The first 9/11 Memorial Motorcycle Ride was a protest. Held just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it was a ride of rebels against terrorism and a country paralyzed in front of TVs watching news reports in horror.
This year the state’s cancelling of the 19th annual 9/11 Coalition Memorial Motorcycle Ride has sparked a new kind of protest against state restrictions and Gov. Tom Wolf.
“Rightfully so, people are upset that the ride was cancelled and they want to do protest rides,” said Todd Winder, fire chief for Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Co. and coalition member. But while he understands the frustration, Winder urged the public to consider that the potential for accidents is high, which could have lasting effects on the future of the rolling memorial.
The ride was halted by a requirement from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to receive letters from each of the 15 municipalities the ride travels through indemnifying the state from any lawsuit filed from someone who may contract COVID-19 during the event.
Some municipalities declined to provide the letter of indemnity and PennDOT, in turn, declined to provide the permit for the ride, which travels on state roads.
“If you’re going to ride that day, please obey the traffic laws, stop at lights and remember why you’re riding,” he said. “If you’re riding to protest Gov. Wolf that’s not the right reason.”
Public outcry against the decision has sparked a handful of protest rides to be organized, according to Winder, who said some may even be planning to meet at the Clinton Township fire hall – the location the ride has traditionally been held at for the past 10 years.
The coalition begins planning the 9/11 ride at least 10 months in advance, meeting each month to coordinate.
With thousands of riders attending, the route is 42 miles long. The entire line of bikers can stretch up to 17 miles long and travels through 28 intersections. The coalition coordinates with law enforcement and fire companies in each of the 15 municipalities to block intersections and close roads. An agreement was even made with the North Shore Railroad to halt travel of trains through Newberry during the two-hour timeframe.
But this year, without approval from the state, traffic control will not be available, fire companies won’t be able to block roads and the North Shore train will continue to run.
Many members of the public urged the coalition to run it’s own protest ride, but fighting against Wolf and the state could make it difficult to get future permits, Winder said. Next year is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and plans are already in place to make it one of the biggest events so far.
“We hope like hell that we can get this thing back on track for next year,” he said.
County law enforcement also released a statement saying that no protest rides will be supported by municipal departments or the Sheriff’s Department, which provides an escort for the ride each year.
“Any motorcycle/ride events scheduled to occur on or around 9-11 are not sanctioned,” according to a statement from the county. “Emergency responders and law enforcement will not be directing traffic to allow for the seamless and uninterrupted travel of any riders involved in a non-sanctioned ride event.”