Is a Freedom Convoy protest coming to the UK?
How Freedom Convoy protest began
On 22 January 2022 Canadian truckers began protesting against Canada’s Covid19 rules by occupying roads in Ottawa. Three weeks later it extended to vital bridges between US and Canada.
Is it new?
The protest may appear similar to 2011 occupy protests. However, the Canadian Freedom Convoy brings right, not left-wing politics and heavy goods vehicles, not tents.
Of course, protest with vehicles is not new. London Taxis use their cabs and French farmers use their machinery. However, Canada does not have a history of protest like France. And, trucks are proving highly disruptive.
Therefore, it’s worth asking, are similarly disruptive protests coming to the UK?
Is a Freedom Convoy protest coming to UK?
At first sight conditions for a British Freedom Convoy appear favourable. After all, the UK and Canada are politically and culturally similar. And, they have common grievances. However, alone these factors are not enough to prompt a Freedom Convoy in UK.
Whether the protest spreads will depend on its success. Because success begets success.
What is a successful protest?
In the book Twitter and Teargas, Zeynep Tufekci, uses three criteria to assess the success of a protest:
- Narrative capacity
- Disruptive capacity
- Electoral / Institutional capacity
1. Disruptive capacity
Question: Can a protest disrupt the functions of government and organisations?
Paul Saurette, political science professor at the University of Ottawa suggests disruptive strategies can gain “an incredible amount of political and media attention“. The Freedom Convoy has the world’s attention.
Private business has been hit bard. For example, the auto-industry estimates it has lost $1bn as a result of the protests (BBC Newsroom 19/02/2022).
Auto-makers operate just in time supply chains. Therefore, any delay can halt entire production lines. (Another reason atop of Covid19 to move beyond just in time to just in case supply chains).
The disruptive capacity of the Freedom Convoy is high because it can:
- Relocate quickly without attracting attention
- Impact supply chains by blocking roads
- Reduce supply chain capacity by withdrawing their trucks from it
Answer: The Freedom Convoy successfully disrupts government and organizations.
2. Narrative capacity
Question: Can a protest persuade participants and wider society of its legitimacy?
According to Leger, 32% of Canadians appear to support the Freedom Convoy protest. That’s the same level of support as Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair received in their respective elections.
In addition, grievances now extend beyond Covid19 concerns. For example:
- Freedom of speech
- Government overreach
- Personal liberty
The wide appeal of the protest suggests the end of Covid19 rules may not spell the end of the Freedom Convoy.
(Meanwhile, local Ottawa residents have begun a counter narrative. Fed up with the truckers blaring their horns at 120DB horns at 3am, they’ve coined the phrase ‘Make Ottawa boring again’.)
Answer: The Freedom Convoy has the support of a large minority.
3. Electoral / Institutional Capacity
Question: Can a protest force change in government and institutions?
The Canadian government has invoked the Emergencies Act to deal with the protest. These powers have not been used since their inception in 1988. While this may not resolve the protester’s grievances, it demonstrates an impact on the electoral body.
Moreover, governments around the world are now removing Covid19 legislation. As a result, organizations are left to make their own rules around employees and Covid19.
Therefore, the Freedom Convoy likely frames some of how organisations will treat Covid19.
Answer: The Freedom Convoy shows some signs of change in government and institutions.
Conclusion: Is a Freedom Convoy protest coming to the UK?
We know successful protests inspire and inform other protests. For example, copycat protests are already being planned in America (American ‘people’s convoy’). And, protesters learn from other protesters. For example, protestors in Hong Kong share their knowledge on how to neutralize tear gas.
Also, we should avoid linking the end of Covid19 measures with the end of the protest. Because “The people that are attracted to that kind of [right-wing] disruption… aren’t concerned with trucker concerns. It’s just an opportunity for them to cause mayhem“.
The Freedom Convoy has impacted institutions of power. It has a popular narrative and it’s very disruptive. It’s therefore likely the UK will see their own version of the Freedom Convoy.