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A Canadian "Color Revolution"?
The Freedom Convoy Is No "Fringe" Movement
Those of my generation may remember the remarkable “People Power Revolution” in the Philippines in February 1986. After the assassination of a political rival to Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos and a presidential election marked by staggeringly brazen corruption, the Philippine people decided they had had enough Marcos, and began protesting his authoritarian rule.
For a moment, everything seemed possible. From February 22 to 25, 1986, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue to protest President Ferdinand Marcos and his claim that he had won re-election over Corazon Aquino.
Soon, Marcos and his family were forced to abdicate power and leave the Philippines. Many were optimistic that the Philippines, finally rid of the dictator, would adopt policies to address the economic and social inequalities that had only increased under Marcos’s twenty-year rule. This People Power Revolution surprised and inspired anti-authoritarian activists around the world.
The People Power Revolution was the apex of a popular uprising known as the “Yellow Revolution” that began shortly after the assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr, as he returned from exile to oppose Ferdinand Marcos in an upcoming presidential election.
Yellow, the color of a homecoming, became the emblem of the unarmed resistance to the dictatorship. Yellow swept aside the red flags of the radical revolutionaries who, since the end of World War II, had failed to mobilize widespread popular support for their revolution.
Aquino‘s death rallied the multitudes behind his movement for reform and return to democracy and stole the initiative from the radicals who, in the end were swallowed by the current of the middle-class resistance to the dictatorship. His Yellow Revolution unearthed the depth and breadth of the middle-class constituency that provided the backbone of the People Power Revolution of 1986, tapped by the aboveground legal political opposition led by his widow.
The Yellow Revolution is considered to be the first of the “color revolutions" that pushed authoritarian and corrupt regimes out of power in many developing nations in the years since 1986. Czechoslovakia, Georgia, and Ukraine are just few countries to have effected regime change through a largely nonviolent popular uprising characterized by a color label.
The use of a color to identify the uprising is widely attributed to the work of political scientist Dr. Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institute for the study and use of strategic nonviolent action in conflict. His writings have been credited for guiding several popular uprisings such as the ones mentioned here.
In all of these popular uprisings, the pivotal moment comes when the leader being opposed opts to flee rather than confront his opposition. The sheer mass of the opposition suffices to persuade the leader in question that the situation lost.
Which brings us to the remarkable Canadian truck convoy and protest which took place in Ottawa today.
The Freedom Convoy
The “Freedom Convoy” started on Canada's Pacific Coast, as truckers gathered to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's harsh COVID-19 policies, and quickly grew to record setting size, becoming in the process a general protest against Canada's increasingly authoritarian pandemic policies.
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” started as a protest against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but grew into a mass demonstration against the Canadian government over other coronavirus regulations.
Dozens of trucks were lined up in front of the Parliament buildings Saturday morning, blowing their horns while thousands of people gathered peacefully on snow-covered lawns. By the end of the day, about 2,700 trucks were expected, a federal government source told Reuters.
Some speculate the Freedom Convoy is the largest assembly of trucks ever.
Guinness World Records show that the longest convoy recorded took place in Egypt in 2020, coming in at nearly 5 miles long.
"The largest parade of trucks consisted of 480 trucks and is achieved by Tahya Misr Fund (Egypt), in Cairo, Egypt, on 20 November 2020," Guinness states on its website. "With a length of 7.5 km, Tahya Misr Fund was able to organize a parade of 480 trucks, amid the harsh weather and heavy rain, breaking the Guinness World Records title for the largest parade of trucks, which was achieved 16 years ago in the Netherlands with a parade size of 416 trucks."
The truckers’ convoy could be 10 times larger than the record if it stays intact on the trip to the Canadian capital. Estimates say 50,000 trucks could be participating, the Toronto Sun reported.
As the truckers have been making their way across Canada, Trudeau has repeatedly dismissed the protest as a “fringe" movement.
On Friday, the prime minister told the Canadian Press he was concerned the protest would turn violent, but said the convoy represented a “small fringe minority” who “do not represent the views of Canadians.”
However, Trudeau's rhetoric has not been matched by his actions. Most notably, Trudeau appears to not be in Ottawa this weekend.
The prime minister’s itinerary for the day usually says he is in Ottawa if he’s at home, but on Saturday it said “National Capital Region” amid a report he’s been moved to an undisclosed location. One of Trudeau’s kids has COVID-19 and the prime minister has been isolating and working remotely.
The report of Trudeau leaving the capital has been prominent on social media as well:
Regardless of the true size and politics of the Freedom Convoy, it is difficult to deny the obvious optics here: the Canadian Prime Minister has seemingly fled a popular movement marching on Ottawa. No matter his true intentions, a decision to leave Ottawa looks weak, as if he lacks the political strength to stand up to this “fringe minority”.
If It Looks Like A Color Revolution, Is It One?
While lacking an explicit color identification, the Freedom Convoy certainly appears to be the same sort of mass popular uprising against a perceived authoritarian leader.
If reports are true that Trudeau opted to leave Ottawa for his and his family's safety, that greatly contradicts his characterization of the protest as a fringe minority. Leaders secure in their position do not run away from “fringe” elements among their own people.
The world's largest truck convoy is certainly not what one would expect from the political fringe.
These events are unfolding even as I write this, and it is far too soon to predict the ultimate outcome. Yet even now it is substantially proven that the Freedom Convoy is not the expression of a political fringe, but at the very least is the result of real political frustration by a significant segment of the Canadian electorate.
The Freedom Convoy is substantial enough that Justin Trudeau felt safer being any place besides Ottawa. That makes the convoy strong enough that Trudeau's political future—and perhaps even his political present—is anything but certain.
Is the Freedom Convoy a Canadian “color revolution”? It certainly looks like one. Whether it will be a successful one has yet to unfold.