Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Montana State Senator Speaks For Critical Mass Civil Rights



by Senator Jim Elliott

FREDOM TO BE, FREEDOM TO RIDE

As a rule, authority distrusts innovation and spontaneity, which to my mind pretty much embodies today’s cycling movement. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I watched “Still We Ride”—a documentary on the mass Critical Mass arrests in New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention, and the subsequent harassment of cyclists and confiscation of unattended bikes.

It angered me to see a group of people targeted for legalized harassment for doing nothing more than enjoying their civil liberties.

Let me first make something clear; I am not a cyclist, nor do I intend to become one. In fact, in rural Montana, where I live, I tend to be more annoyed by cyclists who choose to tour our extremely scenic and narrow highways than sympathetic. That’s why I was prepared to cast a jaundiced eye on the plight of the people in “Still We Ride”.

The reason I was moved to side with them was not because I felt that their particular activity was being singled out by the authorities for special and unwarranted treatment, but because I have seen this kind of overreaction on the part of the police and civil authorities for decades, and enjoyed some personal experiences of my own that have left an indelible mark.

Be it the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s, the anti Vietnam War protests of the 1960s and 1970s, or going even further back in American history to the labor movement in the 1880s, people have had the crap kicked out of them for standing up for their belief that their opinion is entitled to respect.

Just so, those people who participate in Critical Mass, whether or not I agree with them (or whether or not anybody agrees with them) are being singled out and punished by the authorities for having a different lifestyle, expressing their beliefs—hell—just exercising their freedom.

Those who are not directly on the receiving end of the butt kicking probably don’t pay much attention. Maybe, even though you are a cyclist, you don’t either. Too bad, because the likelihood is that, in one way or another, your turn will come. In fact, in light of the United States’ government’s drive to save our freedom by destroying it, it may already be your turn; you just haven’t felt it yet.

So I am writing this article to pass along some thoughts that are important to me. First, freedom is not free; it is never given, it is always won by struggle. Even the most seemingly absurd, everyday things were fought for. Thousands of laborers died to secure things that today we take for granted—the weekend and the eight hour day; many thousands of Blacks were killed for merely trying to have a say in their own destiny. It’s a long, long list, and there is little that we take for granted today that is not on it.

The second point is that all people are engaged in the same struggle to win or maintain some sort of individual freedom, but they manifest it in different ways. It is our obligation, as their neighbors in spirit, to respect their desires and to see that they are not persecuted because they use legal but, to the authorities, intimidating means to achieve them.

We don’t have to join them in their struggle—we may not even feel they are right—but we must be always vigilant in protecting their right to express themselves without being harassed or brutalized by governmental authorities. Because, my friends, we need them to be there for us too.

I don’t feel any different about cyclists that I did before I saw “Still We Ride”. I’m not going to have warm fuzzies when after I round a curve I have to go into the ditch as an alternative to head ending a semi or killing a trio of cyclists riding abreast (yeah, it happened), but I am going to stand up for anyone who is given a hard time for what they do or what they stand for, and if those guys happen to be cyclists, I’ll be there for them both as a neighbor and as a Montana state senator.

Montana State Senator Jim Elliott (D) writes a biweekly column called Montana Viewpoint that is distributed to newspapers throughout the state. He sponsored SJ Resolution 19, the most strongly worded criticism of the Federal Patriot Act in the nation. It was supported by both Democrats and Republicans and passed both houses of the legislature by an overwhelmingly margin. Senator Elliott is also suing the Montana Department of Revenue for release of corporate income tax records to investigate the extent of corporate tax fraud in Montana.

The above article was originally written for C.I.C.L.E. Cyclist Inciting Change thru Live Exchange.