High gasoline prices spawning songs, signs, symbolic acts

PITTSBURGH Dozens of Alabama students are bicycling up to 10 miles each way to their rural high school. An Indiana man was arrested for belting out a protest song, "Price Gouge'n," from the roof of a convenience store. A sign-maker in Kentucky is riding his horse on business errands. And a Tennessee sheriff is investigating a more disturbing protest: a slain deer hanging from a gasoline station sign.

Those actions are being done in the name of protest, but three western Pennsylvania school officials who plan to walk 216 miles to raise awareness of the factors driving up gas prices don't want to call it a protest march.

"We're not standing up protesting gas prices," said Aaron Steinly, assistant principal of United Junior Senior High School near Johnstown. "We just want to raise awareness, show people what they can do and get people involved."

The school's principal, Lewis Kindja, said he and the other two administrators plan to raise money and perhaps meet with lawmakers on the nine-day walk to Washington, D.C., that begins June 5. The money raised will pay for classroom projects across the state about alternative fuels and environmental issues.

"If we don't start making changes, we're going to be in a difficult position down the road," Kindja said.

Rachel Einwohner, a Purdue University professor who teaches a class on the sociology of protest, said most protesters are "not just working towards the goal, like lowering gas prices, they're also making a statement about their collective identity, as environmentalists or however they see themselves."

Einwohner believes those who are driven to get off the couch for a cause are expressing their own identity. But other scholars, she says, believe protests and similar acts are driven by "selective incentives" -- byproducts not necessarily related to the protest.

Tracy Daar, 17, a junior at Elmore County High School in Eclectic, Ala., said he started riding his bike to school -- a 12-mile round trip -- when gas prices hit $3.50 a couple weeks ago.

"It was just a way to save money at first, but when more people started doing it, it became more like a protest," Daar said.

Principal Jim Adams said about 40 students are now biking to the school about 30 miles north of Montgomery. Besides saving gas money, they hope to call attention to juvenile obesity.

"It really surprised me because cars are such a status symbol among teenagers," Adams said. "Nobody thought it would be cool to ride a bike, but it's starting to be pretty cool in Eclectic."

In Valparaiso, Ind., Jay Weinberg, 29, collaborated with a friend's band, Planetary Blues, and recorded a protest song.

Some sample lyrics: "Price gouge'n, so we're shout'n, what's jack'n up the cost of fuel? I can't afford it. I'm bangin' on my dashboard. I can't believe they think I'm a fool."

Weinberg was charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct after singing the song through a megaphone during the afternoon rush hour atop a convenience store last Tuesday, the day of the Indiana primary. The arrest was part of a plan to call attention to the musicians' stance on environmental and other issues.

Allan Peerce, 53, said he's been accused of trying to drum up business for his sign shop in Leitchfield, Ky., by riding his horse to jobs and the bank. But Peerce says he already has more business than he can handle and is concerned for truckers whose rig doors he adorns with his artwork.

Peerce's horse, Hitman, began wearing a sign reading "In protest of diesel and gas prices" when diesel hit $4 a gallon. If it hits $4.20, he plans to camp out in the city's courthouse square.

"Somebody has to stand up and do something," Peerce said. "If I can do it, then two people can do it. If two can, four can, and if four can, eight can. It can grow into whatever we want it to be."

Cheatham County Sheriff John Holder said he hopes the protests don't end up as pointless as the dead pregnant deer strung up at a gas station in Ashland City, Tenn. A painted sign attached read, "Lower gas prices. Humans are taking it out on us."

Nobody has been arrested. Holder said his office is struggling with gas prices, but in his view, the deer protest is taking "the long way around" the problem.

"It's tearing my budget all to pieces, but that's what we're talking about right now, how to help each other out," Holder said. "Instead of going the long way around, let's go the short way and solve the problem."


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