It’s easy to paint opposition to big new highway projects as simply “NIMBY” (not-in-my-back-yard) reactions to progress and development. But taking a broader look, they’re never that simple, and are repeating themselves in predictable patterns all over the globe.

In Hamilton’s own struggle over the construction of the Red Hill Valley Expressway, local residents joined with academics, environmentalists, Six Nations, anti-poverty groups, politicians and artists. The reasons we fought were wide and varied – from concerns about budgets and taxes to trees and air quality. And though that was almost a decade ago now, the same set of issues continue to play themselves out around the world.

More Indians Blocking Roads
Consider the recent battles in India, where state forces just shot another 3 people (including a 17-year-old boy) for protesting a the Yamuna Expressway, a 165km, $2 billion dollar highway between New Delhi and Agra (home of the Taj Mahal). The issue has brought to light a lot of issues about development and favoured contactors in India, as well as the rights of rural farmers and role of expropriation laws from the British Colonial Era.

Anarchists, Bono, Defeat Russia
In Russia, a major highway project running from Moscow to St. Petersburg was halted after large unruly protests. What started as a peaceful stand against the destruction of forest in the Moscow Suburb of Khimki turned bloody after an attack by Russian Neo-Nazis which was quickly followed up by a round of protester arrests. In response, hundreds of anarchists and antifascists laid siege to the Khimki town hall. As the issue intensified and even Bono got involved, President Medvedev broke with Putin and agreed to put a hold on the issue until more studies could be done.

This is all within the the last month or so, and has rocked two of the largest and populated nations on earth. Highways are about more than transportation needs – whoever designs them gets an enormous amount of power over the future of trade and transport in the area, which translates to a lot of profit for developers.

We must always “think globally and act locally”. Whether it’s a power plant, dam, highway or other development project, we must always recognize that it’s not just about our back yards – it’s just easiest to start there, and hardest to fight people on their own home turf. I don’t want to get beat up by Russian neofascists or shot at by Indian soldiers, and the thousands it would cost to get us there could be much better spent than by bringing a few token white people over. Here in Canada, though, we’re facing the very same issues, and don’t have to go very far to find a road to block or construction site to occupy, if the last ten years in this province is any indication.