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.

marshals drag protestor
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.

Good idea?

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.

Mike Davis is a social commentator, urban theorist, historian, and political activist.


as a “fellow traveler” i think this a great idea!

the truckers’ blockades have been one of my absolute favorite actions of all time.

count me in.  in my 2001 prius with almost 200,000 miles on it, i won’t be much of an ecological burden.

2011-11-19 by donna

Im completely down for this plan, I dont see any down side, and I see, as the Wall Street crowd might say- tremendous upside.

Occupy SanDiego has a legal case going, but actual support would be a lot better.

Overall, I think were having a good impact, pointing out how the mega rich leeches are draining the economy.

Weve got to survive the holidays, and I thinkthe next thing is to open discussions with Christian churches, and get more support and donations. Though Democrats may not be into the whole religion thing,
Jesus Christ was, and he was a a Democrat. We need to plug in and challenge not just trans gender notions, but fake religious barriers as well. Christians in San Diego come out and feed the homeless, and then the cops try to run them off. How different a scenario is that to the Occupy?

Miles McPherson, pastor of the Rock Church, is just as progressive as the next man. He has alot of authority in his church, and Christians overall, setting aside political differences, are potentially supportive of the Occupy, but also, dont want to see péaceful protesters rights trampled on.

Alot has been written, but the fact is the Occupy movement has been the most impactful,peaceful movement, pound for pound, that anyones ever seen. This is a growing,global movement. Im down with you man,lets just do this.

2011-11-22 by Robert Hagen

or, go amphibious:

2011-11-22 by Eric Steinberg

Eric, that is fantastic. I see reality in your future.

Sustainable reality. Have a happy Thanksgiving, and God bless.

Heres a dedication to Oregon, its Cerati ‘Im staying here’:

2011-11-22 by robert hagen

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