Protest in the Driver’s Seat
by Mike Davis
The sickening repercussion of hardwood against a protestor’s skull is the soundtrack to too much of American history.
If you think being a heavyweight boxer or an NFL wide-receiver is an invitation to brain damage, try being an anti-capitalist.
Especially when you face an unholy alliance of arrogant bankers, sneering stockbrokers, and “liberal” Democratic mayors, as in L.A., Portland, Seattle and Atlanta. Or when your civil liberties exist purely at the sufferance of a billionaire municipal autocrat with Louis XIV tendencies like Bloomberg.
US Marshals grab Vietnam protesters, DC, 1967
Few events in a young activist’s life are as memorably disturbing as the first time you look into cop’s eyes a few anxious inches from your face and find only robotic murderous hatred staring back at you.
In my day this dehumanizing fury had usually been programmed somewhere in Vietnam’s Central Highlands or Mekong Delta. Today it was likely implanted in a place called Fallujah or Kandahar.
No doubt it is an important rite of passage to a fuller humanity to become, at least for a few terrifying moments, just another Indian.
But—ouch—I’m not very brave and don’t like being clubbed, pummeled, tightly handcuffed, or dragged by my hair (one reason, I suppose, why I’ve always worn a crewcut).
I prefer to lock myself safely in my car and drive to protest, carefully obeying speed limits and traffic signs. Perhaps humming a crackled version of “drove my Chevy to the levee” or singing a few rousing verses from “O, Canada.”
Indeed it was Canadian autoworkers during a brutal Ford strike in fall 1945 who first turned the class struggle into a drive-in.
At the end of World War Two, the Ford complex in Windsor, Ontario was the largest factory in Canada (about 15,000 workers) and Ford management counted on provincial Tories to break the strike with an unprecedented use of police power.
After days of being harassed by Ontario cops and less-than-heroic Mounties (actually Canada’s FBI), the autoworkers borrowed an idea from earlier UAW protest in Detroit and simply parked 2000 family Fords around the Ford plant.
The Tories’ only answer to the great auto blockade was a briefly-mulled-over plan to use army tanks to crash through the strikers’ cars. An armored regiment was put on alert. Then Ford and their political allies blinked.
Darn right. Just ask anyone in your local truckstop.
Long-haul independent owner-operators have used the same tactic on numerous occasions in the last forty years, beginning with the oil crisis in the 1970s.
They’ve shut down interstates and blockaded city halls, all the while singing C. W. McCall’s great anthem of 18-wheel rebellion, “Convoy:”
Cause we got a great big convoy rockin’ thru the night,
Yeah, we got a great big convoy, ain’t she a beautiful sight?
Come on and join our convoy, ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way,
We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy ’cross the USA.
No need, of course, to use Fords. As Dinah Shore used to sing, “see the world in a Chevrolet”—or a Toyota, VW, a slope-nosed Kenworth “anteater,” or, more correctly, your Schwinn retro-city bike. Just keep the convoy rollin’.
Indeed, the next stage of protest could be considered a nostalgic analogy to an old-fashioned family Sunday drive.
Cruise slowly by the Stock Exchange (“look, kids, here’s where the dudes who stole our house work”) or keep circling and ogling your local police headquarters (“awesome architecture—let’s stop and wave”).
Or, best of all, “that’s Lloyd Bankfein’s home. Now whatya’allthinkofthat?”
“He’s president of Goldman Sachs, want to stop guys and ring his doorbell? Maybe he’ll give us his autograph. He got paid $58 million in 2007, so he must really work harder than anyone else on earth.”
But don’t drive like the little old lady from Pasadena.
Stay at the exact speed limit, or, better, at the legal minimum. Safety first, and always set a good example for the 2000 similarly inclined leisure drivers behind you. They also want to slow down and sightsee.
This is the ultimate American way: protesting in a car while precisely obeying traffic laws. The possibilities for serene family tourism are endless and mind-boggling.
Wow, perhaps even apocalyptic.
But, out of respect to Bill McGibben and the anti-global warming movement, please carpool to shut down Wall Street.