Gas prices fail to push most U.S. drivers to protest

by on July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

in Economy, Energy, Organizing

By Sue Doyle / Daily News / 07/17/2008
One worldwide group protests mayonnaise. Other people posed nude inside potholes for a calendar to object to the pesky pits in roads. Hard-nosed animal activists even boycotted paper towels containing whey.

Seems nearly every issue and product has opposition ready to rally and march.

So where’s the American uprising over high gas prices? There have been a few isolated incidents. Sticker shock triggered one 64-year-old woman to set two gas stations on fire in early June in Danville, Calif. Gas costs even propelled one Washington state dentist and his staff to saddle up and ride horses to work in protest of $4-a-gallon fuel.

But when will fuming motorists stop gritting their teeth individually at the gas pump and take a stand together? “We have to do something. We can’t continue to be slaves to oil. It’s unsustainable,” said Mark Reback, a public advocate for Consumer Watchdog. “Sometimes it takes consumers feeling the effect on their pocketbooks on a daily basis. Maybe that will get them to stand up and protest.”

The national nonprofit recently launched a campaign encouraging consumers to send their gas receipts to members of Congress. And to bring oil prices down, Reback said, Congress should open strategic oil reserves and regulate the oil-futures speculation market.

Meanwhile, some say massive marches will hit the streets when a gallon of regular unleaded hits $5. And that price might not be too far away.

Even without hurricanes ravaging oil fields or fires destroying refineries, gas prices have skyrocketed this summer. Angelenos today are paying a jaw-dropping 45 percent more for regular gas than they did one year ago, with $4.50 the average pump price, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report on Thursday.

Diesel users are grappling with a 60 percent fuel hike, paying an average of $5.18 a gallon now compared with $3.24 one year ago.

But it’s the gradual uptick of gas prices – rather than sudden, steep jumps – that has defused some anger, said Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at California State University, Northridge.

“These prices have come incrementally,” he said. “Had they come all at once or in several large blocks, rather than nickels and dimes over a long period of time, a shock like that might create some organizations to mobilize protests.”

Still, some are trying to awaken the rebellious spirit upon which this country was founded and are galvanizing national movements.

Spitting mad at what they believe is a manipulation of supply and demand, Texas trucker Michael J.B. Schaffner, 44, and his brother, Frederick Schaffner, 47, launched Truckers and Citizens of America – a coast-to-coast mobilization against high gas prices. “We’re trying to empower the American public,” Michael said.

Organizing a caravan of 250 big rigs to circle Capitol Hill on April 28, truckers demanded to meet with federal leaders and called for a cap on gas prices. Before the big rigs made a second lap around the national mall that day, congressional leaders asked to talk.

But since then, federal officials have not taken any steps to push forward the group’s ideas, Michael said. Now the feisty truck driver is mobilizing a Slow-Down Wednesdays movement. The national campaign encourages all motorists to drive the minimum speed on Wednesdays in a show of solidarity.

Driving slowly also uses less oil, which the brothers hope will stir attention from oil companies. “People are just trying to stay within the means of what they have. They struggle and suffer and fight every day,” Michael said. “If they take the time to fight and protest, they cannot get done the things they have to get done. They have to work.”

Today’s prices at the pump also stirred Jasmyne Cannick of Los Angeles to start Kiss My Gass! The coalition of motorists boycotts one big oil company each month. The motorists also want action from politicians. Cannick, 30, spearheaded the group in June after realizing no one else was standing up for commuters. “There was nothing out there. I’ve never known, through the history of this country, for its people to just repeatedly get kicked over and over and over and not fight back,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why we weren’t saying anything or doing anything.” Although the group’s first protest at a Mobil station in Hollywood on June 13 was overshadowed in the news by the sudden death of journalist Tim Russert, Cannick and others continue to spread the word. Already, 300 have signed the group’s online petition.

Connecting with political rallies and trying to get the attention of Teamsters, she hopes millions will get involved and join the boycotts.

“If you have 10 million people not going to an Exxon or Mobil, they’ll feel that,” she said. “We do have that power.” 818-713-3746

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