Sunday, February 19, 2012

High gas prices and the newly oppressed

"I guess we're going to have to drive less, consolidate all our errands into one trip.  It's just oppressive." - W. Howard C., Crestwood, Mo.

From the Sunday, February 19 edition of the Arizona Republic.
Just when I had about given up on finding anything to write about I read this quote in today's Arizona Republic and my two-week posting dry spell came to an end.  Thank you, W. Howard C.!   Oppressive?  Really?  Because you have to drive less and consolidate errands into one trip?  Whooo!!  Take a break from the sport page, big guy, because having to consolidate car trips in order to reduce your gas consumption is hardly of oppressive.  Neither is it a threat to freedom and liberty.

Electric bikes at Bike Shop Hub.  No gas required and an electric boost makes bike commuting easier.
I don't mean to pick on Mr. C., who is retired and, indeed, may live on a budget, as do my parents.  Maybe he doesn't have ready access to decent public transit, can't walk without pain or can't safely bike a short trip to the grocery store.   But I like to point out that high gas prices are nothing new.  Most of my life, I've listened to the drum beat that we're running out of oil and that access to it will increasingly become a matter of national security and a likely cause of international conflict.  An oil embargo in the 70's drove up gas prices, caused gas shortages that resulted in long lines at filling stations, and sparked a national debate on our long-term reliance on oil, a finite resource.  We have been told since that time that we need to conserve gas by among other things switching to more fuel efficient vehicles, driving less and consolidating trips.  My mom, no big fan of Jimmy Carter in those day, got the message and, partly because she is a child of the Great Depression and knows about living on a shoe string budget, did all of the above, and has ever since.  And so do all three of her daughters.  At last check-in with my family, I don't recall anyone expressing that they felt oppressed.  Might not be able to afford a road trip out to Arizona to visit me and the Planner Guy but no oppression.

Lotta cars out there but a few people find other ways that are just as effective.
Yes, when you legitimately have to rely on a car to get around, higher gas prices are an inconvenience; my mom, free spirit that she is, would love to pedal around her part of town rather than drive but at 79, she just doesn't have the stamina.  However, high gas prices aren't an act of oppression perpetrated by some outside threat.  Iran certainly can try/threaten to cut off our oil supply but they are not oppressing us. It's political gamesmanship.  The OPEC nations can decrease oil production and keep price per barrel artificially high but that is not oppression.  They are making a business decision.  The Keystone XL pipeline?  A reflection of environmental policy and politics during an election year is my guess, but again, not oppression.

At the risk of appearing melodramatic or preachy, I'd like to take a moment to provide some well documented examples of oppression.  Oppression is millions of Jews rounded up and murdered during World War II.  It's an Egyptian woman in a blue bra being beaten for demanding basic human rights. Oppression is the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and apartheid.  It is Congolese children being forced to carry arms, fight and kill under threaten of death if they refuse.  It is human trafficking, a serious problem world wide, mostly affecting poor women and children.  Lest we forget oppression in these United States, we, too, have our own rich history.  Native American have, perhaps, the most lengthy history of oppression in the United States and, since I've been living in the American Southwest for the last five years or so, I'd say they have a fairly reasonable list of ongoing gripes.   I am descended from some folks who actively participated in the oppression of people kidnapped from the African continent (no matter how much some of my distant relatives would like to believe the contrary).  Also oppressed:  the interned Japanese Americans during World War II; women (we only got the right to vote less than 100 years ago); gays and lesbians (progress yes, but still no cigar!); and any group that has ever had the indignity of seeing a sign posted in a place of business that reads "(fill in the blank) need not apply!".  The list could go on and on, continues today, and all those people probably deserve an apology (so take that Governors Rick Perry and Mitt Romney!).

Snow and ice in the bike lane do rise to the level of threats to freedom and liberty but they are annoying.
Now, you might notice that I did not list bicyclists as members of an oppressed group.  I've seen a few blogs and on-line postings referring to us, and others that use alternative forms of transportation, as oppressed.  I always feel a bit embarrassed when I see this sentiment in print.  Speaking for  myself, I don't feel oppressed on any level.  I am inconvenienced that my favorite sections of the urban trail and bike lanes are not clear of snow and ice when I need them to be but there isn't any money for that at the moment.  I believe in vast right-wing conspiracies but not in this case.  If by some highly improbably chance that Barack Obama states "I eat children for breakfast" or "Satan is my daddy" and Rich Santorum is elected President of the United States, as an atheist and a woman who uses contraception, I will then worry about my potential to join the ranks of the oppressed.  Until then, I'd prefer not to confuse minor irritants with actual acts of ongoing injustice.  Doing so only diminishes the credibility of  effective alternative transportation activists  who work tirelessly for those bike lanes and bus routes that we currently enjoy.   In short, claiming that we are oppressed makes us look like idiots.

Bicyclists are almost guaranteed a place to park in front of or very near their
 destination, even during the First Friday Art Walk.  No oppression here.
Whether we're passionate bike commuters or among the dedicated auto-dependent, maybe we could all take a deep breath before we count ourselves among the ranks of the oppressed.  Does framing yourself as oppressed leave you feeling helpless or powerful?  Wallowing in a soup of oppression doesn't sound like a place where one develops solutions, does it?  What if the $2.50 a gallon gas that Newt Gingrich insists Americans deserve just ain't ever coming back?  Are we going to cry about it or are we going to say "Okay, what else can I do"?  If tomorrow we can no longer afford to regularly gas up our cars, what would be the next best thing?  Or the next best things after that? The answers are out there.  They'll probably look a bit different for us all but there will be lines of intersect, like bike racks on buses, car pooling and park and ride lots.  Now might be the time to find our inner-Marines, suck it up and move on to Plan B.

15 comments:

Ted said...

When I lived in Takoma Park, MD, there was a group of residents who were up in arms about speed bumps in the neighborhood streets.

I coined the term, "Injustice Deficit Disorder" to describe these people that couldn't tell the difference an injustice and an inconvenience.

They were whiny liberals, BTW.

She Rides a Bike said...

Your point is well taken, which is why I pointed out that similarly hysterionics from the cycling community is just as silly as that coming from the car-centric. In Louisville, speed bumb also are cause for endless moaning and groaning from a few residents determined in their conviction that these traffic calming devices are "destroying" their cars. On one street I am familiar with this group was so up in arms that they removed the humps under the cover of darkness. Of course, the entire reason why they were installed in the first place was that they were requested by another group of residents who simply wanted to reduce the incidents of speeding.

ironmanbob2 said...

One of the greatest lessons taught to me came from my Freshman H.S. communications teacher. " People are lazy." Next, we walked outside and observed: the bi-passed sidewalk; a block length drive in the car to the next store; cars circling a parking lot for a parking space; trash thrown out a window or next to the can (not in)., etc. We don't like to think we are but we are. Holds true still 30 years later.

She Rides a Bike said...

Once I was sitting at the bus stop at 6th and Mohammed Ali when a teenage boy finished up his McDonalds, stuffed the empties in the bag and thrust it under the bench. "Put that in the trash can", I barked at him. "I know you don't do that at home!" He hung his head, got up threw away his empties in the recepticle and sat back down. I thanked him and went about minding my own business until my bus arrived.

anniebikes said...

Here, here. I wholeheartedly agree that some people will always gripe about gas prices being "oppressive". I still can't help but wonder if it all stems from driving cars as being a right as opposed to a privilege. Some folks' right to drive is threatened by high gas prices, thus their "right" is taken away. Then they feel oppressed. At least I think that's the way they look at it. Now, I don't agree with this line of thinking, but then again I feel it's a privilege to drive an automobile.

John Romeo Alpha said...

I've always considered that the core concept of oppression is the removal of choice by power. Driving a car, or walking, or riding a bicycle, is a choice we freely make every day. Examples where bikes are 100% prohibited might be justifiable as oppression. On the other hand, where they are permitted in order to support freedom of movement, as on most non-urban roads (including the shoulders of Interstates 8, 10, and 17) in Arizona, examples of its opposite.

She Rides a Bike said...

JRAlpha:
I believe that choices and options are frequently limited. Often the limitations seem unfair or unreasonable. However, there might also be times when prohibiting bicycles (I assume you mean prohibited by law or ordinance)is justifiable or reasonable. In Louisville, where I am from, bicycles are prohibited on sidewalks. People get ticketed from time to time on Eastern Parkway for using the sidewalk since the street itself is considered, even by very experienced cyclist, a deathtrap due to curves and speed. I prefer taking the side streets between the Highlands and Germantown if I want to get to the University. Sidewalk cycling is prohibited in downtown Flagstaff since sidewalks are too populated with pedestrian for accomodate both. However, they are allowed when there is not the option of a lane or multiuse path. I understand that a little town in Colorado banned cyclists from many of the streets to accommodate tourons in town to gamble. The law was met w/ quite a bit of dissatisfaction from the locals. Rather than oppressive, I consider this ordinance merely a stupid inconvenience created by visionless City Council members determined not to be reelected. If the ordinance has not already been rescended I would expect it to be after the next election cycle when the community lets it's voice be heard. I do not doubt that in a meeting between the Council and town staff that a traffic engineer and a town planner had an impassioned debate on the subject and that, as usual, the traffic engineer won out.

I think oppression is a very strong word that gets thrown around to the point where listeners no longer pay attention to it when perhaps they should. Like calling GW Bush a Nazi when maybe he more of an intellectually incurious, cowboy wannabe.

Cynthia said...

I have nothing to add, except, "Right on, sister!" Excellent observations, well stated. Thank you!

Cherilyn said...

Fantastic piece! The only reason I'm even remotely on this guy's side is that I've been reading that the flux in oil prices is due to speculation. It used to be that only companies who used a lot of oil (FedEx, airlines, etc.) could buy huge amounts at a time. Deregulation has allowed speculators to do so, and now we're at the mercy of Wall Street again.

Love your reminders about what oppression really is. I've been thinking the same as I've watched middle-aged white men equate requirements for health insurance companies to cover birth control with rape. Gimme a break.

Happy biking!

She Rides a Bike said...

Oh, Cherilyn, don't get me started on sudden controversial birth control! If I find a way to link it to bike commuting, I could probably come up with 10 or 12 scathing paragraphs.

As I'm understanding things, gas consumpton in this country is down as an overall result of the recession and the renewed interest in more fuel efficient autos. Currently, oil is the number one U.S. export (if I read things correctly in the NYTimes, we might be the top exporter of oil at the moment). Increased gas consumpton by China and India has been a significant contributor in price increases in recent years, as more and more of their citizens are purchasing cars. Iran is now refusing to sell to England and France as a result of their respective stances on sanctions and, of course, production in Libya ceased (don't know if it has started up again) as a result of their part of the "Arab Spring". My understanding is that the price of oil is largely determined by the World Market and if we suddenly began flooding the market then OPEC would simply counter by cutting back on their production in order to maintain prices. I've read back and forth on the question of speculation. Hard to believe it doesn't happen but I haven't read an truly authorative statement of fact either way yet.

Jimio said...

Whats funny is if more of us rode bikes, the price of gas would go down due to less use but then the problem if we start seeing it's getting cheap again and all start driving more and up goes the gas prices again! I have been riding a bicycle for 5 years full time. I still drive cars but they're not mine just friends and relatives. I feel great and get more exercise than I did when I mostly drove.

She Rides a Bike said...

It seem like that the pattern is for people to forget about the high cost of gas when the price drops, doesn't it, Jimio? Recently though, I read that in Phoenix public transit (buses and Metro Rail) saw an initial drop when prices dropped a bit, only to see ridership creep back up. The transit authorities are still speculating on the shift in the trend but one of the thoughts was that the return of younger people and empty nesters to the urban core made building the public transit habit easier. Additionally, more evidence suggests that those returning to the urban core, particularly 20-somethings, are more interested in connections with others and experiences than they are in maintaining and paying for a car. I'm well past my 20's but it fits for me so I suspect they may be on to something.

Rachel said...

Well written! There's a lot of hyperbole being thrown around these days, and I'd like to give you a big high five (or high handlebar) for tackling it.

Where I live, gas is about $4.50 per gallon, so I'm only driving if it's absolutely needed, and I certainly don't feel oppressed by consolidating errands.

Montrealize said...

OMG you must be one of the first blogger I know who has got any sense about this bicycle oppression thing.
I once got into a discussion with folks who could not understand how insulting this comparison was to real victims of real oppression...

She Rides a Bike said...

Rachael and Montrealize:
I think I'm coming from the perspective of having worked as a therapist with child sexual abuse survivors, people who really have been oppressed. Anyone who has witnessed true oppression and abuse doesn't misuse the term.