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The Ultimate Sacrifice?
March 6, 2001
by Lydia Leftcoast

Each day since the coronation of George W. Bush has brought environmentally concerned Americans something new to wince at. The appointment of Gale Norton, the proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the appointment of auto lobbyist Andrew Card as White House Chief of Staff are just three of the worst insults, and the next four years promise more unpleasant shocks.

But we don't have to just sit around fuming helplessly. We don't have to wait till 2002 for a new Congress or till 2004 for a real president. We can do something that will 1) show our displeasure with Bush's environmental policies, 2) hit him and his buddies where it hurts the most--their principal source of income, 3) help the environment, 4) exemplify passive non-violent resistance, 4) support a progressive movement that has been growing quietly and steadily off the mass media's radar, 5) possibly help the U.S. trade deficit, and 6) be perfectly legal.

In addition, this tactic will 1) improve the health and mental well-being of each protester, 2) increase each protester's after-tax discretionary income by thousands of dollars, 3) make a statement against corporate control of our daily lives, and 4) enrich each protester's awareness of his or her local community and fellow citizens.

So what's the catch? There is one, and it is very big indeed. Despite all the benefits I've listed above, most of you won't have the courage to do this.

I 'm asking you to give up your cars.

Oh-oh. I can hear many of you screaming out in cyberspace. "My car?! That's my second favorite body part!" But think about it! George and Company are all involved in the oil business, the auto business, or both. Oil consumption is rising in the U.S., mostly because of the sharp rise in miles driven in the past few years and the proliferation of SUVs. This trend is Bush's excuse for drilling in Alaska. Therefore, those of us who don't want to see oil-soaked caribou are hypocrites if we persist in driving three blocks to the grocery store in our Ford Explorers.

I sold my car in 1993, so I'm not asking you do to do something that I'm not willing to do myself, and I have learned of the benefits of car-free living through personal experience. For people who live in urban areas with good public transportation, the switch is fairly simple. You can take the bus or train to work, ride your bicycle on errands, and walk those three blocks to the grocery store with a collapsible cart.

"But I have kids!" you say. Hey, people all over the world raise kids without the benefit of automobiles, and kids actually like riding bicycles and transit and going for walks with their parents much better than they like being immobilized in the back seats of cars. (I've seen kids protest when their parents tell them that it's time to get off train - they want to keep riding.)

Admittedly, if you live in the typical suburb or rural area, it may be virtually impossible for you to renounce your car. Many families really need two cars because there is no public transit, nobody to car pool with, and no safe means of biking or walking. Even so, you may want to make the accession of this most anti-environmental regime the occasion for some serious thinking about your current lifestyle. Do you really need that SUV or minivan, or did you buy it just because the advertisers wore you down?

Why do you with two children need a larger vehicle than your parents who had four children? Do you actually need two or three cars? Could one of the adults take public transit, car pool, bike, or walk? Could you take the money saved by not buying your teenager a personal vehicle and put it in the young person's college fund? Above all, why have you chosen to live in a neighborhood where driving is compulsory?

A sharp increase in the number of people trading in gas guzzlers for fuel-efficient cars or downsizing their family fleets would raise corporate eyebrows almost as much as outright renunciation of motor vehicles and would go a long way toward decreasing oil consumption.

I can already hear the agonized groans. "What you're asking is unreasonable!" Is it? All we're talking about is the future of the planet. Nearly fifty years ago, the African-Americans of Montgomery, Alabama boycotted the city bus system and walked to work for months, all to ask for equal treatment. Was it easy for them? No, they had to walk miles each way and then work all day at physically demanding jobs. They simply cared enough about their cause to make some significant sacrifices.

Do you care enough to endure some inconvenience? Then you can help tame the automotive and oil company beasts and send a strong message to George and the rest of the petro-crowd that funds him. At the very least, you can buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. You can take the cars that aren't really necessary and sell them to Republicans. You can dust off your bike or rely on good old-fashioned feet. You can call up your local transit agency and find out if it's possible to manage your daily commute that way. You can choose your neighborhood on the basis of non-motorized access to stores and services. You may even make the ultimate sacrifice of going car-free and find out that it's no sacrifice at all.

The Internet is rich in resources and support groups for the growing numbers of people who have chosen this means of thumbing their noses at corporate America. Remember that every mile that you don't drive is a vote against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Every mile that you don't drive means less money in the Bush and Cheney family coffers. Make these statements your mantras and glue them onto your dashboard - or bicycle handlebars.

Threatened with the possibility of blackouts, consumers in the Pacific Northwest cut their use of electricity by 3-4%. A 5% reduction in national gasoline consumption should therefore be easily attainable, and a 10% reduction would send a most emphatic message from the environmental community to the robber barons in Washington.

 

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