Do truckers have a community? Surely, they must. But how could they?
Simply defined, a community is a group of people that either live in close proximity to each other or share common characteristics. Truckers at least meet the second part of that definition. For example, they all deal with America’s bad roads, bouncing around in their cabs like lipstick in a lady’s purse. They also eat less-than-nutritious foods from truck stops or Wal-Mart. They earn far less on the average than they should. They wonder how and when they’ll be able to get to the bank or the eye doctor. And they rarely enjoy a relaxing beverage-of-a-certain-nature before bedtime. So yes, truckers share some cultural attributes. Indeed, they have a lot in common actually, but that doesn’t mean they experience a rewarding community-oriented life.
“Community” is not a simple concept. Sociologists have long debated various definitions, slightly leaning toward a definition accommodating complex ideological features such as the power-play between urban and rural communities (which basically has to do with determining what factors will lead to the demise of a particular society). For the trucker, the classic distinction between “urban” and “rural” doesn’t even really matter that much.
Tight-knit rural communities are basically irrelevant, since the trucker travels virtually all the time making it difficult for them to maintain consistent, strong relationships with others. And the impenetrable urban environment is so physically tight that most drivers are afraid of even going in at all, let alone profiting from its cultural and social variety. Therefore, a definition that relies too heavily on the esoteric and inevitably damning constructs of modernity is not all that practical here.
If there is a truly useful definition of “community” that could apply to the trucker (and really everyone else as well), it won’t rely on geographic factors or common characteristics. One blog said it really well, “We think about communities based on what they are trying to accomplish.” Thinking of “community” in that way implies that effective communities are comprised of people that, regardless of their locale or character, build strong relationships with each other to achieve shared visions and goals. And in probably most cases, if not all, the main reason for setting up and achieving any shared vision or goal is really about human flourishing. Community is therefore inherently purposive, principally about improving people’s lives.
And that’s the kind of community that truckers don’t have, one that improves their quality of life. And why is this? If you look beyond many of the daily features that truckers share in common, you’ll notice that consistencies start to crumble. For one, truckers have mistakenly relied on weak, disparate forces to help them solve their problems.
Lobbying efforts by organizations like ATA or OOIDA have generally failed to enact meaningful culture change as a matter of politics. Instead of focusing on systemic cultural issues, these organizations have focused primarily on technical issues at the policy level such as electronic logs and hours of service, which definitely impact truckers’ daily lives but are not significant enough to bring about the kind of economic and socio-political change truckers actually need. These organizations are important, but they need re-focused efforts. Good policy helps, but culture change will never come from an edict.
So up to now, broad-based efforts to improve truckers’ lives have not been effective. The disproportionate lack of respect truckers face from outsiders keeps truckers from positively connecting with the rest of society, and the lack of effective community support structures creates a huge barrier to building a purpose-driven collective effort to improve life conditions. As a result, truckers are culturally boxed-in and feel as if they can’t do anything to improve their situation. So they just keep on keeping on, avoiding the bigger conversation altogether.
Many truckers feel like they have literally nothing significant to talk about. So they talk about what’s easy for them to talk about: trucks. If you visit a truck stop diner, you’ll occasionally hear drivers talk amongst themselves. Most often, they talk about their trucks. Trucks, trucks, and more trucks. “My Cummins beats your CAT every day of the week and twice on Sunday!” “Hell it does! Mine’s pumping 650 horsepower!” It’s always about their equipment, and usually in an instructive or boastful manner. Even most trucking blogs concentrate heavily on the topic of equipment. Did I mention trucks? Well, if truckers do venture out into other topics, they usually talk about where they’ve been and how long they waited at the dock. But for the most part, truckers talk trucks. And why? Because it’s basically all they’ve got.
Truckers don’t take Mediterranean Cunard cruises, visit metropolitan art museums, or attend operas. How could they? They work non-stop, and they don’t have easy access to varied cultural experiences even when they do get time off. Many of them do want to be more culturally involved, but they generally don’t have access and they’re generally not socially accepted by those circles. But consider what would happen if truckers did up their cultural game.
They’d become more educated on important topics such as race and religion, understanding “difference” in ways that might lead them to see and treat others better. They’d become more active political participants, engaging more in the nuances of public policy rather than populist ideology. They’d have more substantive, meaningful (and generally more considerate) conversations with each other. But truckers are bred as simple and unsophisticated beings, and the world aims to keep them that way. Effectively, truckers are culturally limited, which in turn limits their collective potential to improve the quality of their own lives.
That’s why community-building is so critical. If measures were taken to develop the trucking community, to give it power, to give it strength, and to give it broad-based cultural understanding, truckers would be enabled to make the kinds of changes that would improve their overall conditions, their lives. As of now, truckers don’t have a community presence equipped with the cultural tools needed to harness their shared visions and fix the problems that plague them. What truckers need is a targeted effort, bringing both truckers and outsiders together to discuss what’s important to them, to build awareness of the harsh conditions truckers deal with every day, and acknowledge how critical trucking is to the functioning of our world.
Truckers do, in fact, have shared visions and goals, but they’re embryonic, unarticulated, and unconsolidated. Those visions don’t yet hold much weight in the public eye, but perhaps that can be changed. Truckers have been kept out of the public conversation for far too long, and they’ve lost their voice (if they even ever had one). So it’s time we give it back to them.
Photo Credit: JOHN TOWNER