Organizer of group bicycle ride “PB&J” — Party, Bike and Jam — Jenna Conway speaks to the magic of mobbing. For the fourth-year history of art and visual culture student, it’s a profound, community-building and extremely exciting experience — no good feeling outdoes that of riding the town with an eccentric group of students and locals.
Last Friday, the second PB&J ride, the monthly mob of over 300 bikers took on various cycling routes around Santa Cruz, riding from one venue to the next to listen to and support local bands and to promote alternative transportation.
As a participant of the last PB&J ride, I was completely taken aback by the vibe of kinship that surrounded me while riding the streets of Santa Cruz with strangers and friends alike.
Conway comments on her experience as organizer and her ideas that ignited this magic mob, explaining her vision of the “alternative world.” For her, the goal is to bring group bike riding to the attention of the public and make that world accessible to everybody.
CHP: What inspired you to organize the PB&J bike rides?
JC: I went on one of the FMLY rides [a previous organized “family” bike ride that originated in Los Angeles] here in Santa Cruz last spring, and I was introduced to the thrill of mobbing. I had never imagined streets filled with laughter and bikes instead of noisy, dirty cars. It gave me a vision of an alternative world that I wanted to live in.
I took a class at UCSC over the summer that exposed me to a lot of critical theory and visual cultural studies. I wrote a research paper on the Critical Mass [group bike] rides, and after doing so much thinking about it I decided to make it a goal to become involved in organizing bike rides. … I was so inspired by the overwhelming feelings of community I got from that — a group of young people working together to create a positive and welcoming space within a hostile environment.
CHP: How do you go about starting to organize such a huge project?
JC: For such a radical and visceral experience, these rides start in a very virtual medium — Facebook … It makes the planning process much easier, because it allows for direct feedback from the cyclist community throughout the entire process.
CHP: Why and how do you choose the venues and bands that perform?
JC: There are some very talented groups here in Santa Cruz, and I love being able to build our community up by giving our local bands a chance to engage with the biking community. The rides draw a really large audience, and they can provide great exposure for new and established groups alike.
However, I think that the results of this ride have necessitated some changes in what we consider to be venues. I think we’re going to need to get more creative and start using open, abandoned spaces to avoid confrontations with city residents and the law.
CHP: Speaking of the law, the police showed up at the last venue on Friday. Thoughts?
JC: It’s pretty hard to hide 300 bicycles … no matter how crafty you get. So when the cops showed up en masse to the last stop, I felt disappointed but sort of resigned. I understand that the police are obligated to respond if someone in the community complains about the noise. I don’t blame them for doing their job.
I want it known that I do not condone aggression towards police officers [and it] is not something that I ever want to support. It goes completely against the spirit of the ride, which is admittedly political in many ways, but intended to be peaceful and fun-loving. I would thoroughly discourage anyone who wants to behave violently from attending any future rides.
CHP: What makes this effort worth it, what is your favorite aspect and what are you promoting?
JC: I love mobbing. … While leading the last ride, I kept compulsively glancing back to see the mob behind me, because I honestly couldn’t believe it was really there. … I love riding bikes, I love the biking community, I love music. When [all] are combined on such a massive scale I feel like the happiest girl in the entire world.
CHP: What is the purpose of a ride like PB&J?
JC: Above all, the rides are about utilizing visibility as a statement to create awareness in the relationship between drivers and bikers. The intent of PB&J is to create a sense of camaraderie amongst the cyclist community, and also to expand its reaches. The experience is meant to encourage riders to get on their bikes and become bike advocates themselves.
CHP: Where do you see this project going?
JC: My hope is that PB&J will grow big enough to engender a degree of philosophical change in Santa Cruz. Ideally, I’d like to achieve a state of cooperation at the city government level that allowed for a program like San Francisco’s Sunday Streets [a program that closes large stretches of roads in the city for several hours, restricting their use to cyclists and pedestrians], only here in Santa Cruz.