North Bay money flowed into Canadian trucker protest
The so-called freedom convoy, a protest of truckers and their supporters that brought downtown Ottawa to a standstill for three weeks before local police scattered it Saturday, had a decidedly Canadian flavor.
Demonstrators flew maple-leaf flags from the ends of hockey sticks and drank Labatt Blue at night. Some of the slogans were written in French.
But data collected in an anonymous hack revealed the mobilization against COVID-19 public health mandates had financial support that came from far beyond the Great White North. Almost half of the money, and close to 60% of the donors, were American.
And a disproportionate amount came from the North Bay.
The hacked list of donations to the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo was made available to journalists by the open-information site Distributed Denial of Secrets. It shows that 214 donors in Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties sent 225 payments totaling about $18,500 to the convoy organizers. Their median contribution was $50, while the largest was $1,000.
Those may be relatively modest numbers, but they are bigger than the region’s population of about 1,050,000 would predict.
Across the country, on average, $1 was donated for every 91 Americans. In the North Bay, it was $1 for every 57 residents. And the numbers of donations were also skewed: 1 for every 6,378 United States residents as a whole, 1 for every 4,662 in the North Bay.
In all, the North Bay donated more than entire states like Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia, and nearly every other country outside of North America.
At first blush, a politically blue, largely rural region near the California coast would seem to be an odd breeding ground for support of a populist, right-wing Canadian protest.
But it’s not surprising to Dr. Brian Prystowsky, a Sutter Health pediatrician who has been heavily involved in Sonoma County’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
“You might say, what could possibly be the common theme between rural, anti-government sentiment and hippie California? They meet at the corner of vaccine hesitancy,” Prystowsky said. “And who wants to be on that corner? It’s a dangerous corner.”
The North Bay’s anti-vax sentiment predates COVID-19. In 2018, the California Department of Public Health published a list of California schools with the highest rates of unvaccinated kindergartners. Six of the top 10 were in the North Bay, including four in Sonoma County.
Topping the chart was Sebastopol Independent Charter School, where 58% of kindergartners received medical exemptions that year. The others — one each in Sebastopol, Petaluma, Sausalito, Calpella and Santa Rosa — had rates between 35-51%. Statewide, children were being exempted at a rate of two-tenths of 1%.
“West (Sonoma) County, in particular, has this reputation — you might say they’re trying to be everything natural,” Prystowski said. “So like, no additives, no high fructose corn syrup, no vaccines. The problem with that approach, in medicine, is that some diseases are so deadly, and so contagious.”
Prystowski added, “So when I see this stuff about Canadian truckers — well, it all kind of fits.”
Richard Carpiano, professor of public policy at UC Riverside, agreed that the political topography of California’s northern and inland counties is fertile ground for conservative, conspiratorial sentiments.
“The anti-vax movement didn’t have a lot to places to go after they lost (Calif. Senate Bill) 276,” which tightened the rules for medical exemptions families could claim for children’s school vaccinations, Carpiano said. “When COVID came around, they … expanded into a much wider network of people that are against the government.”
The past two years have seen numerous anti-mandate protests in Sonoma County, including the noisy disruption of a Healdsburg City Council meeting in December and a more recent rally in the Sonoma Plaza.
The pandemic provided “a sympathetic market for them to tap into,” Carpiano said.
Also among the local “freedom convoy” donor base is a substantial number of business owners, including vintners — a crowd Carpiano said may be more unfriendly to public health restrictions perceived as bad for business, and thus sympathetic to the truckers thousands of miles away.