Mike Davis : Protest in the Driver’s Seat

Image from the Schumin Web.

Chevy to the levee:
Protest in the driver’s seat

This is the ultimate American way: protesting in a car (or on a bike) while obeying the law. The possibilities for serene family tourism are endless and mind-boggling.

By Mike Davis / The Rag Blog / November 23, 2011

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.

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 body to be beaten.

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 crew cut).

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 II, 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 unprecedented police violence.

After days of being harassed by Ontario cops and less-than–heroic Mounties (actually Canada’s FBI), the autoworkers borrowed an idea from an earlier UAW protest in Detroit and simply parked 2,000 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.

Independent owner-operator truckers have used the same tactic on numerous occasions in the last 40 years, beginning with the oil price crisis in the 1970s.

They’ve shut down interstates and blockaded city halls, while their sound systems blasted out “Convoy,” C. W. McCall’s great anthem of 18-wheel rebellion.

‘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 USA in Your 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 whatyathinkofthat?”

“He’s president of Goldman Sachs. He got paid $58 million in 2007, so he must really work harder than anyone else on earth.”

“Let’s honk the horn and say howdy to good ole Lloyd.”

Remember, safety first, so don’t drive like that little old lady from Pasadena.

Stay at the exact speed limit, or, better, at the legal minimum. Always set a good example for the 2,000 similarly inclined leisure drivers behind you. They may also want to slow down and sightsee.

This is the ultimate American way: protesting in a car (or on a bike) while obeying the law. The possibilities for serene family tourism are endless and mind-boggling.

Wow, perhaps even apocalyptic.

But, out of respect to Bill McKibben and the anti-global warming movement, please carpool to shut down Wall Street.

[Mike Davis is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. An urban theorist, historian, and social activist, Davis is the author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles and In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire. Read more articles by Mike Davis on The Rag Blog.]

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1 Response to Mike Davis : Protest in the Driver’s Seat

  1. I’ve a Schwinn beach cruiser retrofitted with a chinese made 2 cycle motor, which wouldn’t be street legal in Texas. In Colorado, now…

    I’m swapping the motor for a 4 cycle because then I won’t have to put oil through the intakes and, I’ll lose a few RPMs but gain horsepower, the ability to use alternative fuels like Hydrogen and won’t have to fix it as often. And it would be street legal in Texas if I ever got up enough foolish to go back. Meanwhile it’s my mission to show the Yankees that not all Texans are semi-educated and really backwards.

    I wonder what laws they’ll pass against biking around say, Gov Hickenlooper’s office? Racial Extremists like our congress-critter, who called the Presidint a “tar baby” oh now I remember, Drugged Lamborn. I swear somebody slipped the bastard an overdose of Stupid pills somewhere. He’s got a “no protest zone” at the office complex/former strip mall he haunts.

    Sidewalks and parks we paid for but can’t use unless we first get permission
    “please, sir, may we make fun of your policies and personal stupidity?”

    If we honked at him and called him the APPROPIATE naughty names, it would just be mistaken for road rage. There’s a projector thing that hooks to a laptop, they use it for showing charts and spreadsheets. put something honest on it and let the show commence. With enough of them together, you can use any surface as a drive-in movie.Sides of buildings for instance. Somebody hiding in his office? Use the projector to “write” the messages he’s avoiding on his window, like a projection TV.

    Not my idea, sadly. But I saw it done in Minnesota, on one of these sunday morning PBS science shows.

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