WASHINGTON — Members of the "People’s Convoy," in protest of vaccine restrictions, plan to spend Sunday circling Washington, DC, after local officials made it clear the convoy would be blocked from entering the district.
Hundreds of cars and trucks are heading out to slowly drive along the Beltway, the roadway that loops around the district and has become synonymous with Washington insider-dom. Protesters described it as an opening salvo and said they are prepared to repeat their traffic-clogging demonstration throughout the week unless their demands are met.
The convoy is a successor to the "Freedom Convoy," a Canadian protest movement against vaccine mandates that took over the capital city of Ottawa, occupying the downtown core and holding a sort of running street party for three weeks before police cleared them out.
The People’s Convoy took off from Southern California almost two weeks ago and arrived in the DC area late Friday. Its base of operations since then has been the parking lot of a racetrack in Hagerstown, Maryland, about an hour and a half north of Washington.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint, on the way to getting our country back,” said protester Leah Nordman in the convoy’s Telegram channel. She said circling the Beltway was a peaceful indication of the convoy’s size and strength, “putting the ball in their court as to how this proceeds.”
Some supporters were disappointed that the convoy will not enter the capital, as the Canadian truckers successfully did. “Are yall ever going to actually go to Washington DC or was that all just BS?” wrote one Telegram user named Eric. “alot of people are giving money to something they think is going to actually happen.”
As the convoy neared, DC authorities brought in 700 unarmed National Guard troops to help manage traffic control and prevent a repeat of Ottawa, where hundreds of cars and trucks were able to park right in front of the parliament buildings.
Others in the convoy Telegram discussion defended keeping their distance. “It’s a show of might. Show them what you can do, then go to the negotiating table. If they don’t come through you put the trailer on and you go on monday,” user Wesley Duchene wrote.
Some participants likened the DC area to enemy territory and said corrupt politicians are looking for an excuse to wield their power and arrest the truckers. Some pointed to the people arrested after the Jan. 6 riots, whom they referred to as political prisoners.
Their demands include that the government “restore our Constitution” and end the COVID-related state of emergency that has been in place since March 2020. The effects of the emergency notice are largely technical, and in most of the US, few pandemic-related restrictions remain in place. The national state of emergency permits the federal government to issue COVID orders or waivers of rules and regulations, such as allowing expanded telehealth services or allowing a hospital to conduct screenings off-site to limit the spread of the disease.
Ending the state of emergency would also stop the use of COVID-19 treatments that are authorized under the FDA’s emergency use designation. (This no longer includes the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which were initially approved for emergency use but have since gained full FDA approval and would not be affected.)
The Biden administration recently extended the national state of emergency and has given no sign that it is going to meet protester demands.
The protesters are working with less cash than their Canadian counterparts. The group set a fundraising goal of $5 million. According to their website, they have raised $1.6 million, far below their goal and about one-tenth the amount donated to the Canadian convoy protesters through the crowdfunding websites GoFundMe and GiveSendGo.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has captured the attention of the world, sapping the convoy’s ability to make headlines and grab attention. Also working against their momentum is that their side has largely already won: Vaccine and mask mandates have mostly been dropped in the US, even in parts of the country led by Democrats.
In the wake of the Canadian truckers’ success, several copycat convoys launched across the United States. Most quickly fizzled out due to a lack of participants. The People’s Convoy started out with modest numbers in California and spent 11 days steadily moving across the country. It became the last convoy standing, and people from other aborted demonstrations joined up.
The end goal wasn’t known until this weekend, and there remains confusion about how long the protest will last. After circling the Beltway on Sunday, the truckers plan to return to Hagerstown to fuel up and spend the night. After that, even the protesters themselves don’t know what will happen next.