Any protest that gets local Republican, moderate, well-reasoned activist Jim Buford to join ranks with nationwide, left-of-center and anything-but-moderate activist Al Sharpton has something strange and powerful going for it. And then the protest on July 13, 1999, actually blocked Interstate 70 in both directions as promised -- well, that's one hell of a protest. The cause was just, participation was significant and there was an actual beneficial result. The flashpoint was the lack of minority contractors and construction workers on the repair of I-70 through North St. Louis. Led by local attorney Eric Vickers, the blockade of early-morning Monday rush-hour traffic was intended to force Gov. Mel Carnahan's hand, making the state increase minority participation in such public works. The goal was more training of minority youth for construction-trade jobs and more contracts to minority contractors. So far, the state seems to be headed in that direction, with the opening of the Construction Readiness Training Center in Wellston. That center is temporary, with a permanent one planned for North St. Louis. The only vaguely negative fallout from the I-70 protest was that it heightened expectations and ambitions for ensuing demonstrations, expectations and ambitions that were not met. More jobs in projects funded by tax dollars is one issue, but when two men were killed by police on a Jack in the Box parking lot in Berkeley when only one of them was a drug suspect
, the idea of blocking the highway didn't draw as much interest. A threatened blockage of Interstate 64 (a.k.a. Highway 40) was canceled in part because nowhere near the 300 who blocked I-70 would have shown up for the Highway 40 protest. Draw what conclusions you want from that, but it doesn't diminish the effectiveness of the I-70 shutdown. At least the young African-Americans who will be taught the construction trades will come out ahead on the deal, thanks to Vickers, Buford, Sharpton and everyone else who sat down on the interstate to force those politicians to give in and do the right thing.