By the time protestors took to the streets in Michigan, 2,700 citizens of the state had died from Covid-19, the 4th highest death rate in the United States. Governor Gretchen Whitmore acted responsibly in March when she issued an executive order mandating “all people in Michigan stay home and stay safe.” The order limited travel and gatherings, and closed businesses. She extended the measures until April 30.
In response, protestors took to the streets in protest, violating stay-at-home orders and social distancing policies. Similar gatherings of thousands took place in Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, California, Minnesota, and Washington. Some protestors threatened violence: In Seattle a state legislator, Robert Sutherland, shouted from the crowd, “Governor, you send men with guns after us when we go fishing, we’ll see what a revolution looks like.”
Meanwhile, healthcare workers in Colorado and Pennsylvania held counter protests, warning that the rallies could cause a surge in coronavirus cases. Eric Feigel-Ding, a public health scientist at Harvard used the president’s favorite communications tool to tweet “2,500 at anti-lock-down rally in Olympia Washington. I predict a new epidemic surge (incubation time 5-7 days before onset symptoms, if any, and transmission to associates around that time, even among the asymptomatic) …to increase in 2-4 weeks.”
Were these protests spontaneous uprisings from people frustrated by restrictions on their movement? No—they were planned by organized groups such as the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, both lobbying groups with links to the Trump administration. The Michigan Freedom Fund has received $500,000 from Betsy Devos’s family. Devos is Trump’s education secretary.
Trump himself fanned the flames with “Liberate Michigan” “Liberate Virginia” “Liberate Minnesota” tweets. All three states have Democratic governors, and all three are swing states–––and, all three were complying with the president’s plan for a staged reopening of the economy. Laura Ingram proclaimed it “is time to get your freedom back.” Rush Limbaugh said Governor Whitmore is just “a pawn doing Nancy Pelosi’s and Chuck Schumer’s work.” FOX news commentators urged the protestors on.
So, I conclude that Governor Whitmore had it right when she said that the protest was not about the stay at home order at all, “It was essentially a political rally.” Tighten your seatbelts; it is a long time until November 3.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.