Bike Swarm! It's the Occupy Movement's New Tool

Leave it to Portland. If, as Alexis Madrigal writes in the Atlantic, that the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York is best seen as an API (application programming interface) for a global movement, Portland has added a typically Portlandia twist to its Occupy activities. As police began to move in to evict Portland's encampment early Sunday morning, November 13, a swarm of bicycles continually encircled the two park areas, to serve, one organizer said:

"as another thing the police have to focus on, and a huge booster for the crowd."

Now, with actions such as occupying the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Brooklyn Bridge planned for November 17 in New York, Portland (in inimitable fashion) plans to occupy corporate banks in the city. And another bike swarm will be along for the ride.

A bike swarm, or large collection of bikes rolling along together in civil disobedience activities, is not an original Portland concept. In fact, says co-organizer Katherine Ball, she learned about bike swarms when at the Copenhagen COP-15 climate meetings in December of 2009.

At an event called the Bike Bloc, a group of activists lead by The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination put together a couple of bike-related strategies for civil disobedience.

The first, the swarm, was simply a group of cyclists who, cycling together, attempted to circle around an area of protest in an organized fashion in order to provide diversion.

Another tactic was to create tall, easily erected platforms for a few people to rise above a crowd and relay information about what was happening ahead and behind to the middle of a group.

At the Occupy Portland November 13 eviction, the bike swarm consisted of between 50 and 100 cyclists, circling around the two downtown parks where the encampments were being dismantled by police. Swarm co-organizer, Dan Kaufman of CrankMyChain, noted that bikes were just another means of demonstration.

As an individual swarmer commented at the BikePortland.org web site coverage of the event:

"When there is a massive show of intimidating armed force against unarmed citizens who are doing nothing worse than congregating in a large number, you have to be on the side of the unarmed people. You just do." - Daniel R. Miller

At some point during the eviction, police stopped the swarm from advancing, but no major clash between the swarm and police was reported.

In tomorrow's Swarm the Bank event, Katherine Ball said she hopes to have a swarm at least as big as the one that supported the eviction proceedings.

"Portland is the U.S. biking city, so it just makes sense that bikes are a part of Occupy here."

Tags: Activism | Bike-Friendly World | Portland

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