What do these protest truckers really want?

I got to say I didn’t see this one coming, but really no one did. For three weekends truckers have tied up traffic in downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, protesting a requirement that only truckers vaccinated against covid-19 will be allowed to transport goods over its border and into the United States.

It’s something about freedom, of course. In the minds of these protestors, wearing masks is anti-freedom. For the rest of us, their freedom can affect our freedom to keep from acquiring covid-19, so, not to put too fine a point on it, screw ‘em, but politely, of course.

So far the Canadian government has admirably tried to deescalate the situation, hoping that if protestors get to vent their spleen they’ll go back to being generally law abiding folk. If police use too heavy a hand, it tends to be counterproductive. If I were in charge there, I’d probably be doing the same thing.

These truckers’ tactics have spread to other places in Canada and elsewhere. Most notably, trucks occupied the Ambassador Bridge that spans Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan, causing economic losses of about $300M a day. This form of protest seems to be catching on in places like New Zealand and Paris, France. It will likely happen soon here in the United States too. There are likely many “patriots” willing to hold our infrastructure hostage to get what they want.

In the case of the Canadian truck protestors, they want Prime Minister Trudeau to resign and new elections, just five months after voters gave the Liberal Party 155 seats in parliament to 119 for the conservative party and 32 for the Bloc Québécois Party in Quebec. The Liberal Party won a clear but bare majority of the seats (50.6%) to the Conservative Party’s 39%.

These protestors are aided by GoFundMe campaigns with money coming principally from the United States. Prominent politicians here in the USA support their actions including Donald Trump and Senator Rand Paul (KY). No doubt, like the Republican National Committee’s position on January 6, it’s legitimate political discourse for the truckers to do these things. It’s certainly more legitimate than January 6, in that at least so far no one has died.

If you are looking for a civil war, something like this is the next step. I’ve been wondering what it would be, but the left hook that it occurred in Canada surprised all of us. These actions though demonstrate that anti-vaxxers are hardly an America-only phenomenon. That’s not too surprising.

What was actually required to get the pandemic under control was much more than many people were emotionally capable of dealing with. Despite what some of these protestors think, no one likes wearing masks and everyone would prefer to inhabit the world before the pandemic compared to what we have now.

The anti-vax community has had a few things going for them so far. Principally, they could be loud and obnoxious and generally get away with it, because their protests fell under the umbrella of protected speech. Shutting down infrastructure and blockading bridges though moves the needle into the plainly unlawful arena.

One could argue it’s been done before, so what’s the big deal. Nonviolent protests were a hallmark of the 1960s, and they sometimes made it difficult or impossible for certain government functions to happen. Sometimes police acted benignly, but mostly they were all about bashing heads in the name of keeping order. That’s a little harder to do with anti-vaxxers and truckers, who we can assume are disproportionately locked and loaded.

Are these protests about changing opinions? I don’t think so. It’s harder to imagine more entrenched political positions than we already have. Numerous protests like this that damage the economy, shut down auto plants and cause unemployment are unlikely to aid protestors. I think it’s mostly about feeling impotent about changing things and wanting to get their way now.

Here in the United States, that’s a curious approach, as the demographics favor Republicans in the midterms. A damaged economy and large scale protests are more likely to have the opposite effect. Nixon ran for reelection on a “silent majority” strategy. Democrats already have about two-thirds of voters agreeing with them generally on pandemic policies. It would be easy to campaign on these protests, potentially leading to a disastrous election in November for Republicans.

One hope is that with the Omicron wave abating much of the problem becomes moot. Protestors seem to assume that liberals want to make people miserable for as long as possible. Covid-19 vaccinations not only save lives and reduces pandemic-related illnesses, but if we reach a critical mass of vaccinated and recovered people, the pandemic ends. Not getting vaccinated prolongs the pandemic. In any event, Dr. Anthony Fauci thinks it’s likely that we’re reaching an endemic stage of the disease, where it is common, but reasonably manageable. In this phase it is likely that masking will be reduced or go away, or be limited to regions where there are new flare ups. It’s already starting, perhaps prematurely, in many states.

It is likelier though that these protestors have deeper grievances that the pandemic allows them to express. Covid vaccinations become discussions on the boundaries of freedom, and they feel they don’t have enough of it. In general, they don’t appear to be amenable to the idea of majority rule when they are in the minority.

The pandemic though demonstrates the increasing encroachment of the needs of society. There are so many more of us humans than there used to be. It’s harder to share space if you don’t feel you have enough of it. It may be that they feel physically and psychologically closer to their neighbors than they would like, and that’s the underlying cause of their animus. The need for laws increases as a community’s density grows.

It’s likelier that these protestors are actually pining for a time that really never was when they weren’t anxious all the time. We can measure it by the extent of the chaos and unlawfulness they unleash.

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