Off Beat

Mass Attack

For members of the bicyclist activist group known as Critical Mass, the gathering at Loring Park on the afternoon of March 29 started out well enough. The weather was mild, and the turnout for the monthly ride was better than usual--somewhere between 45 and 75 people. And the Massers--as members of the loosely knit, international movement call themselves--had an eminence among them: Chris Carlsson, who helped found the organization a decade ago in San Francisco.

But as the group set out for the heart of downtown Minneapolis, the good vibrations soured. The Massers say they were confronted by police, who ordered them to ride single file. Despite their credo--"We're not blocking traffic. We are traffic"--the Massers say they did their best to comply. But in short order, they allege, police were corralling riders and confiscating bikes that weren't properly registered. The remaining Massers continued downtown. "When we got down to Third Avenue and Sixth Street, all hell broke loose," reports Ken Avidor, a local artist and transportation activist. "It was very chaotic. The cops started tackling people, using pepper spray. I heard one cop yell, 'Come back here, you chicken!'"

Sgt. Medaria Arradondo of the MPD says two of the riders were charged with obstructing the legal process after they "resisted police and had to be maced."In all, according to police reports, 13 people received traffic citations, and 18 bikes were confiscated. Arradondo says the bikes are being released to the owners at no cost.

Last week Massers went to city hall to air their grievances. They're scheduled to meet again tomorrow (Thursday) with Mayor R.T. Rybak, who has expressed sympathy for the movement's goals. "The police department, city council members, and the mayor's office are working together to make sure that members of Critical Mass can freely express themselves while operating within the law," Sergeant Arradondo maintains.

The Massers, who have had numerous run-ins with cops in the past, aren't sure a fully "legal" ride will fly. After all, they note, their outings are intended both as a celebration of bicycles and as a measure of anti-car civil disobedience. "At this point I'd rather not see another cop car. And I don't want a police escort," says Stephen Eisenmenger, who runs the Web site "Unless they're willing to donate to a Critical Mass fundraiser." --By Mike Mosedale


The Pipes of Peace

Things were a little dull last Thursday night at "Tom's Drugstore," the monthly political bull session held in Tom Sengupta's homespun pharmacy on University Avenue in Minneapolis's Prospect Park neighborhood. Four DFL gubernatorial candidates answered questions from the 50 or so die-hard liberals who packed the aisles of discounted Christmas supplies, plungers, and pantyhose. Minnesota's Senate majority leader Roger Moe strained to connect the urban and rural problems plaguing the state. State Sen. Becky Lourey yammered about how to engage young voters. State auditor Judi Dutcher claimed she could rally suburbanites to vote DFL. Perennial candidate Ole Savior accused the Star Tribune of purposely cropping him out of photos. All four took cheap shots at Jesse Ventura.

Yawn. Enough Minnesota politesse hung in the air that Sengupta allowed two Green Party candidates to say a few words. Nick Raleigh noted that because he's 25, he has managed to engage many young voters. Then veteran Green Party candidate Ken Pentel rose to speak. "The people in charge have failed," he hissed. "We don't get nuclear waste in the Mississippi River unless someone has failed! When an anti-welfare bill passes in this state sixty-seven to zero, someone has failed! That ends with our campaign!" Pentel bemoaned U.S. dependence on oil in the Middle East, then tore into campaign finance reform. "Senators, Auditor, Nick, we all know what's going on, and it's over," Pentel railed, as Lourey, Moe, and Dutcher squirmed. "When I'm governor, public campaigns will be publicly funded. The game is over. It is o-v-e-r!"

As the room erupted in applause, Pentel concluded: "Peace!" --By G.R. Anderson Jr.

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