Crowds Gather Around the Country to Protest Social Distancing

A protester in North Carolina who stayed in her car. Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

One month ago, President Trump stood in the White House press room and told Americans to stay home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. “Avoid gathering in groups of more than ten people. Avoid discretionary travel. And avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants, and public food courts,” Trump said, finally seeming to recognize the gravity of the global pandemic.

But now he seems ready for that to end. And he’s not the only one. Protesters around the country have started gathering, some in groups that defy social-distancing recommendations, to register their disapproval for the ongoing economic shutdown tied to the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, opponents of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order in Michigan held a car-bound protest dubbed “Operation Gridlock.” Organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, the protest saw the streets around the capitol in Lansing fill with vehicles. The traffic jam blocked at least one ambulance.

Despite organizers asking protesters to remain in their cars, groups gathered in front of the capitol waving pro-Trump and anti-Whitmer signs. One reporter tweeted that he heard chants of “recall Whitmer,” “U-S-A,” and “lock her up.”

The protest follows a lawsuit filed by four Michigan residents who accuse Whitmer of violating their First and Fifth Amendment rights. “It’s taking a sledgehammer to an ant,” their attorney told Fox 2. “We believe it is over-broad and overreaching. There is a way to do it appropriately without infringing on constitutional rights like the governor has.”

On Tuesday, more than 100 protesters in Raleigh, North Carolina, came together to oppose Governor Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order. Some shouted and honked from the relative safety of their cars.

The protest was organized through a private Facebook group called ReopenNC, which “wants people to make their own stay-at-home decisions to avoid exposure to COVID-19,” according to the Raleigh News & Observer. Attendees told the paper that they’re concerned about the effect of Cooper’s orders on small businesses. Others questioned the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The hospitals are empty. Nobody is sick with COVID. All of these COVID deaths are being attributed to COVID that aren’t COVID deaths,” a Raleigh resident told ABC 11. One woman was arrested at the protest.

In Ohio, protesters have started showing up at the capitol during Republican governor Mike Dewine’s daily press briefings, with signs that say “Quarantine worse than virus,” and “Social distancing or social conditioning. We do not consent.” Many have not practiced social distancing.

One Cincinnati man who told the Columbus Dispatch that he was laid off from his job, was at the capitol speaking through a bullhorn. “Some say that we’re actually causing havoc or putting lives in danger right now — but actually they’re putting my livelihood in danger and others because we’re laid off during this pandemic,” the man told the crowd through a bullhorn. Then he led them in a chant: “When I say ‘tyrant,’ you say ‘Mike DeWine.’”

The problem of rising unemployment during the widespread economic shutdown is indisputable. Between March 15 and April 4, 16.8 million people sought jobless benefits. The numbers, according to the AP, “constitute the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948.”

Dewine, whose response to the pandemic has won raves in his home state, asked protesters to hang in there. “All the evidence that we have indicates if we don’t hang in there, if we don’t continue to do what we’re doing, it’s going to cost a lot of lives,” he said. “And, it’s going to delay our ability to economically recover.”

Crowds Gather to Protest Social Distancing