By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
An American flag snapped in the breeze on the back of Kenneth Durn’s wheelchair as the long line of semi-trucks creeped by the cheering crowds at Gillette’s Cam-Plex on Thursday.
Durn was one of hundreds of spectators who turned out to greet one leg of the nationwide “People’s Convoy” traveling from all over the country to meet in the nation’s capital this weekend to protest for an end to all COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates.
But for Durn, it’s much more than vaccine or other mandates. He sees it as a much-needed call for freedom against what he considers to be tyranny on the part of the government and those in power. The truckers, for Durn, embody this movement.
“These are our soldiers in that fight, right here and right now,” he said.
He wouldn’t have missed this for the world, he said, and his companion Tammy Burke agreed.
“We just want our country back again,” she said. “We want the mandates to be gone and to be able to see family again. That’s why we’re here. To show our support for the truckers who are standing up for us and taking the fight to Washington.”
Those sentiments were shared by many from all over the state who converged in Gillette to show the truckers a little Wyoming hospitality.
Activities that day went beyond banners and flags along the highway and cheers from overpasses as hundreds of residents and several business owners staged a stop to pass out gas and gift cards, homemade baked goods, pallets full of provisions and complimentary burgers and brats cooked by Pokey’s BBQ and 307 BBQ.
Pokey’s owner Ric Schuyler said typically he steers clear of getting roped into “political stuff” out of fear of alienating customers, but made an exception in this case because he saw the event as a pro-America statement that everyone could get behind.
“There’s so much bad stuff going on, and it’s ruining America,” Schuyler said, ticking off a list of events in the last two years where he sees the country going downhill, from the Afghanistan withdrawal to critical race theory and other issues.
“This is America, you know, and this is Americans coming together,” he said. “I don’t care what flavor you are because everyone has the right to be who they want to be.”
Schuyler’s sentiments were repeated by many who saw this not as a partisan issue but rather an opportunity to join together under a common flag, a message that clearly resonated with the hundreds of people who turned out and the various groups which coordinated the event Thursday.
The turnout defied even the truckers’ expectations.
One trucker from Montana walked through the crowds with a burger in his hand, thanking everyone for the hospitality that he said so far has been unbeaten at any of their stops along the northern leg of the convoy.
“You people really know how to make a guy feel welcome,” he said to several residents who stopped to greet him and hand him various bags of candy, snacks and $100 gift cards. “This is the most support we’ve seen yet.”
The event was organized by groups in Sheridan, Casper and Gillette who coordinated their efforts with the help of Brandon Younkin, owner of Dump Truck Services.
Younkin was helped by his 16-year-old son Grady in working with Cam-Plex and other businesses like Powder River Construction that brought in the cranes holding up the massive American flag in the parking lot.
Bridging the Divide
Bar Nunn resident Laura Redmond, one of the organizers and founder of the Facebook page “Freedom Convoy – Wyoming Group,” coordinated with local volunteer Patty Junek and her group to bring her pickup truck full of donated homemade goods from dozens of Casper residents. She also worked with her five children to set out for display the handmade cards her family had made for the truckers.
Redmond, a photographer and wife of a trucker, saw supporting the nationwide convoy as an opportunity to show her children the importance of freedom as well as bridging the gap in what she sees as a vicious partisan divide.
She said she was amazed by how many people responded to her Facebook page, asking what they could do to help.
“I put out a call to the people of Wyoming, and they responded,” she said, pointing to plastic crates full of homemade cinnamon rolls, banana and pumpkin bread, cookies and more donated for the truckers.
Apart from her rallying call for freedom, Redmond’s intention was to teach her children that it’s OK to have varying opinions and tolerance for other points of views.
“I’ve watched friends and family stop talking to each other over a difference of opinion,” she said. “It has hurt my heart. Everyone should be able to have an opinion. We used to say agree to disagree. Now people are blasted if you don’t have the same opinion as they do.”
Redmond’s 24-year-old daughter, Liz Bowers, likewise talked about the divides driving the country apart.
“I care deeply for the future of this country,” she said. “I think it’s been really sad how far apart everybody has come in the last couple of years. It’s been really heartbreaking.
“We might not agree with political parties and candidates, but I think we can agree that most people are decent and want their kids to grow up in a country that’s peaceful and where they can be successful,” she continued.
Junek also spoke about her support of truckers and the country, as well as for election integrity and a call for constitutional conservatism.
“I pray for people who are truly Republicans to rise up and for us to replace the pretenders,” she said.
A group of women and children from Sheridan echoed calls for freedom and for making sure parents having control of their children’s health and education. They had collected several pickup loads of supplies they were getting ready to hand the truckers.
Group member Tiffany Leimback has taken on the Sheridan School Board over the mask mandate that ended with she and her group of friends pulling their children out of school to homeschool them.
Leimback also spoke of the need to protect freedom regardless of one’s political affiliation. She saw optimism in the large crowds who had come together that day to support a shared love of country and push back on government overreach as represented by the national convoy.
“I think it’s so cool that so many Americans are coming together and just saying ‘Hey, we’re done,’” she said. “This is us saying what the government is doing is not right, and we’re here to cheer them on.”
Message of Peace and Love
Casper resident 38-year-old Jason Lewis, had an armful of tattoos representing his love of God and the country.
“It’s right here,” he said, gesturing to the red, white and blue flag and other symbols and words covering his arms.
Lewis and a couple friends had spent the last few weeks gathering pallets filled with dry supplies like baby wipes, toilet paper, water and other necessities for truckers on the road.
“I love my country, I love every American,” he said. “I don’t really care what the situation is. I think we all honestly just need to come together and shake each other’s hands. Give each other a hug. And let’s get on with it.”
Several Gillette residents like Dale Murschel were all smiles as they talked about how excited they were to be part of the celebration. Murschel and his wife Roxi and granddaughter Kira handed over a cash donation to help the truckers.
In total, the community raised $15,000 for the truckers along with the piles of provisions, gift cards and free food and drinks.
Gillette resident Rod Coulter handed over a cash donation as his sequined red, white and blue hat glittered in the afternoon sun. He’d bought the cap from a street vendor on a trip to New Orleans and said he likes any opportunity to don the hat despite its weight.
He’s a constitutional Libertarian and veteran who was there that day to celebrate the country he loves, he said. He would like to see the nation regain a semblance of the moral recognition and fortitude that he has seen “sliding down the banister” since the end of World War II.
“When we were young, it was still a country,” he said, bemoaning the lack of involvement by the average citizen while expressing a desire for better moral ethics.
He would also like to see people working harder. He also praised the bravery of the Ukrainian people who are literally fighting for their lives to save their country and freedom.
Being here today among the throng of flag waving patriots brought a bit of that pride back to him, he said, and he was happy to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other Wyoming residents who felt the same way he did.