Freedom Convoys arent supposed to make sense. The world cant ignore them | Will Bunch – The Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted: February 17, 2022 at 8:16 am

If youre a pro football fanatic who lives in a northern Kentucky town like Covington with its sweeping hillside view of the Cincinnati skyline then this weekend is something youd anticipated for a long time: your Bengals playing for their first-ever Super Bowl victory. So it seems a perfect metaphor for Americas twisted 2020s that Kentuckys junior senator isnt rooting for quarterbacking phenom Joe Burrow but rather that a large convoy of smoke-belching, horn-honking semis will grind the L.A. freeways and, thus, the Big Game itself, to a halt.

Im all for it, Sen. Rand Paul told a conservative news outlet last week when they asked him about talk that the so-called Freedom Convoy movement a band of truckers and their allies whove occupied the Canadian capital of Ottawa and shut down key U.S. border crossings, including the massive Ambassador Bridge into Detroit might come to the Super Bowl host city or other U.S. communities. Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in our country, from slavery to civil rights to you name it. Peaceful protest, clog things up, make people think about the mandates.

Never mind the rank hypocrisy that Paul and his GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill were apoplectic less than two years ago when a multiracial coalition of Black Lives Matter protesters seeking the civil right of not being killed by the police decided to clog things up in American cities. Or that sweeping vaccine mandates havent been imposed on Americans to the extent of peer countries like Canada or most of Europe. This notion of big men in their big rigs and their loud if nebulous cries for freedom grinding the worlds democracies to a halt has captivated the American right wing and their grievance-laden cousins around the globe.

The seeming endless stalemates in the streets of Ottawa where Ontario Nice officers issue vague ultimatums and stand around, in stark contrast to the riot gear-clad, tear gas-happy response youd surely see on the American side has created time and momentum to inspire elements of the pandemic-weary resentful working classes around the globe. (Police in Windsor did make some arrests and clear the Ambassador Bridge literally as I was writing this.)

In France this weekend, a police force more battle-hardened by a couple years of skirmishes with yellow vests clashed with a Convoi de la Libert that sought to descend on Paris, while on the other side of the globe even New Zealand considered a global model for avoiding the worst of the COVID-19 crisis saw a showdown between cops and protesters inspired by the siege of Ottawa that resulted in some 120 arrests.

Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy!, as the country singer C.W. McCall famously sang in the winter of 1976 en route to a No. 1 Billboard hit. To listen to Convoy some 46 years later where the casus belli isnt a vaccine but a 55-mph speed limit (although high gas prices as the mothers milk of middle-class angst loomed large then, as now) is a reminder that blue-collar rage against the bureaucratic machine is nothing new. (Even if the 11 long-hair friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus are no longer around).

But its much scarier now. These sort of global cries in the dark seem to truly capture the zeitgeist of a world gone mad as we mark the two-year anniversary of the pandemic that upended life as we knew it, in a world that was already angrier and more paranoid and resentful than usual. In a weird way, the protests seem of a piece with the much more serious situation now unfolding on the border between Russia and Ukraine, where also irrationally Vladimir Putins troop buildup threatens Europes worst war since 1945. Its not surprising that the virus of social breakdown thats produced clownish strongmen like Putin or Donald Trump is now infecting international relations, all part of a great unraveling.

Still, the Freedom Convoy is inexplicable in a way that makes it hard to even write about. For all the chaos that this uprising is provoking, its hardly a popular movement, in a nation where not only does a majority support vaccine mandates but an estimated 85-90% of truckers have received the jab. Like other right-wing uprisings, the rallying cry is freedom who could oppose that? even when its beyond vague exactly what liberties are under assault. We came to Canada to be free not slaves, a trucker named Ivan whod immigrated to Canada from irony of ironies Ukraine told a sympathetic journalist named Rupa Subramanya. We lived under communism, and, in Canada, were now fighting for our freedom.

READ MORE: Is France showing us what Americas next civil war will look like? | Will Bunch

Subramanya who said he interviewed 100 protesters stated the somewhat obvious when he wrote the convoys arent really about vaccine mandates but about something else. Or many things: a sense that things will never go back to normal, a sense that they are being ganged up on by the government, the media, Big Tech, Big Pharma.

The vagueness of the demands makes it easy to both ridicule the protests and the protesters, and to also point attention at the many bad actors eager to mobilize the ennui and growing paranoia of a two-year pandemic for their own nefarious causes including the usual suspects of neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers and Confederate flag wavers and whatnot. Thats on top of the exploiters of political gain (cough, cough, Rand Paul) and profit, like the ratings-mad hosts at Fox News. But you cant exploit resentment unless there is resentment to exploit.

But in 2022 the roots of that resentment have grown quite tangled. How much of the anxiety of the mostly white working class thats gravitated toward these increasingly confrontational movements evolving from the Tea Party to Trump to the mess on display in Ottawa is sparked by the economics of outsourcing and crushing blue-collar work in North America, or the culture of a rigged meritocracy looking down on folks without fancy degrees? And how much is it the sour resentment that multicultural democracy is thankfully tearing down the foundations of white supremacy and patriarchy that once conferred a social status that didnt require wealth or diplomas?

The Freedom Convoy may not have come to America yet but weve seen its offshoots in anger over mask mandates or, increasingly, any pandemic restrictions. If youre a college-educated, trust-in-science, progressive-minded person, its almost unfathomable to understand the growing vitriol toward President Joe Bidens science adviser, Anthony Fauci a genial, learned man spouting the latest science on the coronavirus. But calm, knowing expertise is exactly what they hate. In the mindset of this Canadian convoy, Freedom is just another word for smart people with diplomas on the wall not telling them how to live. And if youre trying to make sense of what the truckers want, then youre missing the point altogether.

But while anti-elitism certainly contains elements of class rage, its also, arguably, a natural reaction to the basket of policies known as neoliberalism that were fashioned by elites and which have been broadly harmful to the middle class, and not just white trucker dudes. It was just a decade ago that the left erupted in a protest movement of its own called Occupy Wall Street that was also panned by the establishment for its lack of demands. Arguably, the truckers and the Zuccotti Park campers were fighting opposite sides of the same coin. In 2011, that establishment responded with repression, and a similar response is likely in 2022, at least if the trucker protests come to the American side. Maybe its time for a different approach.

It only takes a few hours to arrest people, tow some trucks and clear a street but at this stage that only seems to guarantee that the next protest is going to be even worse than Ottawa or, heaven forbid, Jan. 6. It will take years to undo the assault on the middle class so theres no reason not to start today. The key steps in an era of growing misinformation begin with an equitable system of education that offers debt-free opportunity to everyone both to gain skills but also the knowledge to become better citizens. This might even jump-start a new paradigm where our essential workers get the same respect as self-appointed gurus of the knowledge economy. And our leaders can look for civic endeavors the universal 18-year-old gap year of civilian service is the best idea Ive seen that reminds folks of what we share in common. I know its counterintuitive for some, but a more equitable world might even smell like dare I say it freedom.

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Freedom Convoys arent supposed to make sense. The world cant ignore them | Will Bunch - The Philadelphia Inquirer

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