The story of how what should have been a five-minute emergency run for an elderly man attempting to get his sister to the hospital turned into more than an hour trapped behind a convoy intentionally blocking both lanes (and the shoulders) of a major highway is horrifying. The idea that a few trucks could also cause people to lose pay across the border in the U.S. is infuriating. The damage from the convoy is spreading, and what it’s done already could leave an economic footprint that lasts for months.
The “Freedom Convoy” isn’t so much an example of serious protest against vaccines, masks, or any other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic as it is an example of a small number of people putting their fingers squarely on a weakness in infrastructure that affects both Canada and the United States.
Long ago, both nations put highways at the center of transportation. That decision means passenger vehicles share space with vehicles designed to ferry freight from town to town. Thanks to that mixture, the movement of both people and goods can be drastically affected by a small number of vehicles deliberating interfering with movement along just one or two major transportation routes.
This isn’t exactly a new discovery. Protesters on both sides of the aisle have extended marches into highways expressly to generate inconvenience to travelers and raise the profile of an event. Texas Republicans also used the roadways in 2020 to create a “Trump train” of reckless vehicles that harassed and endangered others, including a bus carrying then-candidate Kamala Harris to a campaign event.
But what’s happening with the “convoy” is a particularly 2022-oriented event, one that recognizes the vulnerability of the supply chain and the difficulty of policing such events in an environment where many people are frustrated by the lingering pandemic. It’s also an event that gleefully celebrates the one thing that the right has become so well-versed in over years and decades: hurting people.
Thanks to a stream of attention and funding funneled in to those few trucks, they’re able to sustain this action over a long period and to spark copycats in other areas, including the United States. It’s like the highways are a 1,000-mile-long lever with which just a few jackasses can hold the economy hostage. It’s very much like that.
As CNN reports, another convoy is expected to roll out of California any day now with the announced goal of causing chaos in Washington, D.C. in time for the state of the union address. (Note: Caravans are exotic and foreign, therefore scary. Convoys have songs about good ol’ Americans tricking ignorant Smokey, therefore good.) They might also stop in to block traffic around the Super Bowl, which will certainly be fun.
It’s not clear how many trucks will actually participate in the U.S. version of this protest—which is a protest against a law in Canada, apparently—but what is clear is that it won’t take many.
Trucks carry over 70% of U.S. interstate freight. That’s $10 trillion out of the $14 trillion’s worth of physical goods that circulate around the country. Across the U.S., every lane of every interstate carries, on average, over 40,000 people to and from their homes each day—with the numbers around cities being much higher. To generate damage that runs into the millions of dollars an hour, all it takes is a handful of people spread out across the lanes of a busy interstate and moving very slowly.
People should have the right to protest. That right to protest should extend into marching down streets, and even blocking highways. The irritation and inconvenience that this causes is exactly on point, because it generates the level of attention that protesters—and their causes—need.
But prolonged disruption of highways in nations that have made those highways their most vital circulatory system represents a weakness, one that allows very few people to cause very large damage. In this case, that damage is augmented by a right-wing media that’s making international heroes of those causing disruption, and helping to see that causing damage is a profitable occupation. Where the first $1 million of funds dispersed to those involved in the Canadian protest went isn’t clear, but considering the size of the actual protest, some of those involved are likely getting a much larger payday for protesting than working.
Dealing with that is something that the U.S. needs to figure out before the convoy rolls.
Thursday, Feb 10, 2022 · 7:15:37 PM +00:00
It’s worth noting that when marchers for Black Lives Matter or other groups have taken their protests onto highways, they’ve done so in the certain knowledge that they would be arrested. One of the most important points of such an event is that it shows the protesters are still subject to the same laws as everyone else, and are willing to pay the price for violating those laws.
Giving people in these convoys a pass is setting them not just apart, but above, both other protesters and those not involved.
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