Freedom Machine or Death Trap? The Dilemmas of Driving - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
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Freedom Machine or Death Trap? The Dilemmas of Driving

Event to take place March 9, 7pm. Event to be held at 101 Archer in downtown Tulsa.

In an article for the New York Times, Andrew Ross and Julie Livingston lay bare the realities of car ownership for lower income, non-white, and/or previously incarcerated American citizens. It’s a fascinating piece, one that asks us to consider histories of segregation and redlining alongside the concept car ownership. It also draws parallels between many recent iterations of filmed police brutality and everyday traffic stops—several black Americans killed by police in recent years were first pulled over for minor roadway violations. The focus of the essay, however, is on the specific obstacles that these Americans face when it comes to car ownership. Acquiring a car often leads to predatory lending and disproportionate amounts of debt. Driving a car puts them at risk of “revenue policing” and the fees and fines that follow. Ultimately, Ross and Livingston ask us to reconsider perhaps the most iconic symbol of American freedom: the automobile. What does freedom of movement (enabled by automobiles) mean to those who face predatory lending or policing racial disparities? What does this inequality imply for the American ideal of freedom?

Andrew Ross will speak at length on these issues and more. “Automobiles have always been promoted and sold as the great American ‘freedom machines,'” Ross writes, “but for too many of us, they have become vehicles of unfreedom.” Drawing on interviews with formerly incarcerated men and women, Ross will discuss the ways in which car ownership and car use can lead to detention, either through policing or auto loan debt traps, while serving, increasingly, as a channel of surveillance. In response, Ross will lay out a vision for an alternative transportation landscape, one based on principles of mobility justice.

Image cover for “Cars and Jails” (2022)

Andrew Ross is a social activist and Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU. A contributor to the Guardian, the New York TimesThe Nation, and Al Jazeera, he is the author or editor of more than twenty-five books, including Sunbelt Blues: The Failure of American Housing, Bird On Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel, The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty and Property Values in Disney’s New Town, and Fast Boat to China: Lessons from Shanghai.His most recent book (co-authored with Julie Livingston), is Cars and Jails: Freedom Dreams, Debt, and Carcerality. He is a co-founder of several groups, including Decolonize This Place and the Debt Collective. More details about Ross’s work can be found at