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How America’s Highways Became Its Most Powerful Protest Sites

Disrupting the infrastructure of segregation

Increasingly, protesters in the United States are taking to highways, bridges, and major transit points, using transportation infrastructure as a highly visible stage for civil disobedience. A forthcoming study by researchers at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation examined more than 1,400 Black Lives Matter protests and found a significant number of demonstrations shut down or disrupted transportation, according to the Washington Post.

"We systematically show that the political protest today is now almost totally focused on transportation systems, whether it’s a road, a bridge, in some cases a tunnel—rather than buildings," said Rudin Center Director Mitchell Moss in conversation with the Washington Post.

But for many protesters, highways are more than vital commercial corridors, they’re historic tools of segregation. It’s an open secret in this country that some urban planners of decades past used highway construction to clear slums and segregate poor and minority neighborhoods from whiter, more affluent communities. Examples can be found across the country from New York’s BQE to Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway to the California freeway connecting Fremont and Oakland.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has lately shined a spotlight on this dark side of transportation infrastructure, launching a documentary series exploring its effects and possible solutions.

Protesters shutting down a highway—as we’ve witnessed from L.A. to Atlanta—is potentially about more than causing an impossible-to-ignore disruption. It’s a statement about how people in power can use seemingly benign tools like highways, busses, and traffic stops to advance an agenda of inequality.

Source: Washington Post