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Why Ferguson Protests Spilled Onto Highways

WHAT CITY? Photo: D Magazine

Protesters in Los Angeles Monday night. Photo: D Magazine

Protests following a Missouri grand jury’s failure to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown spilled out onto highways in several American cities on Monday evening and Tuesday. Protesters occupied freeways in Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland, Milwaukee, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago. (One reported incident of road rage at the protests — a Minnesota man who ran over a woman in downtown Minneapolis — happened on a surface street.)

Patrick Kennedy, a Streetsblog Network member who now writes at D Magazine’s Street Smart column, sees special significance in the use of highways as a protest venue. It is less tidy and harder to ignore than staying on the surface:

These aren’t exactly Tahrir or Taksim Squares, large spaces at a central convergence point for all the city making for natural gathering places. Those occur in still urban places that promote gathering rather than dispersal. We’ve replaced city, and its inherent ability to foster foment just as easily as its day-to-day intended purpose of human progress through social and economic exchange, with car-dependent, isolated anti-city, fragmented by these hulking concrete structures…

The highways are the centerless epicenter of American life. What better place to disrupt? What else better represents the very literal as well as underlying divide, displacement, and disenfranchisement…

My point here is not to debate the specifics of the incident in Ferguson. Any one incident belies the deeper issues at hand leading to such widespread convulsion that registers nationally. Instead, it is to take issue with the belief that protesters should go back to the fenced in area so we never have to hear from them again nor pay attention.

Here are a few more scenes of the direct action on highways.

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