Published Monthly

Q&A with Chris Carlsson
Conducted by Jonas Micah

Chris Carlsson, editor of the book The Political Edge, answers a few questions about the book

Were you personally involved in the campaign to elect Matt Gonzalez, and if so, what role did you play?

No, I had no role. Attended a few events.

Did you find it a difficult task to collect writings pertaining to this topic, or were submissions easily found?

Very easy.

More than one of the essays mention Critical Mass, a bicyclist movement, without going into further detail. Can you explain what Critical Mass is, and the role it plays in the lives of San Franciscans?

Critical Mass is an "organized coincidence" that started in San Francisco in 1992 and has since spread to over 300 cities worldwide. It consists of any number of bicyclists who come to a specified location, usually at the end of the workday on the last Friday of the month, and "ride home together". In San Francisco we've had as many as 8,000 cyclists, and a long and tangled history with the city and the police. In other cities, like Portland OR, Austin TX, Minneapolis MN, and most recently NYC, the police have tried to shut the ride down with many heavy-handed tactics. The anti-authoritarian spirit, the whimsical, joyful, celebratory mood that takes over the city as hundreds and thousands of cyclists fill the streets with tinkling bells, conversation and a certain zaniness is quite unique. Check for a long list of links to hundreds of sites around the U.S. and the world. You can also find many essays I've written in the past on the political meaning of it at

How did you first find out about Matt Gonzalez, and what drove you to work on this project after he lost the election?

I knew him from his time as an elected supervisor, and by coincidence, I am friends with one of his housemates, so I've overlapped with him briefly in his home on a number of occasions. I am a long-time San Francisco historian and political activist. The Gonzalez campaign brought out an unusual kind of energy and excitement, and though I didn't particularly share it, it was quite a phenomenon and deserved further investigation. I also sought to make this book about a lot more than just the G. campaign, which taken in isolation wasn't finally *that* interesting. Taken as part of a decades-long process of grassroots political developments, and with a view to the future, it becomes much more interesting and relevant.

The general assumption of these collected essays is that voting is still an effective means of social change. Do you share that view, and if so, why? Especially in the wake of the Matt Gonzalez campaign loss.

No I don't. I felt, as editor, that I had to be open and accommodating, but I made sure to include a number of pieces (including my own) that are clearly not in favor of voting or elections, and critique the shallow notion of democracy that underpins them. The repetitive nature of the Gonzalez election loss, like so many previous "progressive hopes", is one of the reasons that I wanted to assemble these essays--to get inside the mentality of the true believers, to see where it connects or doesn't to a more outsider sensibility, and to at least sketch out some more vibrant notions of democratic political action that go well beyond the narrow agendas that elections always force us into.

Jonas Micah is a staff writer for AntiMuse. He's a high-school drop-out, an Army wash-out and a fool who strives to be less foolish with each passing day.


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