Opinion: Stepping Into The Road

Let’s step out into the road together. It’s Woodstock, at 17:30 on a Friday, everyone is rushing around to get to wherever it is that thirty-something Portlanders go when they’re not at the office pretending to be useful on Macs and phones and office paraphernalia. Don’t call it jaywalking–call it reclaiming space. (Jaywalking of course is a loaded term for a number of reasons. Jaywalkers, often the family thereof, were a witty invention by automobile clubs, which in the early 20th century were mostly wealthy men.) Strangely the term essentially begins its life here in Oregon, down in Grant’s Pass (A lovely community I got to drive through a few times this summer, you must go to see the bears!) in the year of Our Lord 1913, referring to signs made by the Tacoma, WA (Mind the smell!) Automobile Club and their campaign to exterminate the “Jay Walker Family,” going so far as to distribute propaganda asking individuals to do their part to “kill off the Jay Walker Family”) 

Prior to the advent of the term, it was generally understood that roads and highways were for everyone, not just cars and that it was cars, the thing that kills people, and the industry creating them, that pushed the envelope to kill off pedestrianized roadways. If a car feels freeing; it is only the liberty felt by the caged as they gaze out at the sky. Similarly, if you ever feel as though you are usurping or winning within an institution, all you are actually doing is expanding its power and prominence in life

It can be hard to imagine, but places used to be built for you. Long before cars and mandatory parking minimums ruined urban environments, it was convenient. I’m here today to try to break your heart. Cars, buses, trams, and road-based networks of movement will not get better. They are more akin to great chains wrapped around the body of a massive once free beast than they are arteries of trade and travel. Do not be fooled by the jouissance of driving, of the tonnes of steel and (increasingly) plastic grooving along beneath you. You ought to interpret positions of power within historically bigoted institutions (Like Reed) as essentially the same as driving a car. 

The joy of driving a car, for those out of the loop (many Reedies don’t drive–one of the best functions of our campus is how desperately unsuitable it is to automobiles (although, are you ever super freaked out by those lime scooters? They’re fast and unpredictable and they bring that freakin white kidnap van at night that grabs them up to recharge the batteries.) is essentially the joy of connecting your subjectivity with this larger thing that doesn’t quite function in an absolute way and it is fun to use to do bad things with, like speeding, which the desire to do is one of the few semi-universal things about driving. The mindset of driving a car is almost one of invulnerability (because of course one is hidden from the world, behind a wall of metal and glass), and with that invulnerability comes a heightened sense of entitlement and toxicity (hence road rage, not just at other cars, but at pedestrians as well. If you’re “afraid” of bikers in the bike lane or “unpredictable” pedestrians at crosswalks. The point of all of this is to say drivers, pedestrians, bikers, scootererers (sp.), your issues lie not with one another but with the way in which the infrastructure you share has been divided. When one is driving, one is uniquely endeared against the pedestrian and the biker as they are essentially competing with the driver for market dominance. 

I want to put a pin in jouissance, the little bit of uplift that comes from pursuing the death drive. There are other examples of it in life, a sort of winged un-freedom that matches flight with shackles so although we are moving in a wholly new dimension, we are doing so in a way fundamentally incapable of actual success or joy. A great example of this is institutions. When an institution is, let’s say, structurally racist, it is insufficient to just change the actors of that institution and thereby change its character. Every VP and Dean at Reed College could be a person of color, the president of the college could be, the SBP could be, and Reed would be no less structurally bigoted than it currently is. Looking for a change in Reed on this issue is a lot like calling a highway the most efficient way to travel, which, if that is at all true, is because of a dearth of other options, a dearth which comes from the highway killing all other options.  

 Why are we focusing so heavily on coercing this college into an activity it’s not designed for, instead of focusing on pressuring it for resources, access, and safety, for those of us who need it. I’m all for social justice, and I am especially in favor of helping the downtrodden and historically disenfranchised, but if we allow the same creeping coercive power of Reed that put us where we are to define where we are going, then we’re just screwing pedestrians in favor of bus lanes.

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