|Truckers organizing to converge on RNC|
By Paul Schmelzer, Minnesota Independent
Considering the hour and weather — 5 a.m. on a drizzly April morning — the turnout was promising: More than 150 semi-trucks had gathered to begin a rolling protest over rising diesel costs. As it barreled along from Harrisburg, Penn., en route to Washington, D.C., the convoy swelled to more than 300 trucks and cars, taking up eight miles of highway, according to its organizer, third-generation driver Michael “JB” Schaffner.
When a Schaffner-organized truck rally comes to St. Paul on September 2, he hopes the convoy gets even larger, the better to send a resounding message to those assembled for the Republican National Convention: Skyrocketing fuel prices are threatening the livelihood of truckers, more than 80 percent of whom are independent owner-operators, according to Schaffner (pictured). Further, while oil companies continue to post soaring profits, it’s consumers who rely on the trucking industry for shipping the food and clothing that end up paying the tab.
Schaffner, who claims Alexander Hamilton as his sixth great uncle, says that increasing costs forced him out of business as an independent trucker — and landed him in hot water with the Internal Revenue Service. Like many drivers, he had a lease/drive-to-own rig, but with a “bobtail” (truck) to pay for and fuel prices going through the roof — diesel is now hovering at just under $5 a gallon — he had to give up his independent status and signed on with a small company.
Michael “We’re trying to raise awareness of the economic impact of the rising cost of fuel and get more people effectively involved in what needs to happen in this country,” he says. “We not interested in more propaganda or some political slogan. We hear a lot about ‘change’ in the campaign, but here what we’re saying real loud and real clear is: ‘Show me.’”
“I’m tired of the rhetoric,” he adds. “Tired of being like the little child and the government is the mother giving us a spoonful of medicine and telling us we have to take it.”
But while Schaffner is fed up with fuel prices, don’t expect the kind of traffic-clogging protests that have swept across Europe and Asia.”We’re trying to be cordial,” the native Texan says. The group is working to get a permit and to do a slow-drive parade followed by an event. But he says the rig rally will have an impact. “You see 100 to 300 trucks driving down the road — we’re trying to get more than that — it doesn’t matter if it’s 25, 35, or 45 miles per hour, everybody’s going to see it.”
Still, Schaffner is well aware of the power of his industry should they wish to engage in civil disobedience. “If all of us were to actually come together it would cripple this country,” he said. “We’re not looking to cripple this country. We’re looking to get people aware of what’s going on.”
The September 2 protest, like others Schaffner and his website The American Driver have planned, will bring together a crowd from diverse regions and political backgrounds. Co-sponsoring organizations include Students for a Democratic Society, the Arkansas Independent Truck Drivers Association and the Minneapolis-based Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (the truck rally is part of the organization’s March for Our Lives), and drivers are expected from across the country (including Eugene Jackson, whose wrecker got a makeover on Country Music Television’s “Trick my Truck,” says Schaffner). After the Washington rally, Schaffner had kind words for Jeff Sessions, the Republican senator from Alabama who sent his staff to meet with the drivers; during the same protest, Schaffner shared a cab with author Barbara Ehrenreich, who blogged about it for the Huffington Post.
But for all the support from both sides of the aisle, Schaffner seems none too fond of either party. “It seems like we’re going to be seeing an elephant with a donkey’s head on it soon,” he said. “Everybody’s jumping back and forth on their stances.”
When pressed, it sounds like he favors a third option, fitting for a guy who calls independent truckers “the last of the free spirits.”
“I do have to say there’s one man who has impressed me and has remained the same when you look at his record, and that’s Congressman Ron Paul,” he says. “This is in no way an endorsement. I’m just saying it’s a fact that impresses me about that man. He’s remained steadfast and true about how he feels — that America belongs to America.”