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Missak Melkonian: I support The Bike Mob

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Recently the illustrious Providence Journal reported on a “mob” of young people who apparently “wreaked havoc on providence streets Thursday afternoon, blocking traffic, stealing snacks from a dollar tree store and randomly assaulting people.”

The article went on to list a number of alleged incidents where youths on JUMP bikes were assailants in a variety of petty crimes. The urgency in the article and sensationalist writing was no doubt part of the continued practice of the Projo to criminalize poor black and brown youth, and additionally contribute to the bootlickerism that prevails over so many Americans. GoLocalProv, a lesser known but all the more reactionary publication, similarly reported on the events, saying youths were “terrorizing” residents and visitors alike. Members of the public have obviously been supporting increased efforts from the police, the real criminals and thugs, to make use of more intense practices to suppress the Bike Mob.

I’m one of those people, who like hundreds of others in Providence, utilize the JUMP bikes to commute to work or elsewhere – That is, until they raised their prices. I don’t have a car, don’t really need one, and can’t afford it. I don’t want to pay a ridiculous car tax, insurance rates, or maintenance fees. The red bikes were a fast, easy, and cheap alternative that could get me from one end of the city to the other. I still ride them from time to time but that $1 price raise is enough for me to boycott them.

The cost of the bikes obviously appeal to those of us who can’t afford a car. The bureaucrats at city hall just stood by and watched while Uber raised the prices, only for the company to back down after massive public outcry. Other bootlickers have called for the bikes to be removed from their districts, citing a supposed uptick in violent crime. The most recent development: the JUMP bike service in Providence has been temporarily suspended.

I just think it’s ridiculous that all these good samaritans lose their minds at the mention of the red bikes. God forbid poor people have a more convenient way of travel! Sure, there is RIPTA, but any frequent user can tell you it isn’t the reliable service it has the potential to be, partly because of bureaucratic mismanagement so latent in local politics, and partly because of the frontal assaults downtown landowners have levied upon the bus system, specifically the location of Kennedy Plaza. Joseph Paolino and some local citizen groups have done their best to support rapid-gentrification projects like the Fane Tower, relocating Kennedy Plaza, and even instituting smoking bans downtown. These are clear acts of class warfare that lead to the further criminalization of the poor, especially of black and brown people.


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Maybe the youths terrorizing the yuppies have a point. I would be, and hell, I AM pissed that hotels and lofts can go up in the blink of an eye but repairing public schools is tantamount to rewriting the Constitution! If those in power wanted to fix the conditions that create these “issues” amongst the youth, they could do it, but they won’t and never will because their bottom line will always be money and power. I grew up in Providence schools. I didn’t need a report from Johns Hopkins to tell me the schools are awful. Anyone with common sense could tell you that – racist teachers, dilapidated facilities, extremely punitive disciplinary policies, do-gooder white savior NGO’s – not to mention the status of the recreation centers in Providence or the various boys and girls clubs. These all make for a ripe combination of anger, resentment, and antipathy in the youth. It’s hard to care about the well-being of something like a JUMP bike when it’s so evident the world doesn’t give a shit about you, or even consider you a human being.

The local bourgeoisie – the business owners, the land owners, the opportunists/bureaucrats in city hall and the State House, etc – have explicitly let us know where their priorities lie. Appealing to professionals (gentrifiers) from Boston or elsewhere by making land available for development, increased policing of black and brown neighborhoods, and the continued practice of austerity politics that have gutted social services. So yes, I pledge my support for the Bike Mob to continue their activities. Maybe their actions are a sign of the times ahead; a polite warning preceding a serious threat to power and privilege. The Bike Mob may not see their actions as an outburst of popular discontent against the system – but that’s exactly what they are.

I can only hope that those young people can funnel their energy into building the mass social movements we need to actually smash this liberal bourgeois society into smithereens. It’s the responsibility of revolutionaries to reach these young people where they are and develop/encourage their politicization. A hundred or so kids on bikes is enough to make a good samaritan soil themselves. A few million politicized workers, students, and other malcontents can turn white civil society upside down.