Several Canadian-style truck convoys are headed to Washington, D.C., in the coming days, with the first set to arrive from Pennsylvania on Wednesday. Many news outlets are describing the organizers’ efforts as protests against pandemic restrictions, and that is definitely part of what the loosely knitted group, who hope to shut down the Capital Beltway, is upset about. But as Pennsylvania trucking-business owner and convoy co-organizer Bob Bolus explained, they’re also demanding action on a lot of issues that have nothing to do with COVID-19, ranging from “justice” for January 6 insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt to reversing the renaming of two streets in Scranton in honor of President Joe Biden.
This range of grievances isn’t so different from that of the truckers’ northern counterparts. As the New York Times explained, while the Ottawa convoy started out as a demonstration against “mandatory vaccination of truckers crossing the U.S.-Canadian border,” it eventually “morphed into a protest against pandemic restrictions in general” and more generally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s leadership. Then right-wing media in the U.S. and beyond embraced the demonstrations as an easy way to “portray conservatism as a populist creed,” as New York’s Eric Levitz put it.
Bolus complicated his group’s narrative before the U.S. protests even got under way. On the eve of his journey to D.C., he “reeled off a litany of grievances” to PennLive. This included illegal immigrants having unspecified rights not given to U.S. citizens:
“You are not taking any more of our rights away,” Bolus said. “You are giving rights to illegals. It’s ok for them to do but not us as American citizens. We want the pipeline put back into service. We want fuel back in our country. We want to go back to where we were before instead of giving the rights to foreign countries to put the screws to us because they are feathering their own nests.”
Also, the alleged fallout from Donald Trump no longer being president and something about “BLMs”:
Bolus said truckers will be rallying for a return of the Trump era.
“We don’t need foreign oil,” he said. “Donald Trump had the country solid. Industry was thriving and so was everything else. Americans for the first time were enjoying a convenient, exuberant economy. Now it’s gone the other way. We can’t pay our heating bills. We can’t buy groceries. We can’t do this and we can’t do that. All our rights have been taken away. They patronize illegals. They patronize BLMs.”
And the federal government’s handling of Babbitt’s death during the Capitol riot:
Bolus said truckers are also calling for legal recourse for the death of Ashli Babitt, a Jan. 6 insurrectionist who was shot dead by a Capitol police officer as she tried to breach the Capitol.
“We want justice for Ashli,” Bolus said.
PennLive said the Pennsylvania convoy will also air its complaints against Governor Tom Wolf, but the only local issue described in the piece is its objection to Scranton, Biden’s hometown, renaming two streets in his honor:
Bolus said the truckers want to see not only authorities in Scranton, but state authorities, revert street names back to their original names, and do away with the nods to Biden.
“They are influencing or turning people against us … to support him when we know we have an incompetent,” Bolus said. “Just because Biden was born here isn’t reason we have to change the way we live and support an incompetent.”
A judge denied Bolus’s challenge to the streets’ renaming — which was unanimously approved by the city council and the mayor — back in November, and no other protesters from Pennsylvania have gone on record saying this is a top issue for them.
It’s still unclear if any significant protest will materialize on the Beltway, but the Pentagon has prepared for the possibility by approving the deployment of about 700 unarmed D.C. National Guard troops. On Wednesday morning, “more than two dozen 18-wheeler trucks, along with some 50 pickups and recreational vehicles,” left Adelanto, California, for an 11-day trek to Washington, according to Reuters. But organizers of this so-called “People’s Convoy” had said they were hoping to have 1,000 semi-truck drivers among their ranks by the time they left.
The Scranton arm of the protest is off to an underwhelming start, too. After being delayed by two flat tires on Wednesday morning, Bolus set out for D.C. in his 18-wheeler, with about 20 smaller vehicles behind him. He told News4 Washington that the current plan is to go with the flow of traffic; perhaps they will make good on their promise to shut down the Beltway and squeeze D.C. like a “giant boa constrictor” at a future date.
“Let’s put it this way: We’re not shutting the traffic down today. If we don’t have a resolution from the government, to the rights that they’re taking from us, I will predict in the future it will get shut down,” Bolus said.