Hundreds of trucks, vehicles roll through N.J. on ‘freedom convoy’

Published: Mar. 05, 2022

Waving American flags and signs decrying vaccine mandates, hundreds of people lined overpass bridges and highway shoulders around New Jersey to cheer on a truck and vehicle convoy, part of a loosely organized series of protests around the country Saturday.

By mid-morning Saturday, hundreds of passenger vehicles and trucks snaked up and down Route 17 in Bergen County, honking at the throngs of supporters waving signs at them from overpasses and highway shoulders.

“Take the masks off the kids,” said Jason George, a West Paterson resident who watched trucks roll by and planned to join the convoy later. “We really just want to get back to normal.”

Truckers, joined by supporters in cars and SUVs, then zigzagged down Routes 3, 46 and Interstate 80 toward 287, where more supporters gathered in Morristown to cheer them on as they drove past on their way to the New Egypt Speedway in Ocean County on Saturday, where there was a planned rally.

“We have to have our freedom of choice. This is our last straw,” said Sylvia Schankereli, who held aloft a sign reading “No jab, no mandate” at a gas station on Route 17 in Mahwah Saturday morning.

Modeled after the Canadian protests, separate truck convoys have been planned in recent days across the country through online forums with names like the People’s Convoy and the American Truckers Freedom Fund — all with different starting points, departure dates and routes, according to the Associated Press.

Organizers of the national convoys initially indicated they planned on heading for Washington, D.C., taking a page from the playbook of Canadian truckers who brought their nation’s capital, Ottawa, to a standstill in recent weeks.

But it is unclear what will happen next. The Washington Post reported that about a thousand vehicles arrived in Hagerstown, Maryland by Saturday but organizers were unclear about whether they would head next to Washington.

In New Jersey, the largest groups organizing demonstrations included said that they do not “officially condone nor discourage any convoy participants from venturing onward to our nation’s capital.”

“The NJ Convoy begins and ends in the state of New Jersey,” read the description of one such group online, calling itself the “OFFICIAL NJ Convoy Finale Event & Concert.”

Many of the supporters who came out said they opposed vaccine and mask mandates, noting that both should be optional.

On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state public health emergency would be lifted. The school mask mandates will be lifted on Monday, a move Murphy had announced in February.

Organizers urged participants to eschew partisan politics, but pro-Trump and anti-Biden flags peppered the rows of American and Canadian flags waving along the roadway.

Republican state Sen. Edward Durr, a career trucker who ousted powerful former Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney in an upset election, introduced a resolution supporting the convoy. Durr said the truckers would “send Governor Murphy and President Biden the message that the pandemic is over, it’s time to get back to normal life.

“It’s time to end all of the overbearing mandates that have taken away our rights, choices, and freedoms,” he said.

Tracey Mcguire and Debby Lissaur, both of Randolph, joined about 40 supporters waving American flags of all sizes on the South Street bridge in Morristown.

The pair said they showed up because while they don’t have an issue with vaccines or masks, they do have an issue with mandates requiring them.

“All these mandates are not okay,” Lissaur said. “We stand for freedom, and freedom means choice. The government is overreaching.”

Mcguire, who is a pharmacist, said she supported the convoy’s message and felt vaccine mandates were not the answer.

“Let’s stop with all the bullshit, and start looking at the facts,” Mcguire said.

The average number of Americans getting their first shot is down to about 70,000 a day, the lowest point since the U.S. vaccination campaign began in December 2020, according to the Associated Press. About 76% of the U.S. population has received at least one shot and roughly 65% of all Americans are fully vaccinated.

As of Saturday afternoon, there were no reports of the kinds of traffic problems seen during the Canadian protests. Earlier this week, State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan told NJ Advance Media that State Police had large “wrecker” tow trucks on standby in case any semi trucks blocked the roads, but that they expected things to go peacefully.

“If they go from point A to point B without obstructing traffic in any way, we’re not going to have an issue with that,” Callahan said.

Saturday’s event was scheduled to end with an array of speakers, including New Jersey 101.5 FM host Bill Spadea and Republican Assemblyman Brian Bergen, two vocal critics of vaccine mandates.

A second round is planned for Sunday, ending with a concert headlined by Michale Graves, a New Jersey musician who replaced Glenn Danzig as frontman of the legendary punk band The Misfits.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-03-06 03:12:48 -0800