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Not All Roadfighters Need Be Auto-Free

by Jan Lundberg

Some of our friends and allies have begun to feel somewhat alienated from the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium. A common perception is that being car-free and against all cars is the main objective or purpose of our work. This feeling has arisen partly because of this magazine's growing success.

What needs to be reiterated, however, is that APM is about road fighting, not about targeting motorists-as much as we individually may hate cars. Some of our best road fighters, depavers and environmental journalists have cars. It's noteworthy that they got involved with APM before the Auto Free phase, which began in 1993 two years after our nonprofit FFPA formed APM. Fighting cars is more like attacking a symptom than addressing the more fundamental problem. Roads themselves are destructive even if no vehicles roll on them. I learned over decades that the "policy option" of raising fuel prices to discourage oil consumption is futile because of corrupt politics. When we founded APM, I said it was a way to rip the rug out from under the car. And "conservative" taxpayers get behind stopping expensive road projects that eat up funds for maintaining existing roads. The car is too close to some people's daily living habits to allow them to question, for example, the ongoing holocaust of roadkill of animals.

Some forest protection activists who live with the car don't seem about to change. Not only do cars haul protestors to demonstration sites and meetings, the car sustains socializing. Maybe community-building, too, but is it sustainable?

Many separate car trips aren't good for the public's perception of environmental activists. Grassroots radicals circulate around the U.S. with cars, connecting with the small culture of direct-action activists-instead of focusing solidly in one community. The state of being "very local" makes having no car an easy option. But for some itinerant activists, no car would mean no "home" to occasionally sleep in or stash their Echinacea. Any community should open its heart to activists and offer to put them up in homes while work needs to be done.

"You're obsessed," claimed a former Earth First! organizer as we walked by a medical clinic surrounded by cars and vans. (There were more vehicles space-wise than the size of the clinic.) I had said, "How ironic that many of the diseases people are treated for in the clinic are due to the machines that brought them there in the first place." The health costs of car dependency are astounding, as recounted by APM's Dr. David Cundiff in his book The Right Medicine (1994, Humana Press). In 1994 the Auto-Free Times presented the fact that $550 billion a year is the basic medical cost of driving in the U.S. The total annual subsidy to driving, paid with tax dollars, is an additional $380 to $660 billion.

I am not obsessed. I'm a car-free pavement-hating activist, part of a vocal minority. Being a reader or writer of the Auto-Free Times, one is sometimes suspected as very hard-core, intolerant, and holier-than-thou. Some activists think that we "urban issues" activists are not taking enough direct action, and that it is best to go out in the woods to try to save a forest (via cars). We see forest defense as positive and essential, but instead of focusing on certain forests, activists who are non-NIMBY road fighters wage a fight against all road building so as to prevent more crises, e.g., Headwaters Forest, which always involve roads. But now a contingent of Headwaters activists from Washington and Oregon is biking down to Humboldt County to arrive in September, making the statement that fossil fuels and cars must be targeted too in the fight to save the forests.

Love of the land and trying to live off the land are most worthy, but it's too bad that people knowingly choose to be car dependent to manage the "natural" lifestyle. These people often live without electricity or indoor plumbing in order to be away from pollution, but the car is supposedly the only way it is possible.

The contradiction of having a car when one is an active friend to Earth is nevertheless uppermost in many activists' minds. But little effort seems to go into solving the dilemma. If strategy were analyzed, it would be clear that car dependency would enter little into solutions to fight globalization, clearcuts, etc. Gandhian civil disobedience does not need the car front-and-center. (Bikes, perhaps.)

Be that as it may, road fighting in general is the ticket. So, cars should be used in that service (including for depaving jobs if necessary). At one of Jerry Brown's We The People gatherings on ecocities in Oakland, a green-city activist chided me for unrealistically advocating "getting rid of all the cars at once." Where he got that idea may be from just looking at the name of our magazine.

With a slightly distorted perception of our position on cars' role in the road/paving picture, people may hold back supporting us or getting involved. So we assure everyone that our arms are open to all road fighters. Stopping driving is essential at some point, just as getting rid of TVs and refrigerators is advisable from environmental and economic standpoints. But whatever we consume, it must not include more pavement (sorry, electric-car enthusiasts).

For when road building finally and consciously stops, not only will the rest of the land be protected from development and motor vehicles, all existing towns and cities will turn development inward. Qualitative growth will necessarily include eventual depaving along with alternative transportation and refurbishing buildings for housing and sustainable industry. The money will be there to do it, as it will no longer be squandered on freeway expansion, etc. If our outlook is right on, being car-free today is not as vital as stopping new roads today.

Cars are the Bombs
It's all well and good to hate cars, but this in itself does not go after the source of the cars: government road-building. Cars would start to disappear if roads were not built; eventually other and sustainable forms of transportation would replace cars and roads. Meanwhile we have "traffic generation" caused by road building and widenings.

A military state, prior to and during wars, makes or buys bombs and bullets with which to kill people. The killing instruments serve two purposes: taking over territory (for the resources and to dominate society) and making profit for the manufacturers and middle men. Cars meet this definition. As bad as cars are, and as bad as bombs are, it doesn't do a hell of a lot of good to hate them unless we work to stop the system responsible and replace it. The anti-war movement is not called the anti-bomb movement for good reason, although the sign first meant Ban the Bomb.

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Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.