Why were Canadian truckers protesting?
Although at first truckers claimed they opposed vaccination mandates, a range of other causes claimed what some have called the “freedom convoy”, as far-right groups and politicians were trying to raise money for the campaign and speak on its behalf. A collection of other flags and messages appeared in images and videos of the protest: In addition to the familiar Canadian maple leaf flag, observers could find flags representing the United States, including Confederacy, Make America Great Again (MAGA) and sprinklings of Nazi paraphernalia. QAnon lovers claimed allegiance to the convoy, all part of a larger deployment plan. And far-right support in the United States and around the world has far exceeded support in Canada.
Ottawa police have now pledged to eliminate the convoy protests in front of Parliament. So what did the dramatic protest accomplish?
In short, the freedom convoy was a disruptive protest tactic expressing opposition to the government and its policies. Whether this affects one or the other will depend less on the creativity and commitment of the protesters and more on whether they are reaching the right audience.
People protest when they are unhappy with something; disturbance is a means of attracting the attention of others. Typically, they hope to capture the attention of authorities, journalists and the general public by doing things like interrupting the daily routines of life, hammering on the nose of a missile, kidnap a governor Where yelling at a congressman in a public meeting. In general, large groups attract attention due to their size and can deploy less confrontational tactics, such as walking through a park or carrying signs. Small groups attract attention with more dramatic tactics, including blockades, sit-ins and even political violence.
Disruptive protest works when it focuses broader attention on one group or grievance. Protest actions are often only popular in retrospect. For example, at the time, nearly three-quarters of Americans opposite the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King delivered his Speech “I have a dream”; those who supported him were much of the same slice that backed then-radical actions like the lunch counter protesters and the Freedom Riders.
Nevertheless, the civil rights protesters of the 1960s were able to draw attention to the cause with their fiery rhetoric, their unwavering commitments to nonviolence, the visible support of some politicians and celebrities, all in contrast to the televised brutality against them. Activists visibly suffered for their cause, which resulted in significant legislative achievements.
In a successful effort, with attention to disruptive tactics comes at least some attention to the protesters’ cause. More recently, the Occupy the movement captured national attention in 2011 with encampments in hundreds of US cities. Occupy avoided publishing a central messaging policy. Corn in my researchI saw that it is disruptive protests drew public attention to the problems of gross political and economic inequality, adding the “99%” as shorthand for the idea that the vast majority of Americans have been excluded from prosperity while a few enjoy extreme wealth. Occupy has won public support for many elements of his case – although some observers were appalled by his tactics. It was one of the sources pushing the Democratic Party towards a greater attention to inequalities. When activists and politicians talk about reduce student debtthis is partly the result of Occupy raising the issue and creating organizations to lobby for it.
Similarly, the 2020 nationwide Black Lives Matter protests following the police killing of George Floyd drew public attention to racialized police violence, as seen in media outlets, Google searches, and visited Wikipedia pages, according to a forthcoming article by social scientists Zackary Dunivin, Harry Yan, Jelani Ince and Fabio Rojas. Support for the cause first increased, fall as the media covered the few violent clashes associated with the protests.
The trick for activists is to get authorities and other publics to focus on their issues as well as their tactics.
Have the truckers succeeded?
Occupy lasted nearly three months and eventually included 600 encampments in the United States and hundreds more around the world. With far fewer protesters than the Freedom Convoy created far more disruption, threatening commerce and public order and provoking vigorous government action.
Canadians strongly opposed the Canadian Freedom Convoy; two-thirds supported Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s declaration of emergency to evacuate protesters. Canadians generally supported their country’s strict public health mandates, which the truckers opposed. The Freedom Convoy’s tactics seem to have overshadowed the attention given to its cause. More importantly, 57% of Canadians believed his real purpose was to promote far-right politics. Unlike the civil rights movement in 1963, the convoy could not lay claim to potential allies in government.
A truck convoy may now be on its way to DC But in the United States, if supporters with 18-wheelers can find allies in power, things could be different.