Backlash to the Blockade: Legislative Responses to Freeway Protests in the U.S.

Authors: Julie Cidell*, University of Illinois
Topics: Transportation Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: protest, highways, Black geographies, political geography, legislation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent protests in the United States have moved onto infrastructure that is not normally considered public space: streets, interstate highways, and airports. While there is a long history of protests taking place on city streets or in opposition to transportation infrastructure, the move to interstate highways as sites of protest is relatively new. Also new is the legislative backlash: seventeen U.S. states introduced twenty pieces of legislation in 2017 with one of three consequences: criminalizing or increasing existing penalties for such protests; creating new crimes for protestors who block others’ mobility; or indemnifying drivers who accidently hit such transgressive pedestrians. While the deliberate use of a vehicle to attack protesters in Charlottesville, VA, meant the end of such legislation for the moment, these bills nevertheless have important implications for how we understand blockades as a protest strategy.
This paper analyzes the state-level 2017 anti-protest legislation in two parts. First is a discourse analysis of the legislation itself, including news accounts around its proposal and/or legislative debate. Second is a multi-level logistic regression analysis on the state legislators who sponsored or co-sponsored the various bills (only one of the twenty bills was voted into law). I find significant differences among states in terms of motivations for legislative support for this backlash, but also commonalities in terms of political party and urban vs. rural districts. I discuss the results in the context of both mobility justice and critical logistics.

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