in Rome.  But from what I understand, Italy's corruption runs much deeper and the economy there is in worse shape.

The French don't have it so bad, and actually what they already have would be an astonishing victory in the USA. Imagine if OWS movement were able to achieve:
  • 5 weeks paid vacation for everyone
  • universal health-care for everyone
  • a 35-hour work week
  • free college/ university education for every student
  • $1000 per month minimum wage 
Not too shabby.  Still, the French (at least several thousand of them) are "indignant" about the system of multi-national banks & corporations whose power over national governments and whose control over the lives & aspirations of common citizens appears to be extreme.

The word for the French protestors is les idignes (the indignant), and the French language's preference for verbs turns this phrase easily into a call for action:

"Become Indignant"

Those who are in solidarity with the OWS movement are already indignant, and that's a lot of people around the world.  But it is not everyone.  Despite the claim "We are the 99%", much of that 99% is comprised of people who are not interested in "politics".  They are not at all "indignant"; or they are more likely to become indignant about a traffic jam caused by protestors taking to the streets than they are by the oil industry or the public's lack of transportation options.   

As vital as the gathering of indignes seemed, outside the protest area a larger number of people were contentedly shopping, dining, and driving their cars.  Nice smiles on their faces and nice clothes on their bodies, what could possibly induce these folks to join a movement for a fundamental change in the system that provides them with comfortable lives?

The plight of those less fortunate perhaps?  A few blocks from the Paris/ OccupyWallStreet protest, there was another, much smaller protest against whatever the French government is doing in the Ivory Coast.  

"French Army Out of Africa!"
This protest consisted of a very small group of about 30 to 50 people, almost all of whom were black (French-African), holding signs and speaking about how the French government supports puppet dictators in the Ivory Coast for the benefit of French private businesses.  I don't have any facts about this situation but of course there is a long history of Western/European exploitation and imperialism in Africa.  Instead I would like to document and comment on the treatment of these protestors and the brief--but unfortunately tenuous--solidarity that united the two protests.

The Ivory Coast protest was in a very small park in the center of Paris called Chatelet.  The OWS protest was a few blocks away, in front of L'Hotel de Ville.  At some point during the announcements and soliloquies someone spoke about the protest happening at Chatelet, and there was a call for support because those protestors had been completely surrounded by the police.  It significant to note that, at this point, there was no police presence at Hotel de Ville-- not a single officer.

At Chatelet, the small group of black protestors was indeed surrounded by riot police and nearly 100 more police were on the scene, most of them in full riot gear. 

As the a contingent of the OWS protest arrived on the scene a stand-off developed.  The riot police were encircling and detaining the (mostly) black protestors inside the park, while simultaneously maintaining a perimeter outside the park to keep out the (mostly) white OWS protestors.  Again I note that while there was not a single officer present at the OWS/ Hotel de Ville protest, there were nearly 100 riot-police deployed to mangage the 30 or so Ivory Coast protestors.  

There was a significant boost of joy inside the Ivory Coast protest as they saw the hundreds of (white) protestors arrive in support.  Now the police were outnumbered.  So there was 5 or 10 minutes of joy and solidarity.

But not for long.  The police charged, and the protestors retreated.  Retreated behind chants of "Police partous, Justice nul part!" (Police everywhere, justice nowhere), but retreated all the same.  Fifty riot-police can indeed clear a couple hundred OWS protestors off a street.  And the reasons they wanted to were apparent: 1) we were blocking traffic (automobile traffic is sacred... kind of like cows in India... though the police themselves had blocked traffic for nearly an hour prior to the arrival of the white protestors), and 2) they didn't want us to witness what was about to happen with the Ivory Coast protest.

What happened (we learned later that evening from a series of announcements back at the Hotel de Ville protest-- which continued late into the evening, without police present) was that several (I don't have an accurate number) of the Ivory Coast protestors ended up in the hospital.  Fifty riot-cops can handle 200 white protestors, but 100 riot-cops couldn't peacefully arrest/ disperse a few dozen black people...?  Perhaps the Ivory Coast protestors fought harder.  I don't know, because, along with everyone else, I was chased from the area and so witnessed nothing.

That was as far as the solidarity went.  An effort was made, but the (mostly) white protestors against the system of global capitalism which places inordinate power & wealth in the hands of the few could not see their way to doing anything more--on these streets at that hour-- for those living under dictators supported by that system. 

Back at the Hotel de Ville, the crowd dwindled but the protest continued and the music began.  We were comforted.  We were happy.  Highlights included the crowd locking arms and forming a giant circle and then dancing to a re-worked version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"...

Dans la jungle, terrible jungle             (In the jungle, the awesome jungle)
La Bourse est morte ce soir                  (The stock-market is dead tonight
Et les hommes toujours en forme                 (And the people are still fine)
La Bourse est morte ce soir                  (The stock-market is dead tonight)

Y'a plus de monnaie, y'a plus de...*      (There's no more money, there no more...)

*(Repeated multiple times to the tune of "Wimoweh o wimoweh")

There was also a version of "We Will Rock You" reworked as "I'm not paying the [financial industry's] debt"...

Je paie pas la dette/ C'est du rackett        (I'm not paying the debt.  It's a racket
Je veux une democratie honnete.                              I want an honest democracy)
Je paie pas, je paie pas... la dette!     (I'm not paying, I'm not paying... the debt)

This part of the evening was intensely joyful... a few brief moments of celebration & imagining a world not obsessed with money was super delightful.

It was just really sad when the announcement came about the Ivory Coast protestors being in the hospital and we did nothing.  We didn't even have a discussion about it.  Some people wanted to, and others just wanted to keep dancing.  The music was important, and while Bill Maher and PJ O'Rourke alike deride the bongo drumming at Zuccotti Park, Bike Club is officially calling for more drumming and people-gathering everywhere.  

But if the protest is serious, why didn't we take action to support are fellow brothers & sisters?

The same reason mainstream/ majority of people don't take action... we were too busy and we were having fun.  The majority of people, the 99% who are not indignant about either the system or the protest against it, are busy too. 

Bike Club is all about the protest, mostly just because we want the streets back from the cars!  We also want to dance to the bongo drums and listen to live music played for free because we aren't worried about having too much or too little money.  Life--it turns out-- is short, and money-- as everyone knows-- does not bring happiness. 

Everyone on TV is either for or against the OccupyWallStreet protests.  But everyone in Bike Club knows that The Revolution will not be televised.  So go for a walk and find your own Revolution.  

"Fight the Power"

Or go for a bike ride and realize you are the Revolution!

"On the Dance Floor"
Let's Roll!