ADELANTO, Calif., Feb 23 (Reuters) – Taking a cue from demonstrations that paralyzed Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, for weeks, U.S. truckers on Wednesday plan to embark on a 2,500-mile (4,000-km) cross-country drive toward Washington to protest coronavirus restrictions.
Organizers of the “People’s Convoy” say they want to “jumpstart the economy” and reopen the country. Their 11-day trek will approach the Beltway around the U.S. capital on March 5, “but will not be going into D.C. proper,” according to a statement.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday it had approved 400 National Guard troops from the District of Columbia, who would not carry weapons, to help at traffic posts from Saturday through March 7.
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About 50 large tactical vehicles were also approved to be placed at traffic posts.
In addition, up to 300 National Guard troops from outside of Washington were approved to come to the city to assist at traffic posts if needed.
Brian Brase, a truck driver who is one of the organizers, said that, regardless of where the trucks stop, “we’re not going anywhere” until the group’s demands are met. Those demands include an end to COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements.
Most U.S. states are already easing some restrictions. In California, where the convoy begins, universal mask requirements were lifted last week while masks for vaccinated people are required only in high-risk areas such as public transit, schools and healthcare settings.
Another convoy was expected to leave Scranton, Pennsylvania — President Joe Biden’s hometown — on Wednesday morning and arrive on the Beltway, formally known as Interstate 495, sometime during the afternoon. The Beltway goes through Maryland and Virginia outside the district.
Organizer Bob Bolus of Scranton told Washington television station WJLA that his convoy has no intention of breaking laws or blocking traffic, but warned this could happen if their demands regarding pandemic mandates and the cost of fuel are not meant.
“They are not going to intimidate us and they are not going to threaten us. We’re the power, not them,” said Bolus, a trucker who owns a tow truck company.
As of Wednesday morning, the convoy, which had not yet left Scranton, consisted of a tractor-trailer rig, a dump truck and a handful of pickup trucks.
In Canada, pandemic-related protests choked streets in Ottawa for more than three weeks and blocked the busiest land crossing between Canada and the United States – the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit — for six days.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked rarely used emergency powers to end the protests, and Canadian police restored a sense of normalcy in Ottawa over the weekend.
“We plan to stay a while and hope they don’t escalate it the way Trudeau did with his disgusting government overreach,” Brase said from Adelanto, California, where the convoy will begin, about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of Los Angeles.
Brase said he expected thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, would participate. Organizers bill the convoy as nonpartisan, trucker-led, and supported by a wide range of ethnic minorities and religious faiths.