Cross at the Light
A History of Jaywalking
Honors Contract for Patrick McGuire
News Reporting: CCAC
December 14, 2016
Abstract: The paper takes Jaywalking as a point of departure to examine the turn of the 19th Century and its effect on the 20th. By asking why the word jaywalking was adopted into American vernacular, it proposes a socio-linquistic paradigm describing a change of sentiments in the industrial revolution favoring some of the backlash of the old Confederacy against civil rights. By conscripting the jaywalker into the role of heroic underdog, the paper finds similar adoption by militant minorities on the fringe of identity politics. Jaywalking is understood as both time machine and metaphor in a race rage of demolition derby.
"They set out in bad shoes."
Port Authority: Poetry on the Buses
Jaywalking is accepted practice in Pittsburgh, despite being in degrees of gray fundamentally against the law. Yinzers is a regional slang for native Pittsburgh inhabitant that my professor carefully explains as coming from "yinz," a vernacular form of second person, like "you guys." "Yinz" is like "y'all". Having grown up here and being none the wiser, I also suspect it probably originated with the letters in the name of the prominent local employer and political Heinz family. A few good yinzers may cross at the light. Using a direct peripendicular line yielding right of way to traffic is considered safe and reasonable conduct most of the time, yet lopers thrive on Pittsburgh streets, setting a regional standard, more often than not an abridgment of their entitlement by law. Certainly visitors from regions where people drive and walk defensively are astounded by the slap happy, hockey rink style of aggressive, traffic flow in Allegheny County. Here an indigenous pedestrian would gawk in wonderment upon witnessing someone actually waiting for the light to change with no traffic coming. Even a cop would grow suspicious at the spectacle. Commonsense in setting an example for children to follow is non-existent. Mothers pushing baby strollers are known to charge forwards in front of buses. It's a common sight. It still can make you catch your breath or let out a scream.
Jaywalkers, of low visibility on streets with motorists indifferent to speed limit safety, heedless, pre-possessing right of way, small in overbearing surroundings, cut right across the road at many an angle. A woman darts to her car from the skirt shop, her expression chagrined, as though conscious of infraction, but is it one? Or is it just the effrontery of someone pressed for time keeping up with the flow of pedestrian norms as a folk license?
The casual manner of jaywalking in Pittsburgh always provides me with storytelling when I live in Seattle, which is a larger city but nobody jaywalks there. The history of jaywalking is a tale of two cities in more ways than one, a comment I will illuminate in the course of this narrative. Pittsburgh has notoriously aggressive pedestrian and traffic behavior. In fact, in my first month in Seattle, I was stopped. The grim men in blue grew jocular when they saw my Pennsylvania identification. They laughed with police gusto and one said, "Mr. Crary, we want you to walk down to that corner light and demonstrate for us how we cross the street when we live in Seattle." He wasn't kidding. Even when no cars are coming nobody goes against a light there. The Green/Yellow/Red are a muse for the third eye of conscience. If you so much as step off the curb when a car is passing through a green light, the driver will brake in alarm. In fact, it led me to coin the tee-shirt adage: "Take a step back from the curb once in a while, it's good for you."
I became interested enough in jaywalking while doing a photo-journalism assignment for Patrick McGuire in spring of 2016 at Community College of Allegheny County to look at its history. My findings were jaw-dropping, the potential unreal. This is a tale of wonders, a kaleidoscopic window into the past that is a virtual time machine. It is a topic on which I could spend a lifetime of research, review and revision.
West's Pennsylvania Criminal Justice Pamphlet for 2012 defines a pedestrian as "a natural person afoot" (75 Pa C.S.A. 102). Of course, people differ physically. Doug Myette, a Bachelor of Engineering, Mechanical Engineer, writes online concerning the effect of weight on fall impact. "In the case of a falling worker, a heavier worker will generate more fall energy which needs to be dissipated to stop that worker from falling. So, conversely, a lighter worker will have less fall energy over the same amount of distance...and this is why fall protection equipment is designed for heavy workers." The physics of pedestrian/vehicle accidents are not within the scope of this note, but without a doubt the pictures of injury and moments of drama are as diverse as we are a species. Each accident is a freeze frame where life passes before the eyes of the affected, a million still images in the camera of God. As many as twenty-seven million birds are road kills annually, and there are so many people.
In his book The Psychology of Driving Graham Hole reports, "the dimmest light that we can see is about a billion times less than the brightest light that we can see," he cautions however that involves adaption by the retina and that there are consequences to poor focusing.
A smartphone becomes a dumbphone every time it causes an accident. They affect the ability of the obese to look both ways, the sick to hold the wheel when they cover their mouth with a cough, the sleepy to reach for their coffee in its holder, not to mention the attention span considerations, the ability to react to bolts from the blue at high speed, the too often fatal contribution to absent-mindedness on the road at high speed. If you have ever been hit by a car, or even taken Driver's Education, you know that jaywalking is illegal in order to protect you. That doesn't mean you take it seriously. I don't want you to think I am romanticizing the scofflaw. There is of course a place called Camazotz. It is a fictional place, in a Newberry Award winning book for children by Madelaine L'Engle titled: A Wrinkle in Time.
Camazotz, an ancient Mayan word, which L'Engle borrowed, is adopted for a place where everything is patterned from birth to a perfect conformity. A child bouncing a ball out of unison with other identical children bouncing an identical ball is severely and painfully punished back into involuntary motor conformity.
A wrinkle in time refers to a method of time travel, like a crease in paper. The fold in space this title refers to is a good analogy for this news as history paper. As a deaf man with no car in a dramatic web of obligations, going to school in a powerful city of split screen drivers, I fear Camazotz, where pain is inflicted for any deviation from the norm, and yet I depend upon Camazotz to make sure my path is smooth, the buses on time, with not too much unexpected interference. The grid of urban development is already the matrix of my sad footfalls. When necessary, and expedient, because it seems safe enough and I am in a hurry, I jaywalk.
In going back to an age when this was all still being decided, a kalidescopic lens will be my time machine.
To understand the legitimacy of jaywalking in some cases, you need to study the bylaws that have developed as society changed from the horse and buggy era to favor vehicular traffic, some nations ahead of others, leading to domination by car and by war machine, a favoritism towards inhabitable steel that goes to the root of my interest in this concern. Under the terms of PA law failure to obey pedestrian control signals may include conviction for a summary offense (75 PA C.S.A. 3112). Exercise of care statutes hold forth that yielding right-of-way is primarily considered sufficient observation of the law in many jurisdictions when crossing where there is no crosswalk. Diagonal jaywalking is prohibited (75 PA C.S.A. 3543). The PA crime statutes do not use the epithet: "Jaywalker."
No one is exactly sure where the curse term comes from. Looking back over the rise of the word that has become an institution in the lingo of the people in the United States of America, we are drawn to an age where immigration, like today, was an issue used to stoke fear, at the dawn of the mass industry assembly line. "Indeed, the assembly line - the quintessential symbol of US economic preeminence by mid-century - was not introduced until 1913, just as the era of mass immigration was coming to an end."1 With the rise of the assembly line came fear, loathing and baleful rumors about anonymous hordes, workers in their "dark Satanic mills."
To see the gripping stupor of the ancient Fritz Lang film: Metropolis, is to arrive at more than the point. It is to see the rise of a mesh of powers multifocused by the knowing upon the restless and confused, the fatigue and bandaged working class rearing their heads against the master, only to be fought with new methods of mesmerization and fear, all clockworked with a mind for a distant future we are still living towards, sights set from long ago, the unseen reach of dead hands plotting.
Where did this scenery on the stage of time come from and where was it going?
A tale of two cities takes shape: Metropolis Jekyll and Metropolis Hyde. They arise with the dawn of the automobile, the bastard child of the human race, our robot species, a mutation of our minds. This was the point in human progress at which diabolical acts were mined by the science of the mind as the gold of supernatural illumination. When Freud found Frankenstein in the Id, occult writers in London closed ranks around Aleister Crowley in Temple of the Golden Dawn, wending their mystery tales of Fu Manchu, while in America, Henry Houdini brought Olympian feats of magic to the astonished crowd. Astonishment, not education, held grip on the imagination of the throng. Elsewhere, in Eugenic psychiatry, in the Aryan search for a traitor's heart, jaywalking meant much more than a profound symptom of disorderly conduct, a rage against the machine. It indicated a schizogenic tendency in the wrong shape of a skull, a mongoloid criminalistic, the inability to conform and obey, an enemy within more deviant than a layperson could grasp. The message was clear: Authority. Leave it to specialists of automation, those who administer know best. The alternative was the anarchy of red hordes.
"Do Not Help To Build A Chinese Wall Around Cincinnatti,"
read billboards denouncing appeals for public safety from the new danger of dreadfully fast Tin Lizzies.
A new Death arrived as a bandit on the roads. On September 2, 1906 a Norwegian shoemaker Lauritz Bakken was struck by an automobile driven by John Megrath a well-known contractor whose firm was erecting the Seattle Federal Building. Bakken, age 64, had fallen off the pavement after being accidentally struck and died.
The trifle of jaywalking took a dramatic turn in an America always a little over the top when it came to non-conformity. There was a widespread fear that petty deviancy of a wayward personality was the road to heavy petting, a country where even the clean cut Buddy Holly could be opposed by redneck parents. Good girls don't jaywalk. The jay of Reefer Madness could be heard giggling maniacally just off-stage.
Fear became the taste in the food from the hand of power. Thou Shalt Not Question. The bugaboo of the Red Scare that arose from the ashes of fascism was in the ground seeding.
I discussed my plan for a jaywalking paper with a retired English professor from my school, stating that I mean to develop the narrative, using it as a lens into the past. In the process I arrived at what I believe now is the clear origin of the term, and with this discovery not only does a whole sense of the wheel of history, bigotry and death, come into focus, but an understanding of how the whim of fashion exercised a forcing grip over human statecraft, shaping our legacy, destiny and national estate. Somehow, in the change of fortune from the defeat of the Confederacy, to the rise of Industrial barons after the murder of Lincoln, the distinguished bands of abolitionists in Kansas, the Jayhawkers, were defiled by the germs of Jim Crow and Henry Ford's caustic alliance with evil in the rise of Nazi Germany.
Jayhawkers was a tag for anti-slavery forces in Kansas, the style of opposition to the Silver Shirts who sought to fly the swastika over the Capitol later in Topeka. Jayhawkers were rowdy and had already known distortion, as border states began to call ruffians and even thieves bands of Jayhawker. The jayhawker was a noble, countrified, Kansas anti-slavery agitator, honored as the name of the basketball team for the University of Kansas. An authoritarian from Kansas roots herself, she turned blue. "You cannot just do that! It is an academic paper. You cannot just veer off into any direction that you want, and it didn't come from jayhawker, that's not true."
Yet the first case in which the term was ever used was Kansas City, Missouri. The Jayhawkers did credit to the legacy of the USA. They held forth that the cause behind creation of the Union Shield, a signal put up in bars in the border states to announce intent and readiness to brawl should anyone voice favor of succession, which is now, today, in recent years featured on the rear side of the Lincoln penny. Jayhawkers were jaw breakers when crossed, a proud species of abolitionist who would not allow the slavery line to march Northwards. To have the proud term twisted into a denigrating shriek of abuse in the streets of Model T mania is a moment of significance in our national linguistics, the American Language, that invites a charge of suppression. The first ordinance against jaywalking which atypically uses the term, evident for regional dialect, was enacted in 1912, in Kansas City, Missouri, an area of the country frequented socially by residents of Kansas. By 1912, blowback against the abolitionist victory in the War Between the States, a war heavily invested in Birmingham Steel, was well underway. It would not be long before the forces of Emancipation were confronted with Auschwitz, created by the man who awarded Henry Ford the highest German medal of honor afforded an American.
This isn't to say that Ford stood alone. Allen Dulles was chumming back and forth with the gas chamber builders of Berlin and the cronies of Neville Chamberlain, using the tonic of sleeping powder assurances on future victims. While Gandhi, the untouchable, preached non-violence to the Jews, Cecil Rhodes made plans for the re-conquest of America, and Ford told his workers they were only safe while standing still, patriots only behind the wheel of a marriage license in a Model T.
The finger pointing epithet, "Jaywalker!" split the air with hatred and laughter, as a raucous twist of linquistics, the empowerment of Silver Shirt Confederates arising on steel platters from sour grapes. It gave the cast of rube, country bumpkin, to the emancipators, now depicted as Chinese hordes.
The tactic of propaganda developed by professional sharks in cartooning has struck time and again in our political wrangling over spoils. Turn to an old cartoon from the age of Drive-In movie theaters, long before the internet, when Hollywood was afraid of what then was known as Pay TV. This surreal cartoon would play to us as children in the parked car, with eerie sounds coming through the loud speaker in the window of a summer night.
The idea that a teacher's rage against discovery of word origin could be genuine makes it no less misplaced. H.L. Mencken's expert book The American Language listed over a dozen claims regarding the origin of "OK" including the idea that it was from a cracker sold in the name of purity with those initials. This is to say that the joy of invention includes the will to imagined meaning: Yet zero tolerance holds sway and to disobey is jaywalking.
Before developing a nascent branch of learning, appropriated metaphors, for the act of jaywalking and its meaning in culture, a caveat emptor from the iron hand. Broken Windows Theory of crime asserts that any negligence towards inroads giving appearance of reduced vigilance will create a fertile soil for intensifying corruption to spread. Yet there is also an enduring question of liberty before the crossroads. Do we dare know the truth of this term? Or are we asking for anarchy and derision towards law and order?
The Darwinian powers of mass industry came to carve and carve they have done, announced by the Berlin Conference of 1884 when the European trade knife slit new borders through ancient bloodlines as designs on the African Congo; they carved the spirits of the land sprouted with appropriated metaphors, heels dragging on the roads of our nation's first deaths by vehicle. Jaywalking means putting yourself in danger and for this reason can be used as a metaphor for a cause, such as crossing a picket line, or Draft Dodging. The Los Angeles Dodgers got their name from the mad rush in Brooklyn after Trolleys went electric from Brooklyn Trolleys where they were first dubbed: The Trolley Dodgers calling to mind the mad dash of being caught between bases in a run down. Cross the border to Canada during the war in Vietnam and you find the Draft Dodgers. Throughout the Jim Crow Era Blacks flocked across the Mason-Dixon line in a great migration. People are on the move.
After the Emancipation of Black people from slavery the South created Black Codes which allowed them to arrest men, women, and children for ludicrous infractions like loitering and crossing the road wrong. They were put behind bars on labor gangs. Ford, meanwhile, fought strategically against unions, which he saw as Jewish, by employing Blacks willing not to join them. The good black, the faithful souls, were being rewarded against the Jayhawkers. The carving of public space for cars and road expansion was drawn by the same hand of power that used the pie cutter to carve colonial borders through tribal boundaries in Africa, favoring European interests. Ignoring the language idiom camouflages the subculture that put a curse on our house ignored, it seems, by all but those who agreed. Denial is an invisible word.
Evidence for language idioms that create puns on words goes back to ancient Egypt. The effect can be uncanny, but this, too, supposedly means nothing.
Michael Brown was shot dead over jaywalking. In another incident in California where jaywalking wasn't even a crime, a Black man so doing caused a small police riot and ended up battered and jailed. The very idea of thinking can be an insult to authority, and questioning itself becomes an appropriated metaphor for crossing the line. The claim, "this makes no sense whatsoever," promises a firm hand. To jaywalk over the door of perception into hidden history is to cross the most terrible picket line of all: the labor of militarianism.
Cars are status symbols. Knowledge can be construed as theft, an attempt to misappropriate class and refinement. To be without one is as sure a sign of dereliction as a liberal diploma. To be driven to jaywalk means being a blighter of the forgotten and forgiven Potato blight, whose most famous refugee was shot dead in Dealey Plaza. To walk is to be a stooge, poor papa, without the basic reputation to put yourself behind the wheel, a fifty cents dollar, no matter how big, only half a man. While auto workers for their own safety became immobile on the job to avoid serious accidents in a complex work environment, political dogma from a new age puffed their shirts and tails by putting the working class, now standing still, behind the wheel.
As death from sharply pointed tail fins, tragedy to young bicyclists, mounted, Ralph Nader reports, "a letter was sent in the spirit of the Canons of Ethics for Engineers which began with these words: This letter is to insure that you as an engineer and the General Motors Corporation, are advised of the hazard to pedestrians, calling the hazard visually apparent,"3 but General Motors replied, "there is always a likelihood of the few unusual types of accidents."4 Responsibility has to be mandated, it is seldom adopted voluntarily.
Part Two: Devils
"Now I'm going to have to teach this moron how to walk."
The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant
Dragsters and hot rods hit the silver screen in 1947 when whitewall tires ruled, with the first film of its kind: Devil on Wheels. Then in 1950's educational TV and theater shorts saw scare films, minute long info-mercials where Judges lectured assembled town folk on the dangers of reckless driving and wayward youth. Accidents, the deaths of young girls who hopped in beside reckless rowdies, set the stage for the cinema genre. Painted with flames from the bumper, the devils on wheels set the heart to high gear with the gas pedal mashed to the floor. Despite the fall in favor, jeered as bumpkins, street rowdies could restore their favor, lean and mean, behind the wheel. The term jay-drivers got bandied, but it didn't stick. Rebel was the approved word without cause. Super stardom was for the rebel pack in their souped up jalopies, the badboys who made the girls scared, rather than snicker. This was the birth of the automobile nation, the Drive In, the antics of jabbing, not protection. Knife fights became hazing, but after the draw, the white leaders laughed together. Pity the hapless jaywalker, still red from a slap in the face.
Kansas had another crowd than abolitionist. They were identified by Silver, Silver Shirts, American Teddy Boys, the adjunct to the Silver Beatles fated to arrive from Liverpool and the ranks of ugly brawling in leather. The birth of the automobile nation arrived with The Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith, whose directors invented the burning cross and went on to make films with Reagan. While screened on high, throngs arrived in New York City to the picture show. From a desk overlooking the bread lines, Henry Ford promised the black man a piece of the pie in return for their help against the unions. Black workers had their place, and many had been loyal before; some Confederate troops were black. Whether weak of heart or broken by the sword, enfranchisement made hell if not good, better. A man can hate anything that stands between bread and butter on the table.
The Jazz era had a mouse that roared in India, a long march politician voluntarily in rags, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi crossed the line against the British who pouted, professing their humanity, over the truncheon of colonialism, old hands in the race war game.
By contrast to Birmingham Steel arising from the ashes of defeat in the South, jayhawkers were on the whipping post before a cartel for whom the Great Depression promised to be a boom town of World War. The howl of "TRAITOR" was fast on the heels of the joyous shout, "OIL!" Jaywalkers, the non-conformists of bedlam, were the flashers of pacifism. Run 'em down!
With the arrival of finger-pointing and curses, othering, of the odd man out, the mob at the waterfront surrounded the do-gooder and the jayhawker emerged bested, if not cowardly, with two black eyes. With their fortunes on the line, the dream slapped them on the back, get up old boy, times have changed. For those who persisted, the blood-curdling cry of "Jaywalker!" split the air, aimed at native sons, pinkos, nigger-lovers, objects in an age of anger, Zoot Suits on the dockyards of a redneck Navy. The Jayhawkers turned tail to lick British boot.
The Industrial Revolution in London swept child labor under the rug. Even today children who run for safety in Britain disappear in huge numbers. Beefeaters are a get up. The scofflaws faced social planning. It was no folk hero being chased by plainclothes cops through Brooklyn. The Trolley Dodgers had to head out for L.A. The L.A. Dodgers found a home, but the Draft Dodgers ended up in Canada. Crossing the street meant crossing the border of an Imagined Community.
Safety and appeasement, in a parasitic symbiosis, have their fringe benefits and perks on the sly, collaborators come in every disguise but when we talk of accessories to the automobile elite, life began with the Model T. "The early speed industry was largely concentrated in the Midwest." "A characteristic of the early speed equipment industry that warrants emphasis at this point is that of the larger milieu of aftermarket accessory manufacturers to which it belonged." You might think I am only making a play on words. "These early speed equipment companies"..."only rarely sought to distinguish the nature of their businesses from those of their general-improvement counterparts." "It was no coincidence that the speed equipment industry first emerged in the years immediately following the introduction of the mass produced Model T."5 The Midwest of jayhawkers yielding right of way to a new, mechanical program.
Nor is it any coincidence with Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler in fraternity as they were that the first war loan "drive" arrived with a Congressional push for automobile loans in banking and finance, and crony thugs from the nation's Tammany Halls descended with billy clubs on strike lines.
"Almost 4000 people are killed on the world's roads every day."6For such mayhem to be taken as the natural order there had to be an evolution of Darwinian planning that successfully separated social evolution into two categories: the inevitable and bad luck. Not all the men in the United States were witless. In a blurb for Upton Sinclair's "Classic Tale of Greed and Corruption," the novel: Oil, it says, "Enraged by the oil scandals of the Harding Administration in the 1920's Sinclair tells a gripping tale of avarice, corruption, and class warfare featuring a cavalcade of characters, including senators, oil magnates, Hollywood film starlets, and a crusading evangelist," but he leaves out jaywalkers in his tale of an era characterized, like our own, by social injustice. They are the Beat Generation's indelible progenitors, invisible, shadowy forefathers, wayward drifters stowing away on trains, American gothic abandonment limned for a picture, a vagabond leaving his pregnant girl in a dreary homestead, with a promise to return she knew a lie.
Jaywalking is the dark horse rival of Invention. It signifies class trauma and a reversal of fortune. The new shadow of death had a spiteful genie of agency gleaming through the painting's eyes of accident, glowering with malice in the hallway to the office of the robber barons. Dead jaywalkers must have been jinxed, a sad fate to be sure, but within the curve of industrial statistical estimation.
Nicholas Otto invented the four-cycle combustion engine in 1876 as thousands of Blacks migrated northwards, historic events more often noted in separate files, but they segregate from a simultaneous continuum lost on a mass too occupied with desperation and debt bondage for school.
The Race was on. Race became a new double meaning, attaches at the banquet stood in as trophy buccaneers, slapstick and swivel hip, they kept the company secrets. The Industrial Revolution had a place for the faithful souls, in separate but equal barracks and unmarked trenches. Yankee government was firmly in hand for Johnny Reb, a society of industry that meant jobs, including child labor, not emancipation. Jaywalkers were dysfunctional gadgets baking their own bread.
Moving to cross at the light, on a particular road map, with something to make sure is heard, the jaywalker lunges into the street suddenly with great determination, for it is now or never.
The city is a ruthless anonymity. Existentialists depict us as insects, the scientists depict us as mice. Speaking of what fellow prisoner Kzetnik called: "Planet Auschwitz," Bruno Bettelheim writes, "True compliance with all commands and prohibitions was impossible if one wanted to live. So the necessity was to just not get caught. That this was not simply a solution worked out by the prisoners, but one intended by the SS, was made very clear to everyone. Again and again every SS, from the camp commander down, warned, "Don't dare to be noticeable," or "Don't dare to come to my attention."7 No peaking from the foxhole. This explains why in Pittsburgh it is better to jaywalk when the time is ripe, while in Seattle you cross yourself at the light so diligently it is practically a show of religion. Authority by degrees is still a species.
Not all bad boys were considered loveable hooligans. Upton Sinclair in his novel OIL! describes discussion between a city's men. ""Wobblies" as they were called, had the reputation of being dangerous people, almost Anarchists, who wanted to seize the wells and run them for the workers; you heard terrible rumors of a thing called, "sabotage"".8In the rush to urbanization Edwin Markham's turn-of-the-century poem, The Man With the Hoe where it was written:
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,/Plundered, profaned and disinherited,/cries protest to the Judges of the World,/a protest that is also prophecy.
Set the stage. "Not only did the poem become general as the average man's symbol for the political and economic mood of the time," but "the newspapers..."gave as much space to it as to prize-fights and police stories.""9
Part Three: Dancing in the Streets
Any man, especially with family, can be driven to hate that which comes between him and the ability to put hard-earned bread and butter on the table, as bitterly as they may hate, for example, the Kennedy curse. Either problem is a license to sign on for folkways and the Invisible Empire, however morphed and inclusive these latter days. Jaywalking is journalism, so are the rules against it. There is no science of objectivity, but there are many sciences of inducing subordination. Lecture a newcomer to the newspaper staff all you want to on the virtues of independent journalism, they will still note dryly that they are the ones to take out the trash and make the coffee. Subordination, not independence, is the call of the wild in the press mills. At best the loyalty of an amateur stringer to the public is challenged by proximity to the brass. With such terms of endearment comes repressed rebellion and possibly destructive resentment.
Jaywalking as a trope is up for grabs for a simple reason: quark strangeness and non-comformity. A post-cyberpunk science fiction novel set in South Africa gurgles with the perennial nature of adolescent rebellion. Describing a young elitist, "His office on the 17th floor is colonized by an assortment of hip ephemera, a lot of it borderline illegal. The most blatant example is the low-fi subtech on his bookshelf, a cobbled-together satellite radio smuggled in from the Rural in defiance of the quarantines, which probably only makes it more valuable, more flauntable...stolen photographs would fit right in."10 Which just goes to show you a lot of flashy language is needed to dress up the commonplace. It is also a trope in the usual suspects who teeter totter back and forth between libertarianism and left wing utopianism: Anarchists and Feminists. In a review titled: The Well-Tempered Anarchist, concerning a book by James C. Scott, Gene Callahan reports, "He argues that the Germans could stand some practice at law-breaking, which would help avoid any possible repeat of the 1930's and 40's. Well, certainly it is good to have the spine to break manifestly unjust laws, but Scott goes much further than that, suggesting that ‘every day or so’ we should ‘break some law that makes no sense, even if it's only jaywalking,’ in what Scott calls, ‘anarchist calisthentics.’11 One might without doing harm to their idiom exaggerate flirting to a practical felony in resistance to the politically correct pillow smothering the poor renegade with conformity. Would Emma Goldman laugh?
In The Last Bastille, an online tribune with an article by Kyle Readen titled: On Guerilla Gardening, we learn "too many activities have been declared mala prohibita by the government. Everything from selling raw milk to jaywalking has been arbitrarily dictated as being illegal. If it is indeed true that we all might as well be committing three felonies a day, may it be the time to accept the fact that the several American governments have essentially outlawed freedom?" Just think, one casual moment of walking against the light could have the butterfly effect of forestalling the Fourth Reich!
Emma Goldman famously said, "If I can't dance I won't be part of your revolution." So many revolutions, even when ending in a hail of fire, from Prague Spring to Arab Spring take it to the streets that it is surprising that jaywalking is less often used for an appropriated metaphor as a posterchild for those crossing the war machine.
Even the margins are indifferent. Charles Bukowski had a reputation for being an underground poet watched lewdly by the F.B.I., yet in his many poems about the crooked, the street wise, the offbeat, the maddened and the off-color, cars take up all his stanzas of male identity on the road. The car is his cool. Of walkers in the poem Flophouse, he writes despondently of his contemporaries,
It's not/bearable./you get up/go out/walk the/street/up and/down/sidewalks/past buildings/around the/corner/and back/up /the same/street/thinking/those men /were all/children /once/what has happened/to them?12
In Alfred Doblin's novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, the streets from the prison serve the purpose of providing an extension of the form. From this I quote liberally and at length, for the exercise of a common man, traipsing up and down familiar streets for a stretch of the legs. "He stood in front of the Tegel Prison gate and was free now. Yesterday in convict's garb he had been raking potatoes with the others in the fields back of the building, now he was walking in a tan summer topcoat; they were still raking back there, he was free. He let one street-car after another go by, pressed his back against the red wall, and did not move. The gateman walked past him several times, showed him his car-line; he did not move. The terrible moment had come....He turned his head back towards the red wall, but the car raced on with him along the tracks, and only his head was left in the direction of the prison. The car took a bend; trees and houses intervened. Busy streets emerged, Seestrasse, people got on and off, it's going to start now. The tip of his nose turned to ice."13 Later in Berlin, "He jumps at the chance to take a walk. And there they go strolling along - where do you think they're going - down Alexanderstrasse, they wander to the Prinzenstrasse...still cursing away, when they arrived at Hackepeter's in the Prenzlauer Strasse."14 Imprisoned by familiar sidewalks in the limits of freedom.
Promenading, hiking, backwards and forwards, the good Germans know the beat of the streets, the feel of the soft light, the streetlights and their moths, all in good order for the virtue of penitents. What has happened to us? Have we gone funny?
"Wax figures stood in the show-windows, in suits, overcoats, with skirts, with shoes and stockings. Outside everything was moving, but -back of it there was nothing! It-did-not-live!"15 Soon it would make nothing but sense and all would be clear with the coming of Horst Wessel.
On Dec. 7, 2005 Rigoberto Alpizar leapt from his seat and made for the door of an airplane in front of his exasperated wife, who tried to explain he was bi-polar. Fleeing the plane, authorities claimed he shouted about having a bomb and he was killed by airport special forces. Hart Crane's inimitable poem, The Bridge, discretely observes,
a jest falls from the speechless caravan.
Faced with the fantastic pressures of duty against hegemony, the dark grids of the matrix, the call of the wild, one can easily de-mystify with empathy the casual and normative pedestrian, suddenly seized with resolve, who boldly steps in front of a limousine. A sad end, but always available. It has been used for political statements. On June 4, 1913, Emily Davison, a radical woman's emancipationist, stepped in front of a horse from the carriage of King George and died in the name of her cause. In America Women gained the right to vote from a Congress who sought to picket the booze bottle. Suffrage and prohibition came hand in hand. Is it radical and eccentric to wonder if the powers of that era feared drunken women more than the vote?
This is not the only appropriated metaphor we find in right minded compare. From the bold and persecuted free speech Samizdat writers of the Czech resistance to Soviet occupation, and the lunch counter sit-ins of the early Civil Rights Movement, to the modern plight of desperate children crossing the borders illegally, we are faced with the attending images of humanitarian drama in civil disobedience from unforgettable times and equally memorable struggles, anarchists, suffragettes, untouchables from Gandhi’s concept of non-violent resistance to British Colonialism during America’s Roaring 20’s: satyagraha. Against the baton enforcing the rules of child labor, we cheer the flailing of the angry jaywalker, turbulent madman of the peasant's right of way.
In arguing that the denigration intended by the term Jaywalker heralds the reassertion of Confederate power through the Iron and Steel industry of Birmingham and Pittsburgh, I note the comment of William Labov's research on Sociolinguistic patterns in which he finds that Massachusetts Native American Indians resented the English and Portuguese islanders, "Their reaction to the word Yankee," he says, "is sarcastic and hostile." Sarcasm and hostility is for sure the mean temper of the hiss in play.
Asking for proof of a contested contention allows only a stream of recondite embarrassment that is, "merely a warning. In a very shocking way it throws us into the question of meaning by manifesting its absence. Absurd theater does not offer us consolation or hope. It merely reminds us of how we are living: without hope. And that is the essence of its warning."16
In reconciling ourselves to the spirit of academic adventure in a gait paved by the grading pencil of certitude, we resolve our time travel to the dawn of a new South from the era of Utopians. In the barns of rural communal experiments such the Oneida farms, seeking to avert a feeling of cataclysm, the cry of Frances Wright is heard, "Who speaks of liberty while the human mind is in chains?"17
Epilogue: Fanfare for the Common Man
To live without hope in the triumph of Metropolis Hyde, imprisoned in our freedoms on overly familiar streets of sorrow, surrounded by puppetmasters and pop icons whose only purpose seems to be trying their own hand at puppeteer, when the plots of dead hands arrive, spat upon we still speak of liberty. Where did the cheering crowd of decency go? The Brain Trust of Good Neighbor Policy? It seems there is never an answer, for did not FDR die, too in Dealey Plaza?
Jaywalking should be a cautionary parable for freedom of speech. One of the great custodians of Freedom of Speech was the checkered, semi-sincere rioter H.L. Mencken, the famously irreverent man who was accused of riding a donkey into church. Yet Mencken was party to a tragic turn of fortunes in American history, a warning that free speech for its own sake can backfire on its purpose: the protection of civilization.
Among the least appreciated in mankind’s sad battle with immoral authority, among socialists, some of them leaders of tubercular women in garment industries, were the Japanese resistance to fascism trapped on a little island in the 1930’s with no escape. In Reflections on the Way to the Gallows, such a voice, Yamashiro Yoshimune (Tsuneo), a leader of the labor movement, instructs "A circle can be created by anybody at any place, but if the circle does not have a sustaining leadership, it will disappear like a bubble. Five or six circles ... cannot be led by one individual. You must be aware of this. We need well-structured organizations to provide leadership for these groups. We urgently need to create a leadership that can survive whatever repressive force is brought to bear."18 Despite their best efforts, still resonant through the tottering bookshelves of history and destiny, the case was lost before the hotheads and the gunneries.
America, too, has suffered the indignities of setback and repression. H.L. Mencken is often revered for his defiant protection of American sound and sensibility, his boisterous challenge to those who restrict freedom of speech, yet under the fickle hand of H.L. Mencken's vote and satire, we lost one of the most heroic men in human history, a man with a huge smile, and faith in his people, the Iowan Henry Wallace, best friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sneering at Wallace for being tagged part of a Brain Trust, Mencken opted for the venoms of Jimmy Byrnes, a South Carolina lynch candidate, the gullible Harry Truman, and Red Scare sabotage of peace with Russia. Perhaps FDR held back his support for Wallace, his dear friend, wanting not to put on his shoulders responsibility to use the Atom bomb. "The Wallace orgies, Mencken said, were really frightening: he began to believe that all was lost in this great country, including honor."19 The era of demagogues proved Mencken a mawkish firebrand, at turns uninterested in the consequences of his own excesses.
Just as there are those who cross over the river styx into the underworld, so too does the dream of free expression bring on a measure of madness and pain. When the Sex Pistols appeared on Bill Grundy's Today Show the administration of broadcasting made a mistake, sighing that it can't be helped, Bill Grundy famously yielded the floor saying, "you have about five seconds to say something outrageous." So it is from this soapbox of Cerebus. There must be something missing from all of this?
As it is in football, so it goes for freedom of speech: there’s always an offensive line ~ look both ways before you cross the street.
1. Still an Open Door? US Immigration Policy and the American Economy Vernon B. Briggs, Jr. and Stephen Moore, American University Press, 1994, p. 3
2. Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile by Ralph Nader. Grossman Publishers, N.Y., 1965, p. 234.
4. This Business of Speed: The Hot Rod Industry in America, 1915-1990. David N. Lucsko, John Hopkins University Press, p. 38.
6. RoadPeace, cited by BBC News Magazine, Aug. 17, 2010.
7. The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age by Bruno Bettelheim, Free Press of Glencoe, 1960. p. 210.
8. Oil, by Upton Sinclair, Penguin Books, 1927, p. 170.
9. Our Times: America Finding Herself, by Mark Sullivan, Chas. Scribners Sons, 1927, p. 239-240.
10. Moxyland, Lauren Beukes, Mulholland Books, 2008, p. 6
11. The American Conservative, Jan. 24, 2013
12. The Last Night of the Earth Poems, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, p. 103
13. Berlin Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Bilberkopf, Alfred Doblin, Translated by Eugene Jolas, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. 1961, 5th printing, 1983, p. 4-5
14. Ibid p. 243
15. Ibid p. 5
16. The Theater of Protest and Paradox, developments in the Advant-Garde, by George Wellwarth, NYU Press, 1964, p. 54
17. The Era of Reform, 1830-1860, by Henry Steel Commager, D. Van Nostrand Co., 1960, p.
18. Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Pre-War Japan., edited by Mikiso Hane, University of California Press, 1988, p. 238
19. The Constant Circle, by Sara Mayfield, Delacorte Press, N.Y. 1968, p. 268