How the Ambassador Bridge truckers’ protest spread across the world


A few weeks ago, a protest by Canadian truckers against their country’s vaccination mandate was barely on the radar of Michiganders, let alone people around the world.

But then the protest arrived in Windsor, a town just across the river from Detroit, stopping to cross the Ambassador Bridge, one of the busiest commercial arteries between the two countries.

Within days, political leaders in Michigan had called on Canada to quickly end the protest that was blocking travel to Canada.

The auto and transportation industry in the United States was estimated to have lost $51 million in wages on Thursday when parts needed for new vehicles couldn’t get to factories, for example, by closing some, according to the Anderson. Economic Group.

As automakers cut shifts and losses pile up, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, reiterated her calls for the U.S. to become less dependent on international trade: “The one thing that doesn’t couldn’t be clearer is that we need to bring American manufacturing home to states like Michigan,” Slotkin said in a Wednesday Tweet.

Despite these protectionist calls from Slotkin and others, some Americans were happy to join in the attention being garnered by Canadian truckers, sharing their anger over vaccines, COVID-19 restrictions and general pandemic fatigue, and planning similar protests in the United States.

Right-wing pundits and other conservatives quickly latched onto the protests, pushing plans for a so-called freedom convoy beginning at the Super Bowl as well as similar demonstrations around the world.

“They kind of co-opted this set of grievances among truckers in Canada,” Libby Hemphill, an associate professor of information at the University of Michigan, said of people who supported the protest.

This is also true for elected officials like US Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who called the truckers “heroes” and “patriots”, Michigan Republican gubernatorial hopeful James Craig and Fox News commentators.

Hemphill compared support for the truckers’ protest to a fan at a basketball game starting to shout “Defense!” and clapping, and soon many fans are doing the same.

“What social media allows us to do is hear other people shout ‘defense,’ hear them clap and feel that momentum,” she said. “It makes us feel like part of that crowd and we have a mission, even if the mission has strayed a bit from where we were headed.”

How the “Freedom Convoy” began

The protest was originally aimed at eliminating vaccine-related border mandates imposed by the Canadian government. Demonstrations of long-haul truckers began late last month in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

Then it turned into an international affair with closures or slowdowns at major gateways in Detroit and Port Huron between the United States and Canada.

On Friday, an Ontario judge granted an injunction, making the continued blocking of traffic on the bridge a criminal offence.

Canadian truckers call themselves the Freedom Convoy. In Paris, trucks arrived from the south of France on Wednesday mimicking the same tactic, with protesters using the name Convoi de la Liberté, which means the same thing in French.

In the United States, people have organized on social media as Convoy to DC 2022, with more than 27,000 members on Facebook, and some are reportedly planning to disrupt the Super Bowl, which is being played in California on Sunday. .

Quick impact

The impact of the Ambassador Bridge closure was felt almost immediately. About 10,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge every day carrying $325 million worth of goods, the Michigan Treasury Department estimates. Nearly 30% of Michigan’s annual trade with Canada crosses the Ambassador Bridge, privately owned by the Moroun family.

The shutdown has been a serious headache not only for businesses, but also for the Biden administration, which has already had a somewhat rocky relationship with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Last year, Trudeau and Canadians balked at Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s efforts to shut down Line 5, a major pipeline linking Canada to the Great Lakes states – and invoked an old US-Canada treaty. 45 years to prevent this from happening.

He complained loudly when Biden and other Democrats called for electric vehicle incentives for consumers that were worth more for cars and trucks made only in the United States without any Canadian content — a provision that could be in violation of the new US-Mexico-Canada law. Commercial agreement.

That said, the current crisis is one in which the United States and Canada are aligned, as both countries require the other’s truckers to be vaccinated (the United States implemented this requirement last month). The Biden administration immediately saw the potential damage that could be wrought by an extended closure of the Ambassador Bridge, especially at a time when supply chains are already sluggish and inflation has steadily increased over the past year. as demand exceeds supply, pushing prices higher.

Why truckers? There is a reason.

It is no coincidence that truckers are at the center of these protests. Although the Teamsters Union denounced this demonstrationthe union representing truck drivers and other related industries historically had immense bargaining power, due to its size and ability to stop shipments of essential goods.

While the Teamsters Union is still one of the largest unions in the world, its influence, like that of other unions, has waned until recently as workers have gained more bargaining power due to labor shortages. workforce.

But for most of the past few years, truckers and their struggles working in a pandemic were largely glossed over from the headlines grocery store workers and other essential workers, and those working in public-facing industries such as restaurants and hotels, have received. .

They’re also workers a lot of people have a lot of empathy for, said Kjerstin Thorson, an associate professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations who studies the role of social media in political engagement.

“They’re truckers, they’re trying to do their job, and there’s a call there,” Thorson said.

However, it is not just the nature of the work that has led to the proliferation of this social media protest. Photos of trucks blocking traffic also come into play.

“The imagery of big trucks together is powerful,” she said. “If you’re scrolling through a stream, it’s gripping and makes you say, ‘What is this? What’s going on?’ That sense of curiosity leads to clicks.”

Timing is important

It’s also no coincidence, Hemphill said, that this protest took off when it did, two years into the pandemic.

“Everyone’s patience is exhausted,” she said. “Our ability to make sacrifices for the greater good is diminished. ‘How long can we keep doing this and still feel tired?’ But we still have to do it to protect each other.”

Much of how this protest unfolds on social media, however, is not unique.

And given that the number of truckers who are against the vaccination mandate and who are protesting is probably small — the Canadian Trucking Alliance says he does not support the protest and Trudeau said 90% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated – social media can quickly expand the movement by expanding the coalition.

“Social media reduces the costs of finding like-minded people and coordinating with them to take action,” said Lampe.

But the spread of social media is not

He likened the spread of this protest to the Arab Spring protests, which proliferated across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s, and Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement against economic inequality and the influence of government. money in politics that has spread to the United States and other countries.

“In a way, social media is a furnace for good and bad ideas,” he said. “The technology crosses borders and is independent of the traditional media type of curatorial lens. It’s less controllable by governments.”

Moreover, protesters don’t even necessarily have to be totally aligned with what they believe. Before the advent of social media, people had to sit together in a room and agree on what the problem was and what they wanted to do about it.

“It kept the movements pretty focused,” Thorson said. “But online, you don’t have to be the best friend of the person hosting it. You don’t even necessarily have to show up in person to participate in its amplification.”

Aiming to create sympathy

Lampe said these actions, ultimately, are all about building sympathy.

“People who sympathize with the cause can’t park their car on a bridge or donate money, but they see this movement and say, ‘I understand their frustration,'” he said.

This expands Overton’s window, a narrow range of beliefs or behaviors considered normative in society, to make extreme beliefs more acceptable and to help justify actions.

It’s possible, however, that sympathy will end up with factory workers whose shifts have been reduced and small manufacturers who don’t know how long they can stay in business if they can’t get through the Ambassador Bridge, for example.

“It will be interesting in the long run to see who gets public sympathy as these protests wind down, at least locally,” Thorson said.

Following: Ford and Toyota see more production disruptions as bridge protest continues

Following: Whitmer: Michigan ready to step in, but it’s up to Canada to end bridge protest

While the Canadian government has taken steps to end the protest, similar protests around the world are just beginning.

“Given that the activists met on social media and the way this spreads on the networks, I anticipate that we are at the beginning, not the end,” said Lampe.

Free Press writers Todd Spangler and Frank Witsil contributed to this report.

Contact Adrienne Roberts: [email protected]


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