Protestors reckon with minimal ‘shutdown’ and protest participation

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Updated Apr 20, 2019

Though it’s hard to gauge the number of drivers that actually sat out for the called-for April 12 nationwide driver shutdown, organizer Patrick Karns admits that the planned protests “kind of fell apart.”

Owner-operator Karns pointed to the limited participation in on-highway protests slated for Friday. He said he has archived the active — and often vitriolic — Black Smoke Matters group on Facebook. The group had been a hub for organizing protests this year, including the April 12 shutdown, which was meant to cap a series of so-called “slow roll” protests that have taken place in recent months.

Roughly 30 to 40 truckers showed for an on-highway protest around the Chicago area on Friday, though the convoy was blocked from entering downtown by Illinois State Police and Chicago Police. “They had every downtown exit blocked,” Karns said. Chicago presented a central protest point, as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head Ray Martinez was in downtown Chicago for meetings that day.

The numbers “were nowhere near what we needed,” Karns said, to have the type of impact he’d hoped for in alerting the public to their hopes for more hours flexibility and more safe parking options, among a long list of other points the group wanted to address.

Another 14 truckers participated in an on-highway protest in New Jersey,  he said, bound for New York City, and just four trucks showed up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “We should have had thousands of trucks,” he said.

Overdrive has queried both the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police for information on the protests and the blockade on downtown highway exits. Chicago PD referred to ISP for comment, and ISP has not responded to Overdrive‘s inquiries.

Karns says the Facebook group “got out of hand,” and he plans to relaunch another iteration of the Black Smoke Matters page with more oversight and moderation. He also plans to use the next iteration to try to organize community service events, he said, but he doesn’t plan to use the page to advocate for further protests.

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“We’re done,” Karns said, referring to himself, Joe Denney and Lori Franklin, the three administrators of the Black Smoke Matters Facebook group. “Nobody would take it to heart,” he said of their planned shutdown.

Likewise, Black Smoke Matters founder Joe Denney, also an owner-operator, said he’s “disappointed and heartbroken” that the shutdown and other protests didn’t materialize to the extent hoped for.

“We lost the fight,” Denney said. “I’m 65 years old. My days of trucking are almost over. I was standing up and fighting for the younger drivers’ rights.”

Echoing Karns, “I’m done,” he said.

For Denney, driver training was a focal point for the planned shutdown. He advocates for beefing up driver training standards as a key point of safety for the industry. Denney says he originally founded the Black Smoke Matters group as a service-focused organization that cleaned up sections of highways, cleaned up truck stops and helped build play grounds and parks in neighborhoods, among other service activities. “We’re restructuring the page and we’re going back to the way it was,” he said.