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Mnookin: Critical Masses

Eesha Williams
Abby Mnookin in Saturday’s ride, second from left, with her 6-yr-old [mostly not visible] behind her on their cargo bike.";

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its special report detailing massive action will be needed if we’re to prevent catastrophic climate change as early as 2040, I wasn’t shocked.
For years, scientists have been predicting disastrous impacts on every facet of life on earth from sea level to global food supply to human health if greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures continue to rise.

As a climate organizer, this isn’t new information. But as a parent of young children, it’s still terrifying. And to combat being paralyzed by feelings of isolation and despair, I look for ways to take meaningful action - as recommended by author Rebecca Solnit, who writes: “Taking action is the best way to live in conditions of crisis and violation, for your spirit and your conscience as well as for society.” So I’ve been part of the organizing team for Brattleboro’s Critical Mass bicycle ride, the second of which took place last Saturday.

The first ride featured more than a hundred cyclists and coincided with the Global Rise for Climate events that took place in September with more than 100 riders. It stands as the largest activist ride in this region and a sign of the emergence of a bike mobility revolution.

The Critical Mass idea traces back to 1992 in San Francisco. Both celebration and protest, Critical Mass builds community solidarity, energizes people about transportation solutions, and amplifies our collective power to reclaim our streets.
As an avid cyclist who uses my bike as a primary mode of transportation for myself and my two young children, last month was my first Critical Mass ride. Surrounded by riders as far as I could see, including dozens of other families, I felt the strength of our numbers and imagined the possibility of streets intended for pedestrians and bikers instead of cars and trucks. Many of the youngest pedallers, some only five years old, had never before felt safe enough to bike on a street.

Both times, I've been delighted by how empowering and fun these rides have felt.

I know events like this are not enough by themselves. But taking action in ways that feel good, feed our spirits, and inspire next steps must be part of our local and global solutions.