Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.

Be warned: this girl is a dangerous criminal. She will cause serious disruption to the life of your community and try to spoil your Olympics.

But not in the London Borough of Newham. Not for me, or for the 181 other cyclists who were detained on Friday night in the biggest mass-arrest since last year's country-wide riots. Amongst other things, our bail conditions forbid us to enter the borough on a bicycle, or to go within 100yds of any Olympic venue or event.

With retrospect, our crime seems to have been irreverence. The London Olympics were just getting under way; we should have been at home, watching it on the telly and clapping along like everyone else. Our cycle ride hadn't been sanctioned, it was not a part of the official programme, it had no sponsor. Ambivalence towards the grand narrative, much of which is fictional, was enough to see us arrested.

And so as Danny Boyle's magical flying bicycles floated around the inside of the stadium in Stratford, real cyclists were being kettled and coerced outside. As a smiling Shami Chakrabarti was waving the flag, with thoughts of liberty and justice in mind no doubt,  plasti-cuffs were being tightened around the wrists of the arrested. VIPs were bussed-in down special lanes designed exclusively for their use; with just as much care, the Metropolitan Police had London buses on standby for us (just in case). We too had our pictures taken – before being herded aboard and shipped out in the opposite direction, to police stations on the outskirts of the city to spend the night in a cell.

The police told us we were being arrested under Section 12 of the Public Order Act. This allows the commanding officer of a force to impose restrictions on a public procession if they consider the procession might, among other things, result in “serious disruption to the life of the community”. There's doubt over whether Critical Mass could be defined as a public procession; it would be fair to say that the Olympics themselves have caused more serious, much more prolonged disruption to the lives of the community we were cycling through.

In their post-arrest press release, the police say that “people have a right to protest and it is an incredibly important part of our democracy(their nerve knows no bounds, a pox on the Met press corps). They certainly do and it certainly is - but Critical Mass is not a protest. It has been held in London on the last Friday of every month for the passed 18 years, and in 2008 the High Court defined it as a 'customary bike ride'. This is just one reason our arrest was probably unlawful.

Because even if you could place restrictions on a cycle ride of this kind, how would you let it know you had? The Mass is leaderless, whoever happens to be at the front decides the route, so who's going to take the message - who's going to pass it on, and how? No attempt was made to convey the information by electronic boards, or to communicate with the crowd over an address system – all we could hear at the start of the ride was the jazz that accompanied the jugglers on the astroturf lawn outside the National Theatre.

As we were kettled, one officer spat at me in disbelief, 'why do you want to spoil the Olympics?' But who wants to spoil the Olympics? By it's very nature, Critical Mass cannot be against anything. There is no cause because there are as many causes as there are cyclists. The most you could ever say is that it is pro-cycling.

Much like the Olympics. And the London Mayor's Office, who equate the bicycle with freedom in their latest tfl advert. It feels ironic to me: the police still have my bike impounded...

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”

- HG Wells