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12/06/2005 Archived Entry: ""ride in humiliation""

YESTERDAY, AFTER BLOGGING DECLAN MCCULLAGH'S ARTICLE on the most recent developments in the federal plan to track all U.S. road travel, I got in my truck and turned on the radio.

NPR was just embarking on another of its interminable commemorations of landmarks in the civil rights movement. I nearly turned the noise machine off. NPR goes on at absurd length about these things ("The anniversary of the day Martin Luther King parted his hair on the left instead of the right" "The date on which Rosa Parks thought about thinking about not giving up her seat on the bus") and I'm tired of it. But I hung in there and their story about the Montgomery bus boycott ended with a King quote that smacked my head pretty good.

I'm giving a link not to the NPR story, but to a much better and more detailed account of the Montgomery boycott. This article also contains a longer version of the head-smacking quote:

"We came to see that, in the long run, it is more honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation. So, in a quite dignified manner, we decided to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk the streets of Montgomery."

We came to see that, in the long run, it is more honorable to walk in dignity than to ride in humiliation.

What are Americans doing these days, except "riding in humiliation"? I refer not just to Declan's story. (That particular humiliation hasn't actually been imposed on us yet.) But to having one's balls groped by fedthugs. And being subjected to allegedly scientific "behavior analysis" at airports. (Hint: If you're nervous, you must be a terrorist.) And what of having to grovel for the "privilege" of getting your future national ID drivers license?

Riding in humiliation? This is the very definition. Today, instead of black people being treated as "niggers," all travelers, of every race and creed are being treated as n-words -- being humiliated.

Then comes the other half of King's statement: "to walk in dignity."

You can walk across Montgomery, Alabama, or hitch a ride with friends. But alas you can't easily walk from Washington, DC, to Chicago or Los Angeles to Minneapolis. And as the travel Gestapo gains more control, we increasingly can't take the train or bus or drive our own vehicles "in dignity" either.

The increasing control and personal humiliation inflicted on travelers is a problem to which I have no sweeping solution. I've refused to fly for nearly eight years now because I will not run the Gestapo gauntlet. And I'm hardly alone, I know. I even know one man who gave up his beloved private airplane when Homeland (Achtung!) Security requirements forced intolerable humiliations even on his ability to fly his own plane out of his local airport.

Yet giving up flying is only a partial and unsatisfying solution. It's one thing to give up flying. It's altogether another to watch every other travel option become a vehicle for humiliation, fourth-amendment violations, and the rape of privacy and dignity. And a vehicle for ultimate government control of our movements. We're already being pawed, tracked, questioned, and even reported to the DEA for riding buses, trains, and subways.

What else is left when road travel by private vehicle gradually becomes equally humiliating? When checkpoints, GPS tracking, black-boxes, RFID transponder systems, and national ID licenses turn our own cars and trucks into mobile government surveillance units?

We cannot boycott all means of travel other than our own two feet. But clearly we'll need to develop private alternatives -- such as a traveler's network that supports long-distance ride-sharing. (The driver/vehicle owner still bears the humiliation of tracking and national ID, but the passengers remain unmolested -- unless of course there's a checkpoint or a Terry stop or ...)

I drive an ancient truck with nearly a quarter million miles on it. (Bless Toyota for reliability!) But its transmission is going south and its gas mileage is deteriorating into SUV range and I know someday this truck won't do the job any more. Buying another truck is problematic. I won't get a national ID drivers license. Most auto insurance companies won't talk to me unless I submit a social slave number, which I will not do. (Those that will accept an unnumbered customer may charge three times as much per year for insurance as those that won't. Despite a flawless driving record, a person without a government number is considered an unacceptable risk.) Finally, I will never allow government to force a GPS tracking device on any truck or car I own.

In short, I can see the day, not too many years in the future, when I might face the option of giving up the marvelous independence of road travel because I refuse to "ride in humiliation."

That day isn't here yet. And when I look off in the direction the world is heading, my mind wants to slide away from the logical conclusions. I just don't want to contemplate how bad daily life is going to get. The freedom to travel unmolested and unfettered is one of the great, wild freedoms of this great, vast nation. I know I tend to be out there near the radical fringe of refusal to cooperate (although -- glory be -- I also know Outlaws and rebels who make me look like a wimp). So my moment of decision may come sooner and in a different way than yours. But someday we're all going to face the choice between "riding in humiliation" or ... something else.

What will that something else be?

Posted by Claire @ 08:57 AM CST

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