Inspired by the weekslong protests against COVID-19 mitigation rules in Canada, truckers from across the United States are planning to gather outside Washington, D.C., in the next week.
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, residents and business owners have organized through multiple public Facebook groups to collect coats, nonperishable food, and even books for truckers who they say will be protesting in the capital for an extended period of time.
In Canada, truckers were protesting a vaccine mandate for drivers entering the country. The protesters in the U.S. are rallying under a wide range of causes and their interest in issues beyond vaccine mandates, like inflation and rising gas prices, depends on their convoy.
Here is what we know so far.
What are the truckers protesting?
One of the common demands across groups is to end the national emergency, first declared by President Donald Trump in 2020 because of COVID-19. President Joe Biden renewed the declaration last Friday.
And even as cities like Philadelphia roll back vaccination mandates to dine indoors and New Jersey prepares to lift its mask mandate in schools March 7, supporters of the convoy say they also want to see remaining restrictions lifted and not reenacted if other virus surges arise.
“It’s about freedom,” said Margaret Flynn, co-owner of J&M Instant Auto Tags and Insurance in Delaware County, which is a drop-off site for donations. “That’s what this whole convoy is about. If you give an inch, they’re going to take it all.”
How many people are participating?
Because of their patchwork organization and varied timelines — some groups plan to arrive in time for the State of the Union Tuesday — it’s hard to predict total participation.
Who is behind the protests in Pa. and N.J.?
There’s a wide array of groups coordinating truckers and supporters, with many of them announcing routes in Facebook groups. In some cases, it’s hard to find who the leaders are, while others are happy to step into the limelight.
Bob Bolus, a Scranton businessman and avid Trump supporter who made news in 2012 after he was convicted of multiple counts of insurance fraud, arrived at the D.C. Beltway on Wednesday afternoon for a small protest of his own, which drew fewer than 10 vehicles.
“People that had pledged to be there, seeing what was going on in Canada and being threatened by our own country, were intimidated,” said Bolus, referring to how Canadian authorities arrested at least 100 protesters and the Pentagon approved the deployment of 700 National Guardsmen ahead of the D.C. protest.
“I respect that, so I lead by example,” said Bolus, who was back in Scranton Thursday.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself New Jersey Convoy launched a website announcing routes starting in North Jersey on March 5 and ending in Salem County the next day.
“The NJ Convoy peaceful assembly does NOT officially condone nor discourage any convoy participants from venturing onward to our nation’s capital,” reads a group disclaimer. “It is entirely up to the individual participant of these convoys to make those decisions. The NJ Convoy begins and ends in the state of New Jersey.”
Less is known about the Pennsylvania truck routes, as specifics are slated to be released closer to kickoff dates next week. But tentative stops are planned in Erie, Scranton, Harrisburg, and Grove City, according to a Facebook group coordinating a convoy from New York through Pennsylvania.
What about outside the region?
Outside of the region, the People’s Convoy describes itself as a group of “citizens of the free world.” This group, which is encouraging bikers and regular cars to join the convoy, left Adelanto, Calif., on Wednesday. According to its website, the convoy will be on the road for 11 days — making stops in Texas, Indiana, and Ohio — until they arrive in the D.C. Beltway on the evening of March 5.
“We do not want to be under a dictatorship communism-style regime like we are right now,” said organizer Mike Landis in a video.
Some convoy organizers have been linked to spreading misinformation about the 2020 election, as well as taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection, per the New York Times.
How are states preparing?
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he would deploy more than 100 National Guard troops and 20 vehicles to D.C., similar to what the state did during racial justice protests.
“We’re doing it in this case, I assume, to make sure we don’t see what happened in Ottowa happen in our nation’s capital,” said Murphy.
State Police Col. Patrick Callahan said the agency had been coordinating with local and federal partners including the FBI to avoid a repeat of what happened in Canada, keeping flow of traffic on the interstate in mind.
“I would hope we don’t have to use heavy-duty wreckers,” Callahan said Wednesday, “if they come to a stop; they will be ordered to keep moving.”
On the Pennsylvania side, there are less concrete plans.
The Pennsylvania State Police said in a statement that they are “monitoring the situation and will continue to work closely with municipal, state, and federal law enforcement partners to ensure that the rights of protesters are respected while at the same time maintaining a safe environment for everyone.”