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The Road to Detroit
Residents of Detroit, Michigan have always taken their cars seriously, so they were understandably baffled by the latest contraption rolling down Eight Mile Drive: a school bus painted with corn rows reading, Crusin aint easy at three dollars a gallon. Oil is over. Drive the Future. And then, above the rear wheels, Biodiesel.
According to Jamie Henn, the 21-year-old co-organizer of the Road to Detroit campaign, the slogan embodies an underlying logic: We thought, cars are the major contributor to global warming. Cars are made in Detroit. Were going to go there.
The Road to Detroits mission is multifaceted. The Road to Detroit crew spent the summer talking to farmers, Republicans, and, most importantly, labor, says Sarah Connolly, a representative from the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a non-profit sponsor of the bus trip. The common denominator uniting these groups: indignation over the wasteful behavior of the big three Detroit-based automakersFord, Daimler-Chrysler, and General Motors.
The Road to Detroit crew doesnt shun the wisdom of existing environmental organizations. On the contrary, theyve taken an important cue from RANs Jumpstart Ford campaign by addressing their 15,000-citizen-strong Clean Car Pledge to the Ford Motor Company. Ford has had the most fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions five years running, says Boeve, making them an ideal high-profile industry target. Road to Detroit also teamed up with San Francisco-based Energy Action to create a media-savvy campaign that managed to sustain the romance and idealism of a college road trip.
Drive the Future Weekend, the culminating event of a long, greasy (their bus runs on vegetable oil as well as biodiesel) journey, felt predictably eclectic. On Saturday, August 20, the eight-member bus crew, along with an entourage of friends and like-minded activists, descended on suburban Detroit for the Woodward Dream Cruise. They rumbled down Woodward Avenue all afternoon waving to children, spreading the word on alternative fuel technologies, and voicing concern about a stagnant, inefficient U.S. auto industry. You just have to let people know that there are alternatives and theyll be excited, reflected Mike Gregor from Macomb, Michigan.
On the following afternoon, the bus rested outside the First Unitarian Universalist church in downtown Detroit while its passengers hosted an all-day educational symposium on alternative fuel. Movements start with visions and profound questions, declared Rich Feldman, an SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) veteran, longtime autoworker union activist, and author of End of the Line, an oral history of the U.S. automobile industry. He encouraged the assembled crowd of students and concerned local citizens to take their political cues from such varied sources as Martin Luther King, the Zapatistas, and anti-WTO protestors in Seattle. His talk portrayed the Road to Detroit as the vanguard of an alternative vision for a town that, with rising oil prices, encroaching foreign competition, and job flight, has been forsaken by the U.S. economy.
As director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the nearby University of Michigan, Walter McManus released a study in July on the potential effects of higher gasoline prices on vehicle sales and the U.S. auto industry. Among his findings: were oil prices to rise from Augusts $67 per barrel to $80 or $100 per barrel, even patriotic Americans would stop buying U.S.-made cars. Consequently, Detroit would bear the brunt of the impact on the economy in the form of 465,000 automobile and support industry jobs lost.
But McManuss study also looks optimistically towards economic recovery: While high oil prices do put American jobs at risk, I think theres still time to do something to combat these risks. Specifically, he has found that fuel prices matter to new vehicle buyers. Last year, over 95 percent of SUV drivers claimed that fuel prices would factor into their decision to purchase a new car, a statistic that suggests car buyers would support an auto industry shift towards production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
True to its expressed commitment to the city of Detroit, the conference also featured a host of local artists. The city has left us shattered and broken, sang Joe Reilly, a Detroit-based folksinger whose music addresses industrial decay, pollution, and human resilience. Later, students from the local Matrix Theatre Company performed skits mocking auto industry CEOs and a local chapter of Raging Grannies led participants in a round of climate-sensitive childrens songs: The people in the street go cough cough cough .
By late afternoon, the assembled crowd had broken into groups to discuss, among other things, the next stage of the student climate change movement. Billy Parish, a 23-year-old organizer for Energy Action, has organized a campus climate challenge in which he hopes students on 500 campuses will petition their Administrations for better energy practices.
His exuberance was coupled with a pragmatic sense of political expediency: Imagine 1,000 student groups across the continent working to transform their campuses into sustainable communities, organizing enormous unified actions, and joining together in state, regional, and national student summits. This is the grassroots energy the global warming movement needs.
Riding a surge of grassroots energy and artistic inspiration, the Road to Detroit tour bus and its entourage made its last stop outside the former Model T assembly plant in downtown Detroit. In an appropriately austere ceremony, Henn delivered the Road to Detroits clean-car pledge to Bernie Rickey, vice-president of the UAW 600 Union.
Weeks later, Katrinas effect on gas prices would bring the Road to Detroit campaign into sharp focus.
The prospect of a new global climate order being enacted in December suggests that the type of collegiate activism embodied by the Road to Detroit will not only be relevant to todays climate change debate, but perhaps even stand as a political force to be reckoned with. Their biodiesel fuel, after all, at least compared to gasoline, is inexhaustible, organic, and U.S.- grown. Their movement may last longer than the big three auto-makers assume it will. The future can be frightening or it can be a renaissance, says Sarah Trapido, a crew member who plans to stay plugged into climate change happenings on returning to campus this fall. We opt for the latter.
Mike Ives is a student at Middlebury College in Vermont. His last article, On Corn and Culture, appeared in the June 2005 edition of Z.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.