Democracy in Crosswalks

This one is a rant. Sorry but I couldn’t think how to make it entertaining.

The freedom to walk across the street without fear of being run over by a car is matter of democracy in crosswalks, where pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way. Equal time. Equal space.

Yes, pedestrians are as irresponsible as drivers and the difficulties of getting laws changed are gargantuan. Groups have been working for years to get the police to enforce stops before making right turns on red. If we want democracy, we have to live democracy every day.

I once saw an East European tourist at a festival in the park dumbfounded at how Americans would allow people to crowd in line in front of them. Not just being polite to someone who is late to work or with a crying baby but people who were being rude and self-important. “You let people walk all over you. We would never allow this at home.” I’ve heard similar comments from exchange students from countries that were not democracies. On a daily, moment-to-moment basis they were much less tolerant of law breaking and violations of social norms than we are. In practice, they were more democratic.

We give up our own freedom in the name of “what can we do?” not as a question, just a lament. “We can’t get city hall to do anything.”

City hall? That was your toe that car just about took off. Your child they almost ran over.

Whenever I suggest confronting bad drivers, people say, “Oh, we can’t be rude.” Or, “We might get shot.” Or “We can’t take the law into our own hands.” Painting extreme scenarios helps us avoid action the same way focusing on facts helps avoid the truth.

Why can’t we lean over, knock on a car window, and point out to the driver waiting at a stop light that they are sitting on the crosswalk? Why can’t we yell at a driver who has just run a red light?

Why can’t we take pictures of a driver talking on a cell phone while making a left turn in front of an elementary school while children are crossing? And then send it to the police. How many times would take for that driver to think twice if the 15 parents and three crossing guards who witnessed this banged on the car trunk, and yelled at the driver? Yes, yelling is unattractive, but so are dead children.

This tiny action would not make anyone late for work and in less than a week would make crossing the street a lot safer. Have I done this in the last month? No. So many people frown on  demanding one’s rights that it requires more energy than I have if I am the only one “taking the heat.”