Yesterday, media hit the panic button and people rushed, well-trained, to purchase merchandise. Today, Deval L. Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, announced a ban on motor vehicle travel beginning at 4 pm and continuing until further notice.
The proclamation, called Executive Order No. 543, cites authority “pursuant to the power provided by Chapter 639 of the Acts of 1950.” Motorists are threatened with a $500 fine and up to one year in jail if they violate the governor’s order.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is comfortable with the travel ban. Bet Power, an outspoken Northampton, MA resident and longtime activist, wrote on Facebook:
I live in Massachusetts where it is snowing today as it typically does in winter in New England. I have never been ordered by law not to drive my car before, not even in the Great Chicago Blizzard of 1967 where 2 feet of snow fell every hour for 8 hours! Is it just me or does anyone else (especially in the western part of MA) feel weird about the total travel ban?
The ban doesn’t apply to safety people, public works people, healthcare workers, the media and those “that provide critical services to the public, including gasoline stations, food stores and hardware stores.”
According to Patrick, “the point is not to figure out how to come down hard on people…it is to emphasize how critical it is that non-essential travel on the roads cease during this storm and the immediate aftermath. We will be flexible.”
Bet Power opined, “I wouldn’t want a cop figuring out if he can be ‘flexible’ with me while I’m sitting in the police station…I would prefer our government advises us to stay off the road for safety reasons, plowing by the DPW, etc. but not impose jail time and a fine if we, as free citizens, choose to drive our cars.”
The Massachusetts travel ban wouldn’t bother me so much if there weren’t so many signs that authoritarianism is encroaching on our daily lives. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is doing random searches on the MBTA. Obama signed NDAA 2013 with all its frightening implications. B. Manning is still in jail. The list goes on.
I have no special gripe against Deval Patrick. He’s no worse than any other politician who builds their career propping up a dirty system. When Occupy Boston was camped in Dewey Square, he came down and walked through it. That’s more than Mayor Menino did. I’m willing to believe Governor Patrick’s primary motivation here is to save lives and save money.
But this executive order still normalizes heavy-handed use of government power. Over the next few years, expect more travel bans, checkpoints and other prohibitive authoritarian tactics from the people at the top. Expect people will be fighting back, too.