In L.A., some of those demonstrators were arrested after shutting down traffic in both directions on the 101 Freeway. Another group of protesters flummoxed traffic downtown by laying down in the intersection of Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Grand Avenue.
They were not alone. Protesters took to I-95 in Providence. Highway 55 in Minneapolis. I-75 in Cincinnati. I-980 in Oakland. I-44 in St. Louis. I-35 in Dallas. And the Lincoln Tunnel and the West Side Highway in New York.
Across the nation, many of the protests that continue to simmer have moved from parks, plazas and civic centers to freeways and highways. The ongoing protests reflect national outrage following a grand jury decision that has vexed critics, to say nothing of the many black lives cut short in police shootings. Yet the move to the highways is something else: an evolution in the language and strategy of civil disobedience.
This isn’t just an American phenomenon:
It was late in September that protesters first took a major freeway in Hong Kong’s financial district. The protests gained critical mass more than a month after Brown’s death in Ferguson. When Hong Kong demonstrators clashed with police, they appeared to adopt the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” posture made familiar after weeks of protests in Ferguson.
This updates a post from a month ago about protestors blocking traffic in Atlanta. As noted before, this raises some interesting questions about public spaces and traffic safety. American drivers tend to like wide roads with more lanes because they think this will help them get places faster. (This is not the case on highly congested highways where simply adding lanes tend to increase the number of cars on the roads. Width does seem to matter on more normal streets where width tends to give drivers the impression they have some margin of error to go faster.) Highways tend to be some of the most empty places we have: no pedestrians, no bicycles, almost no one out of their car unless something has gone wrong. Yet, protesters blocking traffic can draw the attention of a lot of people at once both on the roads and from aerial shots that show the power even a relatively small number of people can have.
Is protesting on a highway as symbolic as some of the protests in shopping malls in the St. Louis areas? Does cutting off America’s transportation “arteries” make the same point as protesting in temples of capitalism? I’m not sure but it certainly is more unusual given the typical functions of highways.