American anti-vaccine variant circles

Canada’s Freedom Convoy found more support in the United States than North of the border from the outset. I wrote about it here and at the Washington Post‘s Monkey Cage on February 24, when Canada declared a state of emergency and arrested protesters and truckers who wouldn’t leave.

The Canadian convoy disrupted life around the parliament in Ottawa, and then international trade. Mainstream conservatives in Canada withheld support as the disruption offended most Canadians, and the politics of the Convoy shifted to the very far right. Canada’s clear-out of the truckers won broad approval, even as the government began relaxing most Covid restrictions and mandates. It didn’t seem like a big victory, and I concluded:

“A truckers’ convoy may now be en route to D.C. But in the United States, if supporters with 18-wheelers can find allies in office, things may be different.”

Although some institutional conservatives thrilled at the idea of an American Freedom Convoy, American truckers faced different obstacles.

Not the least of these was the entrepreneurial and grifting traditions of American organizing, particularly

on the right. At least three different groups invested in organizing and plotted routes, assuming truckers would follow; apparently, they didn’t cooperate on routes or events. A DC demonstration planned for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address was a massively conspicuous fail, turning out no truckers and a crowd that didn’t come close to reaching the low dozens.

The Capitol insurrection just last year meant that local police were determined not to be caught unprepared. Security fences went up and security was better staffed. But that’s not all. Truckers in the US don’t face the same vaccine mandates to cross the border, and restrictions are being lifted everywhere. Even more, trucks used to commit a crime–like block traffic–can be seized when drivers are arrested in the US. There was a lot to lose, and much less to gain.

But that was last week. Today, another stream of anti-mandate protesters circled around Washington DC. There were a few trucks driving break-down lane speed, in a convoy that included cars, minivans, SUVs, and motorcycles, congesting weekend travel around the Beltway, fueled by more expensive gas–yet another thing to protest.

The participants and organizers interviewed made no commitments about assembling by the Capitol, or any place downtown.

The mobile protest strategy didn’t begin in Canada this year. During the pandemic, activists protesting Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer’s protested harsh restrictions on public life by clogging the streets of East Lansing in their cars–but then many got out and marched on the state capital, armed.

Before that, immigrant rights protesters drove by a detention center in formation, honking. Before that, farmers frustrated by falling commodity prices in 1979 staged a Tractorcade in Washington, DC. And before that, in 1964, civil rights activists thought that it shouldn’t be all that easy to get to a World’s Fair in a world that wasn’t fair, and staged a stall-in on the roads leading to the Fairgrounds.

It’s a partial list above, but the important thing to note is that attention translates to influence only with support from a larger movement and institutional allies. For today’s Freedom truckers, that’s still a long haul.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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