Nov 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Caravans are the new marches

CHICAGO: Demonstrators participate in a car caravan protest calling for public school classes to be held remotely when school begins on August 03, 2020 in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Demonstrators participate in a car caravan protest calling for public school classes to be held remotely in Chicago. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

As the virus surges and mass public gatherings become more perilous, our cars have become the new vehicles of political expression.

Driving the news: Automobiles plastered with images of and makeshift memorials to COVID-19 victims who died in poverty will caravan through at least 22 state capitals next week — the latest example of Americans trading in their walking shoes for a pandemic-friendly way to make their voices heard.

  • The Rev. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, is organizing the Nov. 23 "Caravans of Mourning" event. His previous events have been modeled after MLK's 1968 Poor People's March.
  • The group originally planned a series of civil disobedience actions to bring attention to poverty from Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta.
  • Rather than cancel the demonstrations, Barber said, organizers decided to embrace social distancing to continue the fight.

Between the lines: In some cases, there's no substitute for an in-person gathering. Poor People's Campaign spokesperson said a contingency in Washington will get out of their cars for a social distancing vigil outside the National City Christian Church.

The big picture: Cars' utility amid the pandemic became apparent to individual households and communities before political movements embraced it.

  • Starting in the spring, parents from York, Nebraska, to Placitas, New Mexico, celebrated school graduation celebrations and birthdays with car parades.
  • Bands experimented with drive-in concerts to replace stadium shows.

Since then, caravans descending on cities in support of President Trump have garnered outsized attention, tying up traffic and clashing with opponents from Portland to New York to Washington.

  • These demonstrators — including many who get out of their cars upon arrival — have won the president's affection on Twitter.
  • Eschewing mass rally crowds out of a desire to protect public health, President-elect Joe Biden instead gathered his own supporters for drive-in style events, counting on the space separating the cars, and the limited number of seats inside each vehicle, to protect people from one another.

The bottom line: COVID-19 has transformed virtually every aspect of social engagement. In this moment, caravans are keeping protests, as well as celebrations, alive.

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