By Carey Wedler
Indianapolis, IN — As government agencies continue to prove themselves incompetent at local, state, and federal levels, some citizens are taking responsibilities typically assigned to the authorities into their own hands.
One of these responsibilities is maintaining the roads, a task most people believe only government entities can carry out. In Indianapolis, Indiana, however, where the roads are in disrepair and require hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade from “poor” to “fair” condition, two young men are taking a radically different approach: they are filling potholes themselves and building open source technology to crowdfund a community-based, voluntary solution to the problem.
Chris Lang, 22, and Mike Warren, 28, launched Open Source Roads, which they describe as “a grassroots volunteer-driven organization dedicated to fixing the roads, using the philosophy of open-source” that aims to “draw attention to the failing infrastructure of Indianapolis and the legislative cutbacks that have created this problem.”
The Indy Star reports that the duo repaired over 100 potholes last year and have continued their work into this year, investing their own money to clean up the road systems.
They seek to challenge the government’s control over road maintenance, citing the bureaucracy’s inability to do so successfully.
“We want to fill a lot of potholes, and we want people to help out and see that we don’t need to rely on this monopoly for it, and I want that to be what starts the people in charge talking about change,” Lang told the local outlet.
“If the city is going to fail at their own monopoly, why should they have that monopoly?”
Though they don’t aim to overthrow the Department of Public Works, they want to provide other options. Lang, a mechanical engineering student, and Warren, a software developer and Uber driver, say they have spent between $800 and $1,000 of their own money repairing the roads but also raise funds through their GoFundMe campaign, dubbed the “Campaign to fix MUH ROADS.”
“The city has been out to fix many of them, but despite their efforts, potholes still exist in the neighborhood,” the page, which has already surpassed the $500 fundraising goal, reads. “People have been calling the city to come out and finish the job, but to no avail. Given the importance of this to me, I have decided that, if the government won’t do it, maybe I ought to do it myself.”
The pair was inspired by the Portland Anarchist Road Care project, a group of anarchists who have taken it upon themselves to repair roads that Oregon city government has been unable to fix.
Lang told Anti-Media he identifies as an anarchist and that Warren has anarchist leanings. “Up until now, we’ve tried to remain politically ambiguous,” he said, “but truthfully this was all founded on anarchist beliefs we share and designed to promote a general acknowledgment of the failures of the state.”
Lang and Warren do not have a permit to repair the roads, but so far have been able to proceed, drawing on skills they learned by watching videos on the Internet about how to fill potholes.
Though the city has not yet attempted to physically halt them, Betsy Whitmore, chief communications officer for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, told the Indy Star in an email that they should obtain the necessary permit, citing public safety concerns.
“I usually feel more unsafe driving than I do working on the roads,” Lang said in response to that sentiment. Further, as he told Anti-Media:
It is terrifying trying to navigate some of these roads, and people are actually crashing/getting hurt on a daily basis. The safety factor is well accounted for in our work, and I fully believe our work is as safe as we need it to be. That being said, we’re always trying to get better gear and improve our techniques to better adapt to safety situations. Every spot we hit is strategically picked, and we are careful to make sure incoming traffic has a realistic path around us.
He also said they often have more than two people working on any given pothole, with volunteers coming out to help fill the potholes and also direct traffic.
They believe the work they are doing goes beyond simply filling holes in roads and is contributing to saving people’s lives. In their Open Source Roads group on Facebook, they refer to an incident where a man in a wheelchair was thrown into the street after hitting a pothole. Bystanders came to his rescue and moved him out of traffic in an effort similar to Open Source Roads’ desire to tap into the community to improve people’s lives rather than waiting on a government that has proven its inability to live up to its responsibilities.
He stressed that their work is “directed activism” — not just two guys trying to fix potholes:
This was something Mike and I, being active political anarchists and formerly working in libertarian organizations together, chose to do specifically for this purpose: So people would ask ‘Why do we need the government, then?’ And the very visible and clear response from the state has just been shrugging off these issues, for a long time.
We’ve done bigger things, like work to fight for immigrant and incarcerated people’s rights, to not build new jails, ending the drug war. But we needed to stop thinking globally, and start acting locally. Potholes were a very real, and very utilitarian, way to approach that, and anyone can do them. So it promotes the ideas of anarchism in a lot of ways, I think.
In the spirit of non-government, open-source solutions, they are also working on a website and app that will allow community members to volunteer, as well as map potholes and provide details that will help workers plan repairs.
As Anti-Media journalist Derrick Broze observed while reporting on Portland Anarchist Road Care last year, whether or not these voluntary groups will outcompete the government remains unclear, “but one thing is certain: the community is a shining example of what a determined group of individuals can do when working together on a common goal.”