Sure, buses are inexpensive modes of getting from one place to another, but they have also been used as physical and symbolic vehicles for discrimination, superficial solutioning, inhumanity, and in some cases, leverage, and rescue.
In 1945, the Swedish Red Cross rescued concentration camp inmates under Nazi control using what they called, White Buses. Buses were painted white with the Red Cross logo so they wouldn’t be mistaken for military vehicles. They saved more than 15,000.
Black Americans stopped riding buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Forced to ride in the back half of the bus and to give up seats when the “white” section was full, they opted to get off buses and walk everywhere until that changed. The refusal to ride buses was used to leverage the consequences of that mistreatment and usher in the larger civil rights movement (emphasis on the word, civil).
Frankly, school buses were being used long before busing, but the term became shorthand for the forced integration of schools. The practice of busing was loaded with controversy; parents of Black students were upset about lengthy rides and the resentment their children faced from teachers and students. Many white parents objected to non-white students attending schools with their children.
Ideally, the buses were supposed to enable equitable educational opportunity. In some cases, it worked, some not. But as one writer put it, busing transformed the South from apartheid to Black children in classrooms with white children, which led to increased resources available to Black and low-income students.
Fifty-five years ago, California Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act with bipartisan sponsorship and support. It pretty much ended the practice of institutionalizing patients against their will. However, the problem was when deinstitutionalization began, California mistakenly relied on community treatment facilities, which were never built. State mental institutions emptied and closed, and patients were bused into cities and left on their own.
The LPS Act set precedent a national precedent. And the issue continues to haunt us.
Twenty-one California Democrats sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting it investigate reports of mental health centers in Nevada dumping patients across state lines. At that time, they accused Nevada clinics of putting psychiatric patients on buses with one-way tickets to California. The letter mentioned that the practice could be considered a form of kidnapping.
And now, Texas
Governor Greg Abbott announced the use of buses to remove immigrants from Texas and send them to Washington D.C. His announcement is in response to the Biden Administrations lifting of Title 42. Title 42 is a provision included in the 1944 Public Health Service Act to permit federal health officials to ban people and goods from entering the country in the case of a pandemic. The Trump Administration used Title 42 to designate hundreds of thousands of migrants for “expulsion,” arguing that allowing these migrants to enter the U.S. may increase the spread of COVID-19.
"What better place for them to go to than the steps of the United States Capitol?" Abbott said to Fox News. "They get to see the wonderful Capitol, but also get closer to the people who are making these policies that are allowing people to come to the border illegally."
Abbott’s announcement received widespread Republican and Democrat criticism.
Gubernatorial race opponent Beto O’Rourke tweeted, “You can always count on Abbott to choose stunts over solutions.”
Abbott has directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to charter buses and flights that would send willing migrants who’ve been processed and released from federal custody to Washington. The word willing was added in response to potential kidnapping allegations.
I guess when a problem is huge and difficult to solve, you take it off your plate and move it somewhere else, like to a bus.
But the “problem,” in each case involves human lives and the treatment of people.
I can’t imagine being loaded up on a bus in unfamiliar territory for a 2,000-mile ride. I also wonder about the thoughts of those rescued from the Nazis as they rode with the Red Cross. Did young school children understand why they were on a long ride, far from home to go to school? And how did those walking in protest in Montgomery, remain motivated in the hot sun or heavy rains?
Buses have been used for more than transportation; they have been employed figuratively as communications vehicles. The messages range from, “we don’t want your kind near us,” to “this bus can be your salvation.”
Whether Abbott is making a political statement, pleasing his supporters, or weaponizing buses for a political battle, he is reminded that as with most weapons, buses can be used both ways.
Editor's Note: As we were "going to press," Abbott was backpedaling a bit on the threat to load immigrants onto busses and transport them to Washington, D.C. From the Houston Chronicle:
"...he left the impression that people would be forcibly shipped off to the U.S. Capitol as soon as they crossed the border illegally and were rounded up by state authorities.
But a few hours after Abbott rolled out the plan at a press conference, the governor's office revealed several new details that painted a much different picture. In a news release, Abbott's office clarified that Texas would only transport migrants to Washington — and other destinations outside the state — if they wanted to go there and had already been processed and released by federal authorities.
...Abbott said forced bus trips would run afoul of the law."
But of course, his bit of Rage Theater had its intended effect. And the retraction was full of qualifiers. Beto O'Rourke had called it out for what it was, a "stunt." But the damage, as always, had been done.
Myra Jolivet is a storyteller. First a TV news anchor and reporter. Then came PR work and consulting. That's where she is today - banging her head against the wall - trying to help CEOs and political candidates tell their stories well. Myra writes a series of murder mysteries She was a kid with an imaginary friend. That says it all.