On Blocking Traffic as a Form of Protest


Blocking traffic has become a popular form of protest in recent years, but opposition to this tactic is immediately equated to opposition to the cause, and while that is undoubtedly sometimes-true, I think that treating it as always-true is a tragic fallacy that prevents real discussion and mediation between those speaking and those being forced to listen. I think this is a conversation that needs to happen, and automatically associating opposition to the tactic with opposition to the cause precludes that conversation from taking place.

Two aspects of a traffic-blocking protest that bother a lot of people, I think, are:

First, the inherent statement that “regardless of where you’re going, what you’re doing, or why, I’ve decided that my message is more important, and I’m going to physically restrain you against your will and force you to listen.”

If you reduce this equation down, it would be like you walking past me in public and me grabbing your arm tightly and saying, “I won’t let you go until you listen to what I have to say.” Would that be okay with you? I doubt it. It certainly wouldn’t be okay with me.

Second, this is a carpet bomb, rather than a missile strike. Meaning, if you’re protesting against societal racism, identify your target and localize your message. Protest in front of police stations, court houses, and institutions and promote said institutional racism. By blocking traffic, you’re essentially saying, “I don’t care whether you’re racist or not, and since I don’t want to take the time to interview each of you to find out, I’m lumping you all into one giant group and targeting all of you, regardless of whether your beliefs or actions warrant it.”

Again, reduce that down. Now, I’ve grabbed your arm in public and I refuse to let go until you hear me out, then, I start preaching to you about something you already agree with, and you say so, but it doesn’t matter, I’m not letting you go until I finish talking. Would you be cool with that? I wouldn’t. If you can’t expect one person to be okay with being treated like that, why expect 1,000 to be okay with it?

The problem with saying, “The problem is with society, and you’re all part of that society, so you’re all part of the problem,” is that it alienates current and potential allies, and it uses the exact same group-identification that racism, sexism, stereotyping, and profiling are based on to begin with. Isn’t that what we’re trying to move away from? Like violence, turning it in the opposite direction doesn’t diminish it – it perpetuates it.

Let’s start trying to treat human beings as individuals, rather than parts of a group, unless those people openly and outwardly choose to identify themselves as a part of that group. I think that might be a step in the right direction.

But… what do I know? I’m just some guy, flying by the seat of his pants.



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