In Protest We Trust: A Polarized America Debates Ending the Lockdown

By Jefferey Jaxen

*UPDATE: More than 1,000 people gathered to protest Utah’s shutdown at Salt Lake City Hall on Saturday evening. There was no notable police or security presence at Saturday’s rally.

Something’s shifted. Do you see it? Do you sense it? 

After weeks of “social distancing,” quarantines, rising unemployment rates, grinding economic devastation and dubious messaging from government officials, it’s starting to look like The People have had enough. 

Protests in North Carolina and Ohio kicked off a simmering summer of discontent in America last week. One protester in North Carolina was arrested by police. “I have a right to peacefully assemble,” she said as officers led her away, her hands bound with a zip tie. “God bless America.”

That was an inflection point. Teetering dominos began to fall and there was a rapid and powerful avalanche of civic civil disobedience. 

In Michigan, an estimated 35,000 took to the streets, in cars, and swamped the state capital in Lansing, one day after the Ohio protests. Channeling her inner Marie-Antoinette, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer threatened to extend the state’s shutdown due to the protests. It was a stunningly arrogant and misguided ‘let them eat cake’ moment. 

The day after the protests,The Senate Republican caucus presented Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with a five-phase plan to jumpstart Michigan’s economy. While on the same day, Whitmer announced a midwest regional partnership with six other states in an effort to guide the reopening process. 

Her stringent stay-at-home order is set to expire on April 30.

Friday, Minnesotans protested outside Governor Tim Walz’s residence to demand an end to the state’s stay-at-home order. Meanwhile, a small group of demonstrators gathered in Virginia’s Capitol Square in Richmond to protest that state’s stay-at home orders. Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam then announced that he was extending the end-date of his executive order by two weeks. It initially took effect for 30 days, set to expire on April 23. Now, the order is set to expire on May 8. 

President Trump took to Twitter at the height of last week’s protests with a series of messages siding with the protesters in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia

TWITTER IMAGE

California residents experienced one of the earliest state shutdowns. Friday’s protests in Huntington Beach generated national headlines as hundreds demonstrated against Gov. Newsom’s orders. 

Echoing the Midwest partnership pact, Newsom and the leaders of Oregon and Washington announced a regional agreement to coordinate any loosening of social distancing restrictions. 

Also on Friday, more than 1,000 protesters gathered at the Idaho Statehouse in defiance of Gov. Brad Little’s extension of the statewide stay-at-home order. Over the weekend, Texans protested at the state capitol in Austin over the weekend as officers were present. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Friday that he will begin reopening different Texas businesses through a series of executive orders starting next week.

On Monday, “rolling protests” are planned in Buffalo as organizers hope to send a message to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to consider opening up Western New York, even if coronavirus cases numbers are reportedly high downstate.

On April 16th, the advocacy platform Stand For Health Freedom, which gives citizens direct access to their lawmakers and government officials, launched an initiative asking leaders to open their towns, cities, and states. Within the first 24 hours, over 20K Americans contacted the governors and mayors of 50 states to make their voices heard. “

The protesting isn’t just limited to the citizenry. Nearly two dozen House Republicans are contemplating returning to Washington this week regardless of whether they’re called back for a vote — a direct protest of Democratic leadership’s plans to keep lawmakers away from the Capitol amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

Florida began to relax their orders by announcing several beach openings for limited time periods during the day after protests in Orlando. However, sunbathing, towels and blankets, chairs, coolers, grills and loitering on the beach without moving were prohibited. Within 30 minutes of opening, the designated Florida beaches were flooded with people

Moving into the coming week and beyond, officials will need to quickly find a balance between rapidly-growing societal discontent and how far they’re willing to extend lockdowns and keep their economies offline. The latest weekly unemployment numbers added another 5.245 million jobless claims to a hamstrung American economy. The new filings bring the crisis total to just over 22 million, nearly wiping out all the job gains since the Great Recession. 

After appearing to be duped by over-exaggerated modeling projections from questionable organizations and individuals, the U.S. Surgeon General stated publicly that communities would be given realtime data so they can make their own decisions about when and where to reopen. Yet as reported earlier, both the testing accuracy and mortality rates are most likely  unreliable, producing tainted and inflated data pools likely to skew reopening timelines. 

There is currently a turf war taking place over whether and how to reopen America. State leaders are facing off against federal officials. Statistical modelers are fighting researchers looking at the realtime and historical data. People who want an economic restart are butting up against people looking to ignore jobs and livelihoods in the name of health safety. And all the while in the near future another potentially explosive public  conversation will need to take place regarding intrusive tracking and if the eventual COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory. 

As protests spread across America, government officials are under perhaps the greatest scrutiny in modern history with little room or time for missteps. It’s literally a life-and-death matter—for Americans, for the workforce, for the economy. 

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