ST. ROBERT, Missouri (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) — As somebody from the San Francisco Bay Area who voted for Donald Trump, and didn’t get vaccinated for COVID-19, Marianne Pedley-McClintick knows what it feels like to be in the minority.

Especially when it came to doing her former job as a telehealth nurse for Kaiser Foundation Hospitals.

“I refused to get the jab, and they terminated me,” said Pedley-McClintick, 69.

The experience ultimately motivated her to drive to Southern California to cheer for the People’s Convoy as it departed Wednesday on a cross-country voyage to protest government overreach.

She didn’t plan on joining the procession of big rigs more than a day. But she said the energy of the movement — people yelling and waving flags from overpasses and along interstates — was captivating and seductive. Six days and 1,700 miles later, she and her two little dogs made it to south-central Missouri, where she felt right at home.

“I am so overtaken by the experience,” she said. “I am committed now. I am fully engaged. It’s so nice to be around like-minded people. It’s really beyond the vaccine. It’s really fighting for the soul of democracy, for the soul of America as we knew it.”

The People’s Convoy is one of several trucker-led protests, and likely the largest, heading to the Washington, D.C., area this week. Not all have been successful. The “Freedom Convoy USA 2022,” which left California on Friday and was set to roll through Kansas City on Sunday night, instead disbanded early Saturday morning because only five trucks showed up in Las Vegas.

The People’s Convoy is billed as a “peaceful,” “unified” and “freedom-loving” movement that seeks to end the state of emergency involving COVID-19 mandates. It’s unclear how many vehicles are part of the convoy. Some said it stretched out for miles, with gaps in between. There were drivers in it for the long haul, others just for the moment, day or afternoon.

On Monday, at a rally stop in St. Robert, about 250 people gathered before a flat-bed trailer to sing the national anthem and listen to a few speeches before the trucks, RVs and cars moved east. The convoy, which was scheduled to stop overnight in Cuba, Missouri, is expected to pass through St. Louis on Tuesday. The next scheduled stop is in Monrovia, Indiana, at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Leigh Dundas, a California attorney and activist helping lead the convoy, spoke to the crowd about “two years of hell” from lockdowns.

“We are all essential,” she said to cheers. “And we’ve got to get back to working and making this capitalist country what it always has been — a wonderful, God-loving, God-fearing economy that is just started.”

She said the convoy is “100% committed” to carry their message of “peace and unity” across country so elected leaders would better hear it. She praised people in the crowd and many others along the way who had supported them.

While U.S. flags and Trump banners were the rage (and at least one flag associated with the far-right “Three-Percenters” militia), Dundas pointed out there have been gay pride flags in the mix too. She said there have been fans of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, as well as “triple” vaccinated people who see mandates as “un-American.”

“I have seen nothing but Americans praising these truckers out on the road,” she told them.

Brian Brase said he was one of about 30 truckers helping organize the convoy along with organizations that “believe in the message.” He said they aren’t “anti-vaxxers,” rather firm believers in freedom.

“This is not a left issue. This not a right issue. This is an American issue,” Brase, 37, said to cheers. “Not only have we seen multiple violations of our constitutional rights, but on a global scale we have seen violations of our God-given rights. Governments around the world are violating your human rights.”

Brase, a “God-fearing, red-white-and-blue-blooded American” from Ohio, said he was taught to believe in democracy. He still does.

“It’s time to remind our government who they work for,” he said to more cheers.

Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 under scandal as governor of Missouri, would like to take that message to Washington, too. He’s one of several GOP candidates in a crowded race for U.S. Senate. In a speech at the rally, he departed from the unity theme.

“You know what scares the Left?” he immediately asked the crowd. “You do. You know what scares tyrants? You do. You know what scares the mainstream media with all their lies? We do. Let everybody know that we are here to take our country back.”

Asked in an interview about his speech, Greitens said the Left, which tries to silence people, is beyond party affiliation.

“We are talking about Leftism as a tyrannical movement,” he said. “And that’s why all these people are here. It’s freedom vs. tyranny.”

Ruben Carrion, 63, said in an interview that he was there for future generations. He drove up from Florida to join the convoy in St. Robert.

“It’s an American dream,” he said of driving his own truck, an orange Peterbilt 379 diesel with 3 million miles.

He said he grew up in a shack in Panama without electricity. He started out cutting sugarcane, pulling a wagon with livestock. He’s been a trucker in the U.S. about four decades.

He said he didn’t like it when his wife, who works at a county courthouse, had to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“She had no choice,” he said.

That’s part of why he likes to drive a truck, but increasing government regulations don’t set well. He said the country is going “way to the left.”

He said he had three weeks to spend with the convoy. Then he needs to get back to work.

“I am not anybody,” he said of the effort. “I am just a trucker.”

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