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“Swipe Back” to protest high transportation costs

I’ve spent a lot of time doing reporting on housing activism, which often means listening to the same chants over and over again. The most common one I’ve heard is the catchy call and response:

“What do you do when the banks attack?”

“Stand up! Fight Back!”

I actually find the repetition of the same chant in many cities to be more inspiring than mind-numbing, creating a type of phonetic solidarity across the various campaigns and groups.

But I was nevertheless pleased this morning to stumble upon a new twist on this slogan, which didn’t have to do with housing at all. Instead, it’s been repurposed to protest New York City’s mass transit fare hikes, and the point isn’t to “fight back” but to “swipe back.”

Here’s how it works. With the MTA scheduled to once again raise the subway fee, riders are banding together to use unlimited passes to swipe as many people as possible through the turnstiles, thereby giving people a free ride. As the “Swipe Back!” website explains:

“We’ve tried to talk to them. But they won’t listen. So we have to protest. We would boycott the subway, if we could. But since it’s an essential public service, we need it, to get to our jobs and live our lives.

So instead of boycotting, we find ways to express our protest, like this: If you use your unlimited card to swipe someone else in, then you’re effectively helping them boycott the fare hike, sort of like boycotting it forward.”

This tactic has been used before, most recently in 2011 after that year’s fare hike. Organizers during that round explained that they were modeling the free-swipe program on earlier community survival programs organized by the Black Panthers.

While standing at the turnstiles offering to swipe people for free is likely to inspire police harassment, the action is legal. In fact, even an MTA spokesperson admitted using an unlimited pass to swipe multiple people through is legal–as long as people aren’t selling the rides.

Learn more about the “Swipe Back!” initiative here.