‘Whose streets?’ Highway blockades, vehicle ramming attacks and the 2017 Charlottesville protest

Authors: Satya Savitzky*, University of Saint Andrews
Topics: Political Geography, Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: automobility; terrorism; protest; infrastructure; political violence
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


The presentation will examine relations between contemporary highway blockades –and what might be thought of as their Other – vehicle ramming attacks. The presentation will focus on events in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, where a woman was killed after a white supremacist drove a vehicle into a crowd of left-wing protestors.
Highway blockades of the kinds employed by Black Lives Matter activists, disrupt not only private motor transport but the cargo mobilities which sustain the US economy. In the run-up to Charlottesville, legal measures were considered that would absolve drivers of criminal liability where vehicles hit bodies deliberately obstructing traffic - a move which would effectively all-but sanction vehicle ramming attacks. These measures, subsequently abandoned following the Charlottesville attack, were proposed, ironically, to address what was referred to as the ‘economic terrorism’ these highway blockades represented.
The presentation will examine the overlaps between ‘terror’ attacks using weaponised vehicles, and the mundane or ‘legitimate’ functioning of automobility – a system at the core of the ‘American way of life’, where ‘motorists’ rights’ are held in sacrosanct and where obstructing traffic is a cardinal sin, and whose promotion and propagation is implicated not only in (often racialised) forms of infrastructural violence - from ‘slum’ clearance, to traffic ‘accidents’, to air pollution to climate change – but also in the very patterns of global instability in which contemporary forms of ‘terror’ have flourished.

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