Commentary | Non-motorists, unite!

You have nothing to lose but your automobiles

Waterloo, Ontario, is the name given to the oven in which I lived for 18 years. I’ve been in constant exposure to large one-passenger craft roaming the streets. These mobile radiators of heat, smoke, and noise consumed my existence for every second of my outdoor life. People would refer to them as many things: minivans, SUVs, lawn mowers, pickup trucks.

What made things worse were the ridiculously long voyages I’d have to take through the infrastructural machinery just to get to school or to go to a friend’s house. On average, getting to my friend’s house would take about 50 minutes. My close friends were never really that close. I remember thinking about the entire expansion of motor vehicle infrastructure as a big joke we’d created. To allow for cars, we’d expanded our cities to the point where it only made sense for everyone to have a car. The same dilemma is faced by highway expansion and the consequent further expansion of highways.

Living in downtown Montreal for the past year has changed many things for me. Despite my regular exposure to cars here, traffic is generally calmer, I feel safer, and I can use an efficient mass transit system to get to where I need to go. However, as my brother pointed out recently, I have not escaped the problem of which I’m so critical: I am still a contributor to the automobile’s hegemony, only now I don’t witness its destructive nature firsthand.

There is only one cure for the destruction caused by the automobile: destruction of the automobile itself. Anybody who criticizes me for idealism must understand two things. First, the idea of abolishing cars is based on a real grievance I have. I am part of a society that doesn’t respect me and other non-motorists. Second, I fully understand my dependence on the automobile despite my choice not to drive a car. My existence in an urban environment that supports a mass transit system is only possible through the work of many other people who do drive cars.

In order to make our cities more accessible to non-motorists, society needs to change. Our urban infrastructure needs to reflect this change. Having separate infrastructures is inefficient and could create a class division between motorists and non-motorists. The only approach is to abolish mass usage of the automobile and transform our cities to match this outcome, putting an end to the source of my frustration.

Thinking about how much society relies on the automobile, I immediately realized that powerful institutions would be affected by such a transformation. The largest corporations in the world are either automotive manufacturers or the oil and gas companies that produce their fuel. Their expansion has been matched with the state’s expansion of automobile infrastructure. This includes a system of streets and highways that will take an enormous effort to dismantle.

The automobile industry actively maintains the division of labour that exists in all societies. It will be a difficult fight against both the instruments of capitalism and the cultural acceptance of cars. Hence, the destruction of the automobile must go hand in hand with the destruction of the division of labour. But the emancipation of labour would imply the end of the capitalist class. This being the case, the liberation of labour is equivalent to the achievement of a classless society – I believe that the processes that will lead us to a classless society will also inevitably lead us to the abolition of the automobile.

(The freedom to engage in collective action is a highlight of liberal democracy. However, violent acts and vandalism directed toward the automobile are entirely counterproductive and I do not condone them.)

Kasra Safavi is a U0 Arts & Science student. Ghost ride the whip with him at kasraman@gmail.com.


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