After Canadian Freedom Convoy, US 'People's Convoy' protests pandemic restrictions
Updated: Feb 24, 2022, 03:02 PM(IST)
Hundreds of truckers and their supporters set off from southern California on Wednesday on a convoy headed across the United States towards the capital Washington to protest against pandemic restrictions.
Inspired by the demonstrations that crippled Canada's cities for weeks, organizers of "The People's Convoy" want an end to mask mandates, vaccination requirements and business shutdowns that are intended to slow the march of COVID-19.
"Let's get back to normal," said Bryan Brase, whose rig was near the front of the caravan that had gathered in the small town of Adelanto, northeast of Los Angeles.
"I think everybody's here for different reasons, but it all boils down to the same thing: Freedom and liberty," said Shane Class, who had travelled from Idaho to join the rally.
"It's time for our government to start understanding that people want that freedom in the Constitution back."
And so it starts
The caravan, which began Wednesday as a few dozen vehicles, was expected to take 11 days to get to the Washington, DC area, arriving on March 5, though organizers say they do not intend to enter the city itself.
A repeat of Jan 6 riots
That assurance has not prevented the mobilisation of 700 National Guard to provide added security around the nation's capital, as authorities fret over a possible repeat of the January 6, 2021, invasion of Congress by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Guardsmen would not be armed and would not be empowered to arrest people, but would be reporting wrongdoing to local police.
A number of large vehicles, including snow-ploughs and garbage trucks have been deployed on the streets of the capital to prevent access to sensitive sites.
A protest by Trump supporters?
Convoy organizers stress on their website that it is a non-partisan movement that includes both Republicans and Democrats, though there were plenty of flags signifying support for Trump among participants in Adelanto and along the route.
Paul Alexander, a health adviser under Trump who suggested letting the coronavirus spread unchecked in the population to prompt "herd immunity," was among those who revved up the crowd, claiming that vaccines do not work.
Scientists say the extensively tested shots are safe and effective, and represent the single best protection against death or serious illness from Covid-19.
Flag waving crowds and right- leaning arguments
Crowds gathered on bridges along the route to cheer the convoy on, with some holding banners calling for the arrest of government health experts.
Many of those in the flag-waving crowd voiced arguments common on the right.
"I can no longer work at my facility, a major health organisation, without submitting a religious exemption," said one Los Angeles-based nurse, who did not wish to give her name.
"So in order for me to earn a living for my family, I have to call on the holy and righteous name of Jesus."
Thousands of dollars in donations
The movement has attracted more than $450,000 of donations, according to thepeoplesconvoy.org, which organisers say will be used to reimburse fuel and other costs borne by participating truckers.
The convoy starting from Adelanto is just one of a number of planned truckers' events beginning in various parts of the country.
Others are due to depart from Texas, North Dakota, Washington state and Ohio over the coming days, according to greatamericanpatriotproject.org.